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Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety Disorder : Understanding the Difference

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety disorder are both conditions that involve discomfort and withdrawal in social settings. They share some similarities but are diagnosed differently. Because of their overlapping symptoms, they may lead to an incorrect self-diagnosis. AVPD is a personality disorder in which avoidance is used as a coping mechanism to deal with feelings of personal inadequacy whereas SAD is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an extreme fear of social interactions due to worry over potential scrutiny. According to some research, 32 to 50% of people with AVPD also suffer from SAD. In this blog, we will look at how and how AVPD and SAD are different.

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety Disorder

AVPD is categorized as a Cluster C disorder in DSM-5-TR. AVPD is characterized by excessive anxiety when exposed to social situations and the fear of criticism, disapproval, and rejection from others. Its symptoms arise due to the belief that one is personally inadequate and that others share the same view. The condition affects 1.5 to 2.5% of the population.

SAD, or social phobia is categorized as an anxiety disorder in DSM-TR-5. Around 12.1% of US adults experience this mental health condition. People with SAD are extremely self-conscious about their social interactions with people they don’t know well or being observed by others when they’re eating, talking, or doing something. However, looking at avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety, people with social anxiety usually want to make friends and be more social. Their fear keeps them from doing so.

How Is Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety Treated?

Avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety disorder share some similarities. Instead of seeing them as avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety, medical professionals suggest that they’re part of a spectrum, with AVPD being a more severe form of SAD. Conversely, a research article from 2018 shows that both disorders are separate diagnoses. They differ in terms of intensity and scope. While avoidant personality disorder involves avoiding most social situations, social anxiety may only entail avoiding certain specific situations.

The treatment of avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety includes psychotherapies and prescribed medicines like antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety medications. SAD is treated using two formats of CBT—exposure therapy, and ACT. However, AVPD is treated with other forms of therapy like IPT, DBT, and group therapy

Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety Disorder

The difference in symptoms of avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety is reflected such that a person with AVPD exhibits persistent social impairment, heightened sensitivity to negative evaluation, and feelings of inadequacy, whereas a person with SAD experiences social anxiety and frequently feel concerned about social interactions, particularly those with people they are not familiar with. They may additionally feel excessively self-aware about being observed by others, such as when they are eating, talking, or walking in a room. Here are the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety as listed in DSM-TR-5:

AVPD Symptoms

  • Avoiding occupational activities
  • An unwillingness to engage with people without certainty of being appreciated
  • Staying distant in intimate relationships
  • Fixation on being criticized or rejected in social situations
  • Struggling to form new interpersonal connections
  • Self-perception of inferiority, being unattractive or being incompetent
  • Reluctance to take personal risks or try something adventurous

SAD Symptoms

  • Extreme fear or anxiety in at least one social situation that involves the scrutiny of others
  • Negative feelings are caused by a fear of acting in a way or revealing anxiety that will lead to embarrassment, humiliation, rejection, or offense of others
  • Specific social situations almost always bring anxiousness and fear
  • Specific social experiences are avoided or tolerated with extreme anxiety or fear
  • Anxiety or fear is out of proportion to the action threat
  • Fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasts for 6 months or longer, and causes clinically significant impairment in important areas of function
  • No substances or other medical or mental conditions can account for symptoms

Causes: Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety Disorder

A 2015 study on avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety found negative childhood experiences were associated with both conditions. Individuals with AVPD reported more severe childhood neglect, specifically physical neglect, than those with social anxiety. It was suggested that avoidance may have developed as a childhood coping mechanism that became a permanent aspect of the personality.

There are not any known causes of avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety but researchers show a complex combination of factors for both conditions.

AVPD Causes

  • Genes
  • Temperament
  • Early childhood environment
  • Attachment style
  • Personality

Social Anxiety Causes

  • Inherited traits
  • Brain structure
  • Early childhood environment
  • Learned behavior from previous experiences


1. What is misdiagnosed as SAD?

SAD has been mislabeled as “schizophrenic,” “manic-depressive,” “clinically depressed,” “panic disordered,” and “personality disordered,” among other misdiagnoses.

2. Who is more affected by AVPD?

AVPD affects females more often than males, though the difference is small.

3. Is social anxiety reversible?

If left untreated, SAD may remain present for the rest of one’s life, although it may fluctuate in severity over time.

4. What happens if AVPD is left untreated?

If left untreated, AVPD may lead to a life of isolation, increasing the risk of developing other psychiatric disorders like substance abuse or depression, hindering one’s potential for a fulfilling life.

5. What do avoidants fear the most?

Avoidant attachers build impenetrable boundaries to avoid rejection and protect their sense of self. They may not realize their fear of being alone, as they dissociated from it in childhood.


Individuals diagnosed with AVPD or SAD may tend to avoid social situations and feel uncomfortable in such settings. Avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety are distinct such that people with AVPD perceive themselves in a negative light and are highly sensitive to criticism and rejection, while those with SAD have a fear of being judged by others. Psychotherapy and medication, with tailored approaches suiting individuals, can be an effective treatment.

At Calusa Recovery, various treatment modalities are offered that are centered around finding the best path to your recovery and life. Calusa Recovery offers a broad range of treatment programs, including intensive inpatient and outpatient programs, as well as holistically based programs and an adventure-based experiential program.

Inpatient therapy is a more intensive treatment that has a client stay at a facility 24/7, offering detox treatment. Outpatient can offer the same level of intensive therapies as inpatient but allows the client to live at their home so they can still fulfill work and life obligations. Holistic therapies offer a broader approach to overall wellness, incorporating things like yoga and meditation to take things like physical and spiritual wellness into therapy. Calusa Recovery seeks to heal the entire person, mind, body, and spirit in their therapy to offer the most successful and beneficial treatment program possible to clients.

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