Anxiety Medications: Types, Effects, And Precautions

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Many people experience feelings of anxiety occasionally. For instance, feeling nervous during a first date or a public speaking engagement can be natural, 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.

Learning the correct type of care

Anxiety is believed to affect nearly 20% of the adult population in the US, likely making it the most common type of mental illness. There can be many ways to treat chronic anxiety disorders, and the treatment that is best for you will likely depend upon your therapist’s diagnosis. Common anxiety medications can include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines. Herbal supplements, lifestyle changes, and therapy may also be helpful. You can start therapy by connecting with a licensed therapist through an online therapy platform.

Always speak with your doctor regarding any type of medication or supplement.

Therapy is generally the first-line treatment for anxiety

Anxiety disorders that may require prescriptions

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

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Acute stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder
  • Anxiety related to a medical condition
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • PTSD
  • Phobias

A doctor can determine which type of anti-anxiety medication may work best with your physiology and the type of symptoms you experience. Therefore, giving your doctor a full medical history and current medication list can be essential. Certain anxiety medications might cause complications if you have other medical conditions you take medicine for.

When you talk to your doctor about deciding on an anxiety medicine for you, they may 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 typically have different medical needs and will likely receive different medication recommendations.

Types of anxiety medication

There may be a few popular categories of anxiety medications, often including SSRIs, SNRIs, beta-blockers, and benzodiazepines. SSRIs and SNRIs are the two classes of medications commonly prescribed to treat anxiety. 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs work by increasing the serotonin levels in your brain. Common brand names of SSRIs for anxiety and depression may 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 anti-anxiety meds, these medications are typically designed to work more gently, smoothly, and steadily. It's important to note that these medications often take several weeks to show effects as they gradually reduce anxiety.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are another class of medications commonly used to treat anxiety that works by increasing both serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. They are often first-line options alongside SSRIs to promote anxiety relief. Common SNRI brand names may include Effexor, Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Fetzima. Clinical trials have shown SNRIs to be effective in treating anxiety, although they may have different side effects and interactions compared to SSRIs.


Beta-blockers were mainly designed to treat heart problems and high blood pressure. They can also be used off-label to reduce anxiety, especially in stressful situations such as public speaking. Beta-blockers may help most with the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as dizziness, shakiness, sweating, a trembling voice, and rapid heart rate. They are often used as a medication for performance anxiety. Beta-blockers are not habit-forming, potentially making them a safer option for many patients, including pregnant women, under medical supervision.


Benzodiazepines are effective for short-term treatment of severe anxiety and panic attacks, acting quickly to provide relief. However, the risk of addiction and physical dependence on benzodiazepines increases with prolonged use, making it important to use them under strict medical supervision. Taking benzodiazepines is often reserved for cases where other treatment options have failed or in combination with other drugs for a comprehensive treatment plan.

Effects and side effects of anxiety medication

Different anxiety medications tend to work differently. Therefore, you may want to be aware of the unwanted side effects of anti-anxiety medications. Some medications may have fewer side effects than others. Common anxiety medication side effects include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Nervousness
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased depression
  • Reduced sexual desire
  • Memory problems
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions*

Certain medications, especially benzodiazepines, may be linked to physical dependence and addiction. If you stop taking these anti-anxiety medications abruptly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and headache. Gradual tapering under medical supervision is recommended, as sudden discontinuation can lead to serious health risks.

Considerations when choosing treatment

After reviewing your and your family’s medical history and conducting a medical examination, your doctor will likely evaluate a few other things when determining the kind of medication that may be best for you. 

They will normally diagnose the type of anxiety you have, as different medications are often suited to treat different kinds of anxiety. They may 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 substance use disorder and if you experience symptoms of other disorders, like depression, for example. You can also discuss concerns about costs and whether a brand or generic name of a medication is more appropriate for you. 

Other treatment methods for anxiety

Studies suggest that herbal supplements containing ingredients like L-lysine, L-arginine, and magnesium can help ease symptoms of anxiety. These are usually 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 and ask your doctor before trying new supplements, 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, can also relieve anxiety symptoms. These may be excellent supplemental activities to add to your doctor’s treatment plan.

Therapy is generally the first-line treatment for anxiety

Online therapy for an anxiety disorder

Anxiety medications have often 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 usually 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 may work carefully with the patient to process the feelings associated with them and develop techniques to move past them. The final goal is normally 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 choose not to (or are unable to) go to therapy. The reasons for this tend to vary and depend on the individual, but they most often include issues around availability and scheduling conflicts. 

Virtual care can alleviate social anxiety symptoms

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 may not 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 may be speaking with a therapist on an online platform, such as BetterHelp. BetterHelp can make it possible for licensed therapists to work with you from any location with an internet connection at a time that fits your schedule. You can speak with a counselor via phone, online chat, or video call. 

In general, online therapy is safe and affordable, and studies find that it can be as effective as in-person therapy for treating anxiety disorders, depression, and more. 


Some of the most common anti-anxiety medication options include benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, SNRIs, and SSRIs. However, options like psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and herbal supplements can also decrease anxiety symptoms, and therapy is typically the first-line treatment for anxiety. It can be easy to match with a licensed therapist and schedule sessions through an online therapy platform like BetterHelp.

If you’re interested in supplement and medication options for anxiety, be sure to consult your doctor.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started