Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) for Social Anxiety Disorder

Examples of MAOIs

How MAOIs Work

These medications balance certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). When these brain chemicals are in proper balance, the symptoms of anxiety are relieved. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors do this by reducing the amount of monoamine oxidase, the substance that breaks down the neurotransmitters.

Why It Is Used

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) for Social Anxiety Disorder are given to people who have tried other antidepressants, but they didn't work for some reason.Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) usually are not the first medications given for anxiety because they have serious side effects when combined with certain foods and/or medications. They are usually given to people with anxiety who:

  • Did not get better with other antidepressants.
  • Cannot tolerate the side effects of other antidepressants.
  • Have a family or personal history of successful treatment with MAOIs.
  • Have unusual depression or anxiety symptoms.

When these drugs are not recommended

MAOIs are not recommended for children or teens.

How Well It Works

Current research suggests that monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) may be less effective than other antidepressants (such as tricyclics) in treating anxiety disorders or major depressive illness.1 However, MAOIs are still the treatment of choice in cases of anxiety or depression with unusual features, such as a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, sensitivity to rejection, and a reactive mood. MAOIs are often used as an alternative treatment for anxiety or depression that has not responded to other medications.

MAOI Side Effects

Side effects of monoamine oxidase inhibitors include:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting.
  • Dry mouth, blurred vision, and appetite changes.
  • High blood pressure and changes in heart rate and rhythm.
  • Muscle twitching and feelings of restlessness.
  • Loss of sexual desire or ability.
  • Weight gain.
  • Negative interactions with other medications and some foods.

Considerations When Taking MAOIs

People who are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) need to avoid eating certain foods, such as some cheeses, broad beans like fava beans, pickled foods like sauerkraut, and red wine. Eating these foods can cause high blood pressure.

People who take MAOIs also need to avoid some nonprescription medications, particularly certain cold remedies and diet pills.

People who stop taking MAOIs need to wait at least 14 days before taking another antidepressant.

MAOIs can cause death if they are combined with certain foods, taken with certain medications, or taken as an overdose. Talk with your health professional about diet and medication restrictions you need to follow if you are planning to take an MAOI.

MAOIs are not recommended for children or teens.


  • Doris A, et al. (1999). Depressive illness. Lancet, 354: 1369-1375.

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APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2002, May 9). Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) for Social Anxiety Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: July 2, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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