Social Phobia and Social Anxiety Disorder Differences

Social Anxiety Disorder Has Replaced Social Phobia

Social phobia is just a different name for social anxiety disorder.
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The difference between social phobia and social anxiety disorder (SAD) is largely chronological, in that social phobia is the former term and SAD is the current term for the disorder.

The official psychiatric diagnosis of social phobia was introduced in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III). Social phobia was at that time described as a fear of performance situations and did not include fears of less formal situations such as casual conversations or meeting people for the first time.

When Did Social Phobia Become Social Anxiety Disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is a tool healthcare providers use to determine whether a person meets the criteria for different mental illnesses, helping them to make accurate diagnoses.

The DSM-III referred to this mental disorder as social phobia and was very narrow in its scope of diagnosis.

When the DSM-IV was published in 1994, the term social phobia was replaced by social anxiety disorder. The new term was introduced to describe the broad and generalized nature of the fears that are a part of this disorder.

The criteria were also changed to reflect the latest research on this topic. 

  • In past editions of the DSM, social phobia was diagnosed if an individual felt extreme discomfort or fear when performing in front of others.
  • In the DSM-IV, social anxiety disorder could be diagnosed if an individual feared a variety of different social situations.

For example, a fear of conversation with strangers at a dinner party wouldn't have been considered social phobia; however, under the DSM-IV, this fear would fit the criteria for social anxiety disorder. 

How Common Is Social Anxiety Disorder

While you may feel very alone if you have social anxiety disorder, more than 15 million Americans are affected.

Women are more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder than men.

Diagnostic Criteria for Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder goes beyond nervousness or feeling socially awkward; it can be debilitating, harm relationships with loved ones, and hurt your career.

To be diagnosed with SAD...

  • Your response must be completely disproportionate to the situation. For example, having a severe panic attack or vomiting before giving a work presentation.
  • Your symptoms must be present for at least six months. 
  • Your symptoms must interfere with daily life, including work or other everyday activities. If your anxiety is so bad that you miss work and need to stay in bed, this means you need social anxiety treatment.

How Is Social Anxiety Treated?

Social anxiety disorder is treated with therapy, medication or a combination of the two.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one type of treatment that teaches you a new way of thinking and processing information.
  • Medication can minimize feelings of anxiety, allowing you to take a step back from your anxious thoughts. Both therapy and medication are used to minimize your anxiety so that you can handle social situations more easily. 

While social anxiety can be distressing and limit your activities, seeking treatment can make a substantial positive impact on your life.

If you have had symptoms of social anxiety disorder, consult with your physician to begin a treatment plan and find a good therapist. Through therapy sessions and continual work, you will notice a substantial difference in the way that you are feeling.

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Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II). 1980. 
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). 1994. 
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). 2013. 
  • McLean CP, Asnaani A, Litz BT, Hofmann SG. Gender Differences in Anxiety Disorders: Prevalence, Course of Illness, Comorbidity, and Burden of Illness. J Psychiatr Res. 2011;45(8):1027-1035. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.03.006.