Many types of anxiety disorders improve when treated with certain antidepressants, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These are effective even if the person with anxiety is not depressed, although many people with anxiety are also depressed. Antidepressants take several weeks to become effective as they are gradually changing the chemistry of the brain. The full effects are not seen until after 4-6 weeks of treatment. Commonly used SSRI’s are fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil) but there are also many others. Venlafaxine (Effexor) is the most commonly used SNRI.
Common side effects of SSRIs can include jitteriness, restlessness, agitation, headache, diarrhea and nausea, and insomnia. These problems often get better after one or two weeks of starting the medication. It is important to not get discouraged and stop the medication before it has reached its full effectiveness. In most cases of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), continuation of an antidepressant is recommended for at least nine months to a year. When antidepressants are stopped, they should be tapered slowly over two to four weeks. Abruptly stopping medication can cause jitteriness, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, muscle aches, chills, anxiety, and irritability. Although these symptoms are not dangerous and usually improve over one to two weeks, they can be quite distressing and uncomfortable.
Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used in some cases of GAD or panic disorder, particularly when antidepressants don’t work well or are not well tolerated. Benzodiazepines may also be used in addition to antidepressants when needed to manage symptoms of GAD. Benzodiazepines include such medications as clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan). They begin to work quickly, within a few minutes to an hour and are usually prescribed on a standard, daily schedule to help control anxiety symptoms. Benzodiazepines are addictive and do cause drowsiness so antidepressants are generally preferable. Because people can get used to them and may need higher and higher doses to get the same effect, benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for short periods of time, especially for people who have abused drugs or alcohol and who become dependent on medication easily. Rebound anxiety and severe withdrawal symptoms can occur if you stop benzodiazepine medication abruptly after long-term use. Benzodiazepines should be tapered slowly over a period of a few weeks to months in order to avoid withdrawal.
Buspirone (BuSpar®) is an antianxiety medication used to treat GAD. Like antidepressants, buspirone needs to be taken regularly 2-3 times a day (rather than on an as needed basis). It can take several weeks to begin working and sometimes causes nausea. Other side effects can include drowsiness and headache.
Beta-blockers are a type of heart medication that is sometimes used to control some of the physical symptoms of anxiety such as a pounding heart. Some of the commonly used beta-blockers are propranolol and metoprolol. These drugs will slow your resting heart rate and can lower blood pressures as well so they need to be used with caution. They can also have affects of other diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
People who experience one or two episodes of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) continue medications for nine months to a year and then discuss with their doctor whether they should try stopping the medication. About two-thirds of people who are diagnosed with GAD will experience the condition chronically or recurrently. These people may benefit from continuing treatment. There is no reason to feel embarrassed about getting treatment for anxiety. Anxiety is a common problem. It affects all kinds of people.
Try to remember that it might take a little while to find the right treatment for you. People respond in different ways to medicines and therapy, so you might need to try aseveral things before you find the one that helps you most. The key is to not give up. Many people benefit from both talk therapy and medications at the same time. People with anxiety disorders often have to deal with some anxiety for the rest of their life. For some, anxiety comes and goes, but gets worse during times of stress. The good news is, many people find effective treatments or ways to deal with their anxiety.
Many people with anxiety disorders benefit from joining a self-help or support group and sharing their problems and achievements with others. Stress management techniques and meditation can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and may enhance the effects of therapy. The family is very important in the recovery of a person with an anxiety disorder. Ideally, the family should be supportive but not help perpetuate their loved one's symptoms. Family members should not trivialize the disorder or demand improvement without treatment.
With proper treatment, many people with anxiety disorders can lead normal, fulfilling lives.
This list of drugs and medications are often used to treat anxiety. While we have attempted to include most of the drugs, there are likely some that we have missed. Also, this list and any information related to drugs and medications on this website should ONLY be used as supplemental information, and should in no way be used in place of your physician or healthcare practioner.