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agoraphobia vs social anxiety

Agoraphobia vs Social Anxiety: What’s the Difference?

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Agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder are complex conditions that can undermine a person’s ability to live a full and satisfying life. Though these disorders are similar in some ways, there are some important differences between them. To find the right type of help for yourself or a loved one, it is important to understand the distinctions between agoraphobia vs. social anxiety disorder.

Defining Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety

To fully appreciate the differences and similarities between agoraphobia vs. social anxiety disorder, it can be helpful to begin by reviewing a few basic facts about each condition. 

Let’s start with agoraphobia.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person must experience “marked fear or anxiety” about at least two of the following situations to be correctly diagnosed with agoraphobia:

  • Using any form of public transportation
  • Being in open spaces such as parking lots or marketplaces
  • Being in an enclosed space such as a store or theater
  • Standing in line or being among a crowd
  • Being outside of their home by themselves

The fear and anxiety that are characteristic of agoraphobia will far exceed any actual threat that these types of circumstances could pose, and they will be sources of profound distress for the individual. These symptoms will be severe enough to disrupt a person’s ability to function in one or more important areas of life. 

Here are examples of the diagnostic criteria for social anxiety disorder (which is also commonly referred to as social phobia) as established in the DSM-5:

  • Extreme fear or worry about situations in which the individual may be scrutinized by others, such as giving a presentation, meeting someone new, or eating a meal in a restaurant
  • Excessive concern that these interactions will cause the individual to be judged in a negative manner, humiliated, or rejected

The emotional pain that a person feels as a result of social anxiety disorder will be persistent, disproportionate, and disruptive, to the point that the individual feels compelled to change their behaviors in order to avoid the circumstances that can prompt the onset of symptoms.

Differences and Similarities Between Agoraphobia vs. Social Anxiety

Having established the fundamental features of these two disorders, let’s turn our attention to the similarities and differences between social anxiety vs. agoraphobia.

We’ll begin with a few key similarities:

  • Social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia are both included in the anxiety disorders section of the DSM-5.
  • Both disorders are characterized by excessive, potentially overwhelming fear or dread.
  • The symptoms of both disorders can cause people to isolate themselves.
  • When placed in situations that trigger their symptoms, people who have either disorder may also experience physical distress that is similar to a panic attack.
  • Certain genetic variations and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can increase a person’s risk for both disorders.

And now let’s look at a few important differences between social anxiety disorder vs. agoraphobia:

  • Social anxiety disorder is much more common than agoraphobia among adults in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the past-year prevalence of social anxiety disorder is 7.1%, and the lifetime rate is 12.1%. For agoraphobia, the past-year prevalence is 0.9% and the lifetime rate is 1.3%.
  • The gender balance is different between social anxiety vs. agoraphobia. The past-year prevalence of social anxiety among women (8.0%) is about 20% higher than among men (6.1%). For agoraphobia, the rates are almost identical (0.9% among women and 0.8% among men).
  • The symptoms of agoraphobia are typically triggered by a location, and are related to a person’s fear that they will have a panic attack or otherwise lose control of their emotions. The symptoms of social anxiety disorder usually result from interactions with others, and are linked with an individual’s fear that they will be embarrassed, ridiculed, or rejected.

How Are Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia Treated?

One other important similarity between agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder is that both are treatable conditions. When someone with either disorder receives appropriate care, they can learn to manage their symptoms, overcome their fears, and live a much more satisfying life.

Treatment for either social anxiety or agoraphobia often involves medication and therapy.

For the medication component, many doctors begin by prescribing antidepressants – often either selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Some patients may also benefit from benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax).

On the therapeutic side, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proved to be effective for people who have either agoraphobia or social anxiety disorder. 

CBT is based on the view that many mental health problems are influenced by unhealthy thought patters and self-defeating behavior patterns. During CBT sessions, patients learn to identify these maladaptive patterns in their own lives, then work on adopting healthier ways of thinking and acting.

As described by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), cognitive-behavioral therapy can empower people to make beneficial changes such as:

  • Facing their fears instead of attempting to avoid them
  • Using role playing to prepare for difficult or challenging situations
  • Developing strategies for calming their mind and relaxing their body

Given the myriad ways that a person’s life may be disrupted by either social anxiety disorder or agoraphobia, individualized care is essential. When you’re seeking treatment for yourself or a family member, focus on finding a provider who will thoroughly assess your needs (or those of your loved one), then use that information to develop a truly personalized treatment plan.

Contact Montare Behavioral Health About Treating Social Anxiety or Agoraphobia Today

Montare Behavioral Health is a trusted provider of life-affirming treatment for adults who have developed agoraphobia, social anxiety, and similar conditions. Programming options at our anxiety treatment center include residential care, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP).

In each of these programs, you can expect to receive customized services and comprehensive support within a safe and welcoming treatment environment. Our team will take the time to get to know you as a unique and valuable individual. This way, we can be sure we are providing the focused care that will help you achieve a much healthier and more hopeful future.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please either fill out the contact form or call us today.