Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) and social anxiety disorder share some characteristics, such as avoiding social situations. However, they are different conditions with different causes.

Due to their shared characteristics and the likelihood of occurring together, it is common for people to mistake AVPD and social anxiety for each other.

There is no medical test to identify AVPD or social anxiety disorder. Doctors usually ask questions and use criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) to differentiate between the two.

In this article, we will examine the similarities and differences between AVPD and social anxiety disorder. We will discuss each condition in detail and whether a person can have both. We will also look at their causes and treatments.

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AVPD and social anxiety disorder have similar symptoms, but they are different in the following ways:


AVPD and social anxiety disorder are different conditions. AVPD is a personality disorder, and social anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder.

Personality disorders cause people to think, feel, and behave significantly differently from the average person. Someone with a personality disorder finds it difficult to perceive and relate to situations and people, causing problems with relationships and leading to distress. These patterns of behavior are long-term and not occasional.

Anxiety disorders differ by the situations or objects that trigger them, but all feature intense, persistent, and excessive worry. Anxiety disorders can involve episodes of sudden anxiety, fear, or terror in the absence of any threat. This anxiety generally peaks within minutes as a panic attack.

Childhood experiences

AVPD and social anxiety disorder are both associated with negative experiences during childhood. However, a 2015 study indicates that childhood neglect is more common among people with AVPD than those with social anxiety disorder.


People with social anxiety disorder are generally aware that their fears and worries are disproportionate and irrational, despite being unable to control them.

However, people with AVPD genuinely believe they are inferior and inadequate and rationalize their feelings of criticism and rejection.


Different factors drive AVPD and social anxiety disorder.

Negative self-evaluation drives AVPD. People with AVPD are typically self-critical and have a poor self-image and low self-esteem. They project their negative self-evaluation onto others and assume they also perceive them as inadequate.

A high level of performance anxiety is the root of social anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder worry that they will say or do something to embarrass or humiliate themselves, causing people to judge them negatively.

Extent of avoidance

According to the DSM-5-TR, people with AVPD have a broader level of avoidance than people with social anxiety disorder.

People with social anxiety disorder usually avoid specific social situations, such as eating around others or public speaking, but people with AVPD typically avoid all areas of social interaction.

AVPD is a personality disorder. People with AVPD may develop a pattern of avoiding social situations because they feel inadequate and fear criticism, disapproval, and rejection from others.

People with AVPD restrict their social contact, viewing themselves as socially inept, personally unappealing, and inferior to others. They are unlikely to take risks or try new activities for fear they could embarrass themselves by crying if they receive criticism.

Around 2.4% of people in the U.S. have AVPD. It affects males and females equally.

Read more about AVPD here.

Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder are anxious and fearful of social interactions and situations where they think people might scrutinize them. They fear they may offend people or people may have a negative opinion of them, leading to them experiencing embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection.

Many people with social anxiety disorder avoid the situation they fear, while others endure it while experiencing intense fear and anxiety. Individuals with social anxiety disorder often overestimate the negative consequences of social situations.

Social anxiety disorder affects around 7.1% of U.S. adults.

Read more about social anxiety disorder here.

Symptoms of AVPD can differ from social anxiety disorder.


Symptoms include:

  • avoidance of social contact for fear of criticism, disapproval, or rejection
  • an unwillingness to socialize unless they are sure people will like them
  • distancing themselves within intimate relationships for fear of partners shaming or ridiculing them
  • fixating on people criticizing or rejecting them in social situations
  • withdrawing from new social situations due to feeling inadequate
  • perceiving themselves as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
  • a reluctance to engage in new activities in case they are embarrassing

Social anxiety disorder

Symptoms include:

  • fear or anxiety about social situations in which they feel people will judge them as anxious, weak, or unlikeable, such as when meeting unfamiliar people, eating, or giving a speech
  • fear they will act in a way that will be humiliating or embarrassing, such as trembling, sweating, or blushing, leading to rejection from others
  • social situation avoidance, or they may endure socializing with intense fear or anxiety
  • fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the threat of the social situation
  • fear, anxiety, and avoidance of social situations that lasts more than 6 months
  • fear, anxiety, and avoidance which cause significant distress or impairment and are not due to medications, other medical conditions, or other mental disorders

There is an overlap between AVPD and social anxiety disorder, meaning a person could have both. Some research indicates that 32–50% of people with AVPD also have social anxiety disorder.

Researchers do not know the cause of AVPD and other personality disorders. However, they think there could be a complex relationship between AVPD and the following factors:

  • genes
  • temperament
  • early childhood environment
  • attachment style
  • personality

Researchers also do not fully understand the reasons for social anxiety. However, it likely arises from a combination of the following biological and environmental factors:

  • inherited traits
  • brain structure
  • early childhood environment
  • learned behavior from previous experiences

Treatment for social anxiety disorder depends on the condition’s severity but may include a combination of the following:

A doctor will recommend the most suitable treatment, which may take some trial and error.

There is a small amount of research on treatments for AVPD compared to social anxiety disorder. However, doctors tend to treat them similarly.

Treatments for AVPD may include psychotherapy, antidepressants, such as SSRIs, and anxiolytics, such as benzodiazepines.

AVPD and social anxiety disorder share many symptoms and characteristics. However, there are some subtle differences.

AVPD is a personality disorder, and social anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder are aware they have amplified and irrational fears of social situations, but people with AVPD rationalize their fears of criticism and rejection.

AVPD and social anxiety disorder have different driving factors. Negative self-evaluation drives AVPD, and high anxiety levels drive social anxiety disorder. People with AVPD are more likely to avoid all aspects of social interaction, whereas people with social anxiety disorder typically avoid specific activities.

Treatments for AVPD and social anxiety disorder are similar. A doctor will determine the most suitable treatment depending on a person’s circumstances.