Anxiety Medications: Types, Effects, and Precautions

Updated December 19, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people experience feelings of anxiety occasionally. For instance, it’s natural to feel nervous on a first date or a public speaking engagement, but those feelings usually subside relatively quickly. For people with anxiety disorders, however, the feelings can be so intense and so long-lasting that they disrupt daily life. 

Anxiety affects nearly 20% of the adult population in the US, making it the most common type of mental illness. There are many ways to treat chronic anxiety disorders, and the treatment that is best for you will likely depend upon your therapist’s diagnosis.

Anxiety medications are an effective treatment option for some patients, and in most cases, especially extreme cases where the individual can’t care for themselves or interact with other people, medication is used in conjunction with psychotherapy. In cases of both mild and severe anxiety, psychiatrists and doctors usually prescribe anti-anxiety medications to give you the support you need as you learn practices and techniques to reduce and deal with anxiety. 

Anxiety Medication May Be Helpful For You

There are several distinct types of anxiety disorders that doctors may prescribe medication for:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • Depression

  • Panic Disorder

  • Social Anxiety

  • Separation Anxiety

  • Acute Stress Disorder

  • Adjustment Disorder

  • Substance-induced Anxiety Disorder

  • Anxiety Related to a Medical Condition

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • PTSD

  • Phobias

A doctor will decide what type of anti-anxiety medication works best with your physiology and the type of symptoms you experience. Therefore, it’s essential to give your doctor a full medical history and medication list. If you have other medical conditions, certain anxiety medications might cause complications.

When you talk to your doctor about deciding on an anxiety medicine for you, they’ll likely ask you if you have a history of:

  • Heart, liver, or kidney disease

  • A bleeding or clotting disorder

  • Seizures or epilepsy

  • Narrow-angle glaucoma

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • A recent heart attack

Seniors, teens, and children have different medical needs and will likely receive different suggestions for which medications are best for them.

Types Of Anxiety Medication

There are a few popular categories of anxiety medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines.

SSRIs and SNRIs work to increase the serotonin levels in your brain. Common SSRI brand names include Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Luvox, and Zoloft. Rather than giving you a quick feeling of calm within a half hour or so like some other antianxiety meds, these drugs are designed to work more gently, smoothly, and steadily.

Beta-Blockers are initially designed to treat heart problems and high blood pressure. They're also used as anti-anxiety medications because they reduce the fight-or-flight stress response. Beta-blockers help most with the physical symptoms of anxiety, including dizziness, shakiness, sweating, a trembling voice, and rapid heart rate. They are often used as a medication for social anxiety.

Benzodiazepines are mostly used to treat immediate symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks. Other than in extreme cases, they aren’t usually prescribed for long-term use. They can be addictive, and benzodiazepines can cause increased anxiety, insomnia, a pounding heart, and even seizures when you withdraw from them. For this reason, they need to be reduced gradually before being discontinued. 

Effects And Side Effects Of Anxiety Medication

Different anxiety medications work differently, and knowing the specific effects and side effects of anti-anxiety medications can help you have an informed discussion with your doctor about them. Common anxiety medication side effects include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Fatigue

  • Drowsiness

  • Insomnia

  • Agitation

  • Nervousness

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Headaches

  • Dry mouth

  • Weight gain

  • Diarrhea

  • Excessive sweating

  • Increased depression

  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Anxiety Medication May Be Helpful For You

Considerations When Choosing Medications For Anxiety

After they’ve reviewed you and your family’s medical history and have conducted a medical examination, your doctor will evaluate a few other things when determining the kind of medication that will be best for you specifically. 

They will diagnose the type of anxiety you have, as different medications are suited to treat different kinds of anxiety. They will evaluate the severity of your symptoms and whether you’d be best suited for fast-acting or extended-release medications (or both). They’ll also likely determine if you struggle with addictions and if you experience symptoms of other disorders like depression. 

Prescription Medication Alternatives

Studies suggest that herbal supplements containing ingredients like L-lysine, L-arginine, and magnesium can help ease symptoms of anxiety. These are widely available over the counter at your local drugstore or supermarket. These types of supplements typically have few side effects, but they’re also not usually as effective for treating anxiety as prescription medications.  Always report any supplements you take to your doctor, as some herbal supplements can cause complications when mixed with other medications. 

Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, and mindfulness meditation have been connected to the relief of anxiety symptoms. These are excellent supplemental activities to add to your doctor’s treatment plan. 

Takeaway

Anxiety medications have revolutionized the way that people with anxiety disorders function in the world. For many with severe cases of anxiety, medications can mean the difference between self-imposed isolation and leading a normal life. 

But studies show that the most effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A psychotherapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can provide a framework for a workable treatment program where the patient can unearth the sources of their feelings of anxiety to understand them. Once the sources are identified, the therapist will work carefully with the patient to process the feelings associated with them and develop techniques to move past them. The final goal is to provide the patient with coping skills to handle their feelings of anxiety when they emerge and put them into perspective, thus giving them the tools they need to live productively on a day-to-day basis. 

Despite the effectiveness of therapy in treating anxiety disorders, some people don’t go to therapy. The reasons for this are varied and depend on the individual, but they most often include issues around accessibility and scheduling conflicts. 

But for people struggling with the symptoms of anxiety, particularly social anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to summon the strength to leave the house on some days, much less travel to and from a therapist’s office where one will potentially encounter other patients and staff. Some people don’t feel comfortable speaking to the therapist in person for fear of judgment or personal concerns. 

The best solution to these barriers for people with anxiety is speaking with a therapist on an online platform such as BetterHelp. BetterHelp makes it possible for licensed counselors to work with you wherever you are on your schedule. And you can speak with a counselor via phone, text, online chat, or video call from anywhere you feel comfortable. Online therapy is safe and affordable, and studies find that it’s as effective as in-person therapy for treating anxiety disorders, depression, and more. 

If you’re ready to get treatment, BetterHelp can match you with an experienced therapist who can help you manage your symptoms and develop a plan for coping with them in day-to-day life. 

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