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Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety

Two specific mental health disorders can cause people to experience overwhelming psychological distress about interacting with other people. While there are several obvious similarities between these two conditions, there are also a few important differences between avoidant personality disorder vs. social anxiety disorder. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of an anxiety disorder, call us at 770-202-1274. Our mental health programs in Atlanta, Georgia can help you manage symptoms of anxiety and create new outcomes.

What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder is one of 10 personality disorders in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

It is categorized as a Cluster C disorder, along with dependent and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders. The shared characteristics among Cluster C disorders include elevated levels of anxiety and fear.

The DSM-5 defines avoidant personality disorder as “a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation.” Symptoms of this disorder can include:

  • Avoidance of job-related activities that involve working with other people due to a fear of being criticized or rejected.
  • Hesitance about meeting new people unless they are certain to like you
  • Restraint within romantic relationships due to fear of shame or ridicule
  • Preoccupation with criticism or rejection when in social situations
  • Inhibition when interacting with new friends or colleagues due to a sense of personal inadequacy
  • Viewing yourself as inept, unappealing, and/or inferior to others
  • Reluctance to take risks or try new things due to fear of embarrassing yourself

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, which is also referred to as social phobia, is one of 11 anxiety disorders in the DSM-5. The criteria for a diagnosis of this condition includes “marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.”

Someone who has social anxiety disorder may exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Turning down jobs or promotions that would require them to give presentations
  • Experiencing considerable distress when required to work with others 
  • Ruminating over mistakes they think they made in prior social interactions
  • Being unwilling to meet new people
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Declining invitations to eat in restaurants or other public places
  • Having fears or worries that far exceed any actual threat of embarrassment or rejection
  • Modifying their behaviors to avoid circumstances that could trigger their symptoms

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Social Anxiety

Now that we’ve reviewed some fundamental facts about these two conditions, let’s look at a few of the key similarities and differences between them.


The many similarities between avoidant personality disorder vs. social anxiety include:

  • Both disorders can be sources of distress when a person is in or even thinking about being in a variety of social situations.
  • Both disorders can undermine a person’s ability to meet new people and maintain healthy relationships (including both friendships and romantic partnerships).
  • Both disorders can lead to frequent absenteeism and substandard performance in school and at work.
  • People who have either disorder often experience symptoms during childhood or adolescence, but may not be diagnosed until early adulthood.
  • Avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety disorder are both treatable conditions.


Examples of key differences between avoidant personality disorder vs. social anxiety disorder include:

  • The fears and worries that are characteristic of social anxiety disorder relate to actions. People who have this condition are concerned that they may say or do something that causes them to be embarrassed or rejected. Individuals who have avoidant personality disorder are more likely to believe that they are inherently flawed, and thus will be rejected not because of what they do, but because of who they are.
  • The symptoms of avoidant personality disorder typically apply to all situations, while the symptoms of social anxiety may be limited to one or just a few specific circumstances (such as speaking in public or meeting new people).
  • Social anxiety disorder is much more common than avoidant personality disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has determined that the lifetime prevalence of social anxiety disorder is 12.1%, while the Cleveland Clinic reports that about 1.5%-2.5% of people will develop avoidant personality disorder.  

Anxiety Treatment Options

Treatment for avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety disorder can involve a combination of medication and therapy.

While there are no medications that have been designed solely to treat avoidant personality disorder, doctors often prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to help people who have this condition. These types of meds can also be beneficial for people who have social anxiety disorder.

The therapeutic component of care for these disorders can involve a variety of approaches, including:

One of the most important factors for treating either avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety disorder is personalization. 

These conditions can cause a variety of symptoms, and they can affect different people in widely different ways. An effective treatment provider will assess each patient’s unique needs, then develop an individualized plan just for them.

More: Anxiety Treatment Programs

Find Mental Health Treatment in Atlanta

If your life has been disrupted by the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, or another mental health concern, Peachtree Wellness Solutions is here for you.

Our mental health treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, is a trusted source of personalized care at the residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient levels. Our programming also includes dual diagnosis services for patients whose mental health struggles are accompanied by addictions to alcohol and other drugs.

When you choose Peachtree Wellness Solutions, you will have the opportunity to work in close collaboration with a team of compassionate, patient-focused professionals. Your treatment team will encourage you to play an active role in all aspects of your care, with the goal of empowering you to become an informed self-advocate.

To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.