SSRIs Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder

Selective serotonin re uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, are considered by many to be the first choice medication for generalized social phobia. These drugs elevate the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin, among other effects. The first drug formally approved by the Food and Drug Administration was paroxetine, sold as Paxil in the US. Compared to older forms of medication, there is less risk of tolerability and drug dependency. However, their efficacy and increased suicide risk has been subject to controversy.

In a 1995 double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the SSRI paroxetine was shown to result in clinically meaningful improvement in 55% of patients with generalized social anxiety disorder, compared with 23.9% of those taking placebo. An October 2004 study yielded similar results. Patients were treated with either fluoxetine, psychotherapy, fluoxetine and psychotherapy, placebo and psychotherapy, and a placebo. The first four sets saw improvement in 50.8 to 54.2% of the patients. Of those assigned to receive only a placebo, 31.7 percent achieved a rating of 1 or 2 on the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale. Those who sought both therapy and medication did not see a boost in improvement.

General side-effects are common during the first weeks while the body adjusts to the drug. Symptoms may include headaches, nausea, insomnia and changes in sexual behavior. Treatment safety during pregnancy has not been established. In late 2004 much media attention was given to a proposed link between SSRI use and juvenile suicide. For this reason, the use of SSRIs in pediatric cases of depression is now recognized by the Food and Drug Administration as warranting a cautionary statement to the parents of children who may be prescribed SSRIs by a family doctor. Recent studies have shown no increase in rates of suicide. These tests, however, represent those diagnosed with depression, not necessarily with social anxiety disorder. However, it should be noted that due to the nature of the conditions, those taking SSRIs for social phobias are far less likely to have suicidal ideation than those with depression.