Throughout their lives, many people experience social anxiety disorder for multiple and myriad reasons. Social anxiety disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis that refers to anxiety in social situations, causing a person to feel distressed or depressed, makes it difficult to function in one’s daily social life, and can develop into chronic and intense fear of being judged or embarrassed by their own actions. Physical symptoms of social anxiety disorder can include nausea, blushing, sweating, palpitations, and even panic attacks. Often times, people who suffer from social anxiety disorder will attempt to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs, which can only lead to further complications and illnesses.

Anxiety disorders like social anxiety disorder are often treated through therapy, medication, or both. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy have been found to be effective in treating social and other anxiety disorders. On the medication side, most commonly prescribed drugs include various antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Furthermore, beta-blockers and benzodiazepines, as well as a recently released antidepressant mirtazapine, are also becoming common treatments.

In recent studies, kava has shown to be a possible natural treatment for social anxiety disorder. A German study has shown that, “compared with placebo, kava extract is an effective symptomatic treatment for anxiety although, at present, the size of the effect seems small,” that “studies suggest that kava is relatively safe for short-term treatment (1 to 24 weeks), “ and that ”long-term safety studies of kava are required.” While these preliminary tests demonstrate that kava’s effect on patients with social anxiety disorder is small, the tests themselves have only been short-term studies on a small sample size. Historically and culturally speaking, many native cultures in the Pacific Islands, such as in Hawaii, Fiji, and Vanuatu, have used kava for thousands of years as an anti-anxiety and relaxation supplement.

Kava has shown in studies and anecdotes, as well as culturally, to provide alcohol-like effects, without the negative side effects of hangovers or addictions, and to put one at ease in social situations. It is used sometimes for pain relieving properties, such as to thwart back pain, to help cure insomnia, and to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders. As kava affects a similar receptor in the brain as alcohol and other prescribed medicines, it is not advisable to use kava with alcohol or while on a doctor’s prescribed medication treatment. Mixing medicines and alcohol with kava may provide unwanted interaction side effects. If one was interested in using kava to assuage the symptoms of social anxiety disorder and have already been taking prescribed medicine, it is highly advised to consult your physician beforehand as only a physician will be able to expertly predict how the interaction will affect a particular individual. It is important to note that in the Pacific Islands and Oceania kava has been used safely for centuries without any documented case of illness associated with it. As more studies are conducted to pinpoint how kava can help people with social anxiety disorder, we will most certainly see a more widespread use of the herbal supplement throughout North America and Europe.