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Effective Medications for Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

written by: Nicholas Kuvaas • edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • updated: 11/30/2010

Social anxiety disorder and depression occur together often, but a person suffering from both may only seek treatment for one. This is why prescribing medications that treat both disorders may be useful. This article outlines some of these medications for social anxiety disorder and depression.

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    Why Treat Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression Concurrently?

    Depression is a common mental illness which will affect a large portion of the population in their lifetime. Social anxiety disorder is also a common mental illness which is diagnosed more every year. However, these illnesses are likely to occur together on a regular basis. Estimates of the exact rate of concurrent cases are difficult to identify because only 25% of those who suffer from social anxiety disorder seek treatment1. Usually, when those who suffer from both disorders seek treatment, it is for depression, and social anxiety may not be identified as a problem. Still, this is another treatment issue.

    Even if both disorders are identified accurately, there is another issue. It is difficult to know which disorder came first2. Without identifying the underlying cause, treatment again becomes problematic. Typically, psychotherapy would treat both disorders separately assuming that both are identified as problems. For these reasons, medications for social anxiety and depression are helpful and constitute a blanket approach that is better than just treating one of the mental illnesses.

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    Medications for Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression

    The medications which treat both social anxiety disorder and depression are used primarily as treatments for depression3. Many of them were created specifically for this purpose and were later found to relieve the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Although, the first group of drugs discussed is used as a first line of defense against social anxiety disorder today.

    A group of common prescription medications for social anxiety disorder and depression are known as Serotonin Norepinephrine Re-uptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), and a common medication in this class of drugs is Effexor. SNRIs specifically affect the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. They work by increasing the amount of these neurotransmitters available in the synapse or gap between neurons. SNRIs do this by stopping or inhibiting the process of re-uptake. Re-uptake is when a neurotransmitter re-attaches to the neuron from which it originated. This is actually useful because it can then be recycled, but this process also makes less neurotransmitters available to attach to nearby neurons, decreasing neuron activity. Inhibiting this process increases the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine available in the synapse. These extra neurotransmitters bind with other neurons which increases the rate of neuronal firing. Through this increased activity, the symptoms of both disorders are reduced or relieved and mood is elevated.

    Another group of medications for social anxiety disorder and depression is Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These were first created as a treatment for depression because the previous group of antidepressants had a multitude of side effects. SSRIs had relatively few side effects in comparison to their older counterparts. They work in a similar way to SNRIs in that they inhibit re-uptake and allow more neurotransmitters to remain available in the synapse. However, this class of drugs only affects levels of serotonin and not norepinephrine. These drugs are prescribed often and include Paxil, Zoloft, Luvox, Prozac, Sarafem, and Fluoxetine.

    These are two majors classes of prescription medications which treat social anxiety disorder and depression, but there are a handful of others. As usual with mental illness, a combination of therapy and medication is the optimal treatment and has been shown to have the best outcomes for relieving symptoms and overcoming the mental illness permanently.