Martin Freneticksburg, a college freshman, found himself diagnosed with social anxiety disorder last September after he pledged to a fraternity only to crumble under the ridicule and embarrassment of the customary hazing. Martin is not alone. Doctors say this experience is becoming more common in young adults, especially females.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also called social phobia, is a growing problem in the United States. It's estimated to affect over 13 percent of the population, with a male to female ratio of 2:3. Those diagnosed with the disorder suffer from an excessive and irrational fear of social situations. Intense nervousness and self-consciousness arise from the false perception of being closely watched, judged and criticized by others.
A person with social anxiety disorder is ultimately plagued by the fear that he or she will commit faux pas or breaches of etiquette that will lead to public humiliation. The anxiety, once manifest, often culminates in a panic attack.
Pharmaceutical companies have been capitalizing on the disorder for years, producing a variety of drugs to mitigate the symptoms. Anti-depressants such as Paxil (GlaxoSmithKlein), Zoloft (Pfizer) and Effexor (Wyeth) have been approved by the FDA specifically for social anxiety. Then there are benzodiazepines, which are used as a short-term solution for curbing anxiety or panic. Common examples of these drugs are Klonopin (Roche) and Xanax (Upjohn/Pfizer). Some psychiatrists prescribe beta-blockers such as Inderal. Beta-blockers work to prevent rapid and irregular heartbeat. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are other types of antidepressants used to treat social anxiety disorder. Examples include Nardil (Parke-Davis/Pfizer) and Parnate (GlaxoSmithKlein).
Dr. Grant Cranalov, a psychiatrist who specializes in SAD, said, "You can tell by the number of drugs, and the different categories of drugs, how misunderstood the disorder is. Nobody can agree on the root causes or the treatments, but the pharmaceutical companies won't be throwing in the towel any time soon."
Cranalov currently works in partnership with five major drug manufacturers and spoke to reporters from the office of his Beverly Hills manor before speeding off in his Bentley to a lunch meeting with Pfizer.
But for Martin Freneticksburg, prescription drugs were not an option. "The only health insurance I have is through the school, and it doesn't cover shit. I didn't have the cash to get the pills, so I was screwed. But then my uncle came to visit, and that's when everything changed."
"So I come to visit and all this kid does is whine about school and bitch about how no one likes him and how he doesn't want to do anything, yadda yadda yadda," said Freneticksburg's uncle, Burl. "So I says, 'Why don't you just shut your freaking cakehole, Nancy, and sack up.' Then I gave him a beer 'cause I thought it would stop him from cryin'."
And it did. Within an hour, Martin discovered that he no longer had any symptoms associated with SAD. "I felt tremendous. After about four beers, I was good to go."
Today, Martin's peers consider him popular and outgoing. He dates indiscriminately, attends every party whether invited or not, and holds a senior position at his fraternity. He credits his complete recovery to Pabst Blue Ribbon. "It's cheap, you get used to it after a while and it works!" he exclaimed. "Screw the drug companies. They're just trying to make a buck off other people's pain. Why do they do that, man? Why is [sic] corporations allowed to screw us like that? Why are people so mean? My parents never loved me."
Freneticksburg believes pharmaceutical companies profit off the misfortune of SAD patients. His anger toward them was evident during the interview. At first, he became sullen and a bit maudlin. Then he punched a hole in his dorm room wall and urinated on his roommate's Bob Marley CD.
The director of public relations for Pabst Blue Ribbon was thrilled with the endorsement. "The positive medicinal benefits of our product are just now being realized," said Gertrude Drambon of PBR. "So far, we know that regular consumption of PBR removes inhibitions, fosters feelings of euphoria and creates a heightened sense of confidence, where drinkers realize they're infinitely more attractive, powerful and interesting than they thought before guzzling a case or two. Up yours, Upjohn!"
Drambon also said that PBR product development specialists are studying the beverage's impact on improving memory recall. "There seems to be something in the drink that stimulates long term memory," she said. "We're finding that heavier drinkers are able to recall very old phone numbers from ex-lovers and friends, enabling them to get back in touch with these people immediately."
However, representatives from the FDA and the Surgeon General's office have issued warnings about the potentially adverse side effects of alcohol, which include uncontrollable increases in voice volume, impaired but compulsory dancing, development of a lisp (or aphasia in extreme cases), temporary dementia (sense of invisibility), paranoia (belief that articles of clothing have been stolen), and a perceived flux in the time-space continuum, whereby small (and sometimes large) gaps of time may seem to disappear.
Unexplained pregnancies and so-called "virgin births," once considered miracles, they now also attribute to alcohol consumption.
But don't tell that to Martin Freneticksburg and the countless other young adults who've been spared a lifetime of debilitating fear. "I feel f***ing tight, yo. I'm good. I'm good."