The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medicines listed below. Only the most general side effects are included. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medicines only as recommended by your doctor and according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

All of the medicines used to treat social anxiety disorder require a prescription from your doctor. There are many options, some of which are listed below. Some of the medicines are more appropriate for people who have the performance type of social anxiety disorder. These medicines may be given just before an anxiety-provoking event. Other medicines may be taken on a regular basis to treat the symptoms of a more generalized social anxiety disorder.

Medications are usually combined with some form of counseling.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Common names include:

    
  • Citalopram
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Paroxetine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors effect the concentration of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin plays a role in anxiety. Although they are considered antidepressants, SSRIs have been used effectively to treat anxiety disorders. They are considered the drugs of choice for this condition. Improvement is usually seen 4-6 weeks after beginning treatment. SSRIs are not addictive. Do not take an SSRI if you have taken a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) in recent weeks. SSRIs are usually used to treat generalized social anxiety disorder.

    These drugs should be used with caution in the elderly and those with liver or kidney diseases. During therapy, your doctor will be monitoring your heart rate, blood pressure, liver and kidney functions, and worsening depression, including increased suicide risk.

    Possible side effects include:

        
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Nervousness
  • Sexual dysfunction (ranging from decreased arousal to erectile dysfunction and/or delayed time to orgasm)
  • Risk of severe mood and behavior changes, including suicidal thoughts in some patients (Young adults may be at a higher risk for this side effect.)
  • Benzodiazepines

    Common names include:

        
  • Lorazepam
  • Prazepam
  • Flurazepam
  • Clonazepam
  • Triazolam
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Halazepam
  • Temazepam
  • Oxazepam
  • Clorazepate
  • Diazepam
  • Alprazolam
  • Benzodiazepines reduce symptoms of anxiety by enhancing the function of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter thought to be abnormal in people with social anxiety disorder. These drugs produce a sedative effect, reduce physical symptoms (such as muscle tension), and often cause drowsiness and lethargy. The advantage of benzodiazepines is that they are fast acting and useful for treating acute anxiety and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are usually used 30-60 minutes before an anxiety-provoking event in people with the performance type of social anxiety disorder.

    These drugs can be habit-forming when used long-term or in excess. When discontinued, they may cause withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. Withdrawal can be life threatening in some cases. Stopping this medicine should be done slowly, over a period of weeks or months, and under a doctor’s supervision.

    Do not take these drugs with alcohol or other sedating drugs. Do not take if you must drive a vehicle or operate equipment. Use with caution in the elderly, those with liver, lung, kidney diseases, myasthenia gravis, sleep apnea, drug or alcohol abuse, seizure disorder, or porphyria. These drugs should not be taken in combination with certain oral antifungal medicines and in people with certain types of glaucoma.

    The doctor will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and liver function tests.

    Possible side effects include:

        
  • Drowsiness or lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness, particularly in elderly persons
  • Slow reaction time, impaired coordination
  • Beta-blockers

    Common names include:

        
  • Propanolol
  • Atenolol)
  • Beta-blockers have been used effectively to reduce symptoms of social anxiety. They reduce the production of hormone called adrenaline. They also affect the response of certain nerve impulses in the body. Beta-blockers are usually used 30-60 minutes before an anxiety-provoking event in people with the performance type of social anxiety disorder.

    Beta-blockers are contraindicated with asthma and certain heart problems. They should be used cautiously with many medical disorders. Withdrawal should be done slowly, under a doctor’s supervision.

    Possible side effects include:

        
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slow heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Depression
  • Decreased sexual arousal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants

    Common names include:

        
  • Doxepin
  • Clomipramine
  • Nortriptyline
  • Amitriptyline
  • Imipramine
  • Maprotiline
  • Desipramine
  • Nortriptyline
  • Desipramine
  • Doxepin
  • Trimipramine
  • Imipramine
  • Protriptyline
  • Tricyclic antidepressants regulate serotonin and/or noradrenalin in the brain. They have been used effectively to treat social anxiety disorder. However, they are not used as often because they are associated with more adverse effects than SSRIs and do not have any added benefits. Improvement is usually seen 2-6 weeks after beginning treatment. Tricyclic antidepressants are not addictive. These drugs should be used with caution in the elderly and those with liver or kidney disease. Do not take this medicine if you have glaucoma, are recovering from a heart attack, or are also taking MAOIs. During therapy, your doctor will be monitoring your heart rate, blood pressure, body weight, liver function, and blood count.

    Possible side effects include:

        
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Weight gain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Risk of severe mood and behavior changes, including suicidal thoughts in some patients (Young adults may be at a higher risk for this side effect.)
  • Atypical Antidepressants

    Common names include:

        
  • Trazodone
  • Venlafaxine
  • Nefazodone
  • Atypical antidepressants affect the concentration of the neurotransmitter serotonin. They can be effective in treating social anxiety. Improvement is usually seen 4-6 weeks after beginning treatment.

    Possible side effects include:

        
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Risk of severe mood and behavior changes, including suicidal thoughts in some patients (Young adults may be at a higher risk for this side effect.)
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

    Common names include:

        
  • Isocarboxazid
  • Phenelzine
  • Tranylcypromine
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are a type of antidepressant that reduces symptoms of social anxiety disorder. They prevent the breakdown of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and noradrenalin. Improvement is usually seen 2-6 weeks after beginning treatment. MAOIs are not addictive. These antidepressants are used to treat generalized social anxiety disorder. They are considered a last choice.

    There is a risk of serious reactions when taking MAOIs. There are many medicines, both prescribed and over-the-counter, that you will need to avoid. Examples of medicines to avoid include:

        
  • Other MAOIs
  • Antidepressants—increased risk of hypertensive crisis (dangerously high blood pressure) and serotonin syndrome
  • Sympathomimetics (drugs that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system)
  • Sedatives
  • Narcotics, such as meperidine (Demerol, Meperitab), and other pain medicines, such as tramadol (Ultram, Ultram ER)
  • Anesthetics
  • Antihypertensive drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Antihistamines
  • Buspirone (Buspar)—anti-anxiety medicine
  • Over-the-counter decongestants
  • Herbal weight loss products
  • Certain herbs and supplements (such as St. John’s wort, ginseng)
  • Dextromethorphan (such as Robitussin Maximum Strength, Vicks 44 Cough Medicine)—cough suppressant
  • Ask your doctor for a complete list of medicines to avoid. Also, talk to your doctor before taking any new medicine, including over-the-counter medicines and herbs and supplements.

    When taking MAOIs, there is the risk of a life-threatening side effect, called serotonin syndrome. This occurs when MAOIs interact with other antidepressant medicines, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). In serotonin syndrome, levels of serotonin in the brain get dangerously high. This can cause confusion, hallucinations, seizures, and other symptoms. This is an emergency. To avoid interactions, it is generally recommended to wait 2-5 weeks before stopping MAOIs and starting another antidepressant. Ask your doctor about the specific medicine you are taking.

    Because of the risk of serious reactions, there are also dietary restrictions when taking MAOIs. Avoid eating foods with high tyramine content. Tyramine is an amino acid that helps regulate blood pressure. If you have too much tyramine and are taking MAOIs, your blood pressure may become dangerously high. This is called hypertensive crisis. In some cases, this can lead to a stroke. Examples of foods with high tyramine content include:

        
  • Cheese
  • Alcohol
  • Organ meats
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Fava beans
  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Canned figs
  • Chocolate
  • Excessive amounts of caffeine
  • Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Foods that are pickled, marinated, smoked, cured, or fermented
  • Ask your doctor for a complete list of foods and drinks to avoid.

    During therapy, your doctor will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, liver and kidney functions, and worsening depression, including increased suicide risk. MAOIs should be used with caution in the elderly and those with liver and kidney diseases.

    MAOIs can cause birth defects. They should not be taken by pregnant women. Also, the medicine should not be taken if you have certain conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, or pheochromocytoma (tumor in the adrenal gland).

    There are many side effects, some severe, that can be caused by MAOIs. Because of this, doctors will usually try other medicines before prescribing MAOIs. Some side effects include:

        
  • Changes in blood pressure, including hypertensive crisis
  • Serotonin syndrome
  • Weight gain
  • Reduced sexual response
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, stomach upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased sweating
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Shakiness, weakness, trembling, lightheadedness
  • Headaches, muscle aches
  • Heart rhythm changes
  • Risk of severe mood and behavior changes, including suicidal thoughts in some patients (Young adults may be at a higher risk for this side effect.)
  • Special Considerations

    Consultation with a specially trained provider is recommended if you do not respond to treatment with medicines. The provider can help clarify the diagnosis and determine if another psychiatric disorder is present. The provider can also make recommendations about psychotherapy and changes in medicines. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or specially trained doctors can treat social anxiety disorder. Ask your doctor if she has helped other people with social anxiety disorder. If your doctor does not have special training, ask for the name of a doctor or counselor who does.

    If you are taking medicines, follow these general guidelines:

        
  • Take your medicines as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share them.
  • Know what results and side effects to expect. Report them to your doctor.
  • Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medicines and herb or dietary supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.