MONDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Social phobia is not simply shyness that has been exaggerated by psychiatrists and drug makers, according to a new study that compared rates of shyness and social phobia among American teens.
Social phobia, also called social anxiety, is a disabling condition characterized by extremely high levels of self-consciousness and anxiety. Some experts have suggested that the condition is a "medicalization" of a normal variation in shyness levels or that it has been publicized by psychiatrists and drug makers in order to increase sales of psychiatric drugs, especially among youth.
In the new study, researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health examined shyness and social phobia rates among more than 10,000 teens aged 13 to 18 who took part in a national survey.
About half of the teens said they were shy, but only 12 percent of the shy teens met the criteria for social phobia in their lifetime. The study also found that about 5 percent of teens who said they weren't shy met criteria for social phobia.
The findings indicate that the presence of social phobia may be independent of shyness in some cases, the researchers said. The two are not necessarily directly related.
They also found that teens with social phobia were consistently more likely than other teens to also have another psychiatric disorder in their lifetime, such as depression or drug use disorder.
Teens with social phobia also had higher levels of impairment at school or work and among family and peers, but were no more likely than shy teens to be receiving professional treatment.
Rates of prescribed drugs were low for both shy teens and those with social phobia. The antidepressant Paxil (paroxetine), which is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, was being taken by 2.3 percent of teens with social phobia and 0.9 percent of shy teens.
Teens with social phobia were no more likely tha
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