Medication can help treat many of the symptoms of anxiety, and it is often most effective when a patient is participating in therapy as well. Depending on the severity and length of symptoms, a person may be prescribed anxiety medication for the short-term or the long-term.

Types of Anxiety Medications

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)–SSRIs improve mood by blocking the reabsorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. SSRIs are not habit-forming and are frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). SSRIs do, however, sometimes cause side effects, which can include sleep problems, weight gain, and sexual issues. They also take several weeks to achieve their maximum effectiveness. Examples include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline. SSRIs may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts in young people, so it’s important to monitor for this effect and notify your doctor if you experience any suicidal thoughts.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)–SNRIs increase both serotonin and norepinephrine and inhibit brain cells from reabsorbing them. SNRIs have similar side effects as SSRIs and also take several weeks to achieve their full effect. Examples include desvenlafaxine, duloxetine, and venlafaxine.

Benzodiazepines–Benzodiazepines are fast at reducing anxiety, but they are not usually considered the first course of treatment for anxiety. This is because patients can develop a tolerance to the drug and in some cases become addicted. People who discontinue use of benzodiazepines may also experience powerful withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes these medications are prescribed with SSRIs until the SSRI reaches its full effect. For most people, benzodiazepines are not meant to be taken for the long-term. Examples include alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, and lorazepam.

Other medications–There are other medications that do not fit into the above categories that are sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. One example is buspirone, which has fewer of the sexual side effects associated with SSRIs. Gabapentin is a seizure medication that works quickly and is often preferred by prescribers over benzodiazepines. Hydroxyzine is also prescribed to treat anxiety because it works quickly and is non-habit forming.

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Talking to Your Doctor

It is important to communicate regularly with your doctor when you are anxiety medications, especially if you are prescribed any other medications. Keep track of your symptoms so that they can find the best medication for you, and also keep track of any side effects you experience. If you are having trouble finding a medication that works, drug-genetic testing can help your doctor determine appropriate options. If you become pregnant or are breastfeeding, be sure to ask what medication is safest.

Some anxiety medications carry warnings that they may increase suicidal thoughts, particularly among young people. Be sure to communicate with your doctor if you experience any suicidal thoughts while on the medication or monitor your child if they are taking them. Also, if you are taking any anxiety medications that have habit-forming potential, be sure to talk to your doctor if you feel that you are becoming dependent on the medication or have a history of substance abuse.

Above all, it’s important to not get discouraged if an anxiety medication isn’t the right fit for you. With patience, observation, and communication, you and your doctor can find the medication that best fits your symptoms and needs.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other healthcare providers. This article mentions drugs that were FDA-approved and available at the time of publication and may not include all possible drug interactions or all FDA warnings or alerts. The author of this page explicitly does not endorse this drug or any specific treatment method. If you have health questions or concerns about interactions, please check with your physician or go to the FDA site for a comprehensive list of warnings.

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Last Updated: Feb 26, 2021