The Link Between Stuttering & Anxiety


Stuttering and social anxiety disorder (SAD) are both included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). While stuttering (also known as childhood-onset fluency disorder) is considered a communication disorder and SAD is categorized as an anxiety disorder, research shows that the two conditions may be related to one another.

What Is Stuttering?young man with hands next to mouth

Disfluent speech involving both overt and covert symptoms is called stuttering.

Overt symptoms of stuttering include:

  • Repeated/prolonged sounds
  • Blocks when speaking

Covert symptoms include:

  • Omitting words
  • Substituting words
  • Rearranging words (circumlocution)

The Link Between Stuttering & SAD

People who stutter sometimes experience anxiety, embarrassment and low self-esteem about their disorder. However, SAD is not diagnosed alongside stuttering unless someone is experiencing symptoms of social anxiety unrelated to their stutter.

Even so, the rate of overlap between SAD and stuttering is estimated to be as high as 75 percent.

Research shows that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, has a role in both stuttering and SAD. Neuroimaging shows that both people with SAD and a stutter process dopamine differently than people without these disorders. Parkinson’s disease, a disorder involving dopamine production, and amygdala disfunction have also been associated with higher rates of stuttering and SAD.

Treating Stuttering & SAD

Stuttering can be treated with speech therapy, where a speech-language pathologist (SLP) teaches you how to slow down your speech and speak more deliberately. While using these strategies may sound odd to you at first, over time and with practice you may notice a more natural speech pattern.

SAD can be treated through medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), though these drugs have not been found to help treat stuttering.

People suffering from both stuttering and SAD benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves helping you identify and change thought patterns that make stuttering or anxiety worse. It also helps resolve stress and improve self-esteem.

While stuttering rarely goes away completely, treatment can help reduce symptoms and improve confidence. SAD has been treated effectively through both therapy and medication for many people.

For more information about the link between stuttering and social anxiety disorder or to schedule an appointment with a speech therapist, call the experts at Topeka ENT today.

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