Anxiety Medications: Types, Effects, and Precautions
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Anxiety affects nearly 20% of the population, making it the most common type of mental illness. There's nothing wrong with feeling anxious from time to time. In a busy, fast-paced world, anxiety is hard to escape completely. If you have anxiety often that just won't go away, it can become a significant problem. Anxiety medications can help, but how do you know when, if, and what kind you need? The first step is understanding your options.
Why Doctors Prescribe Anxiety Medication
Anxiety medications can be helpful in treating anxiety's symptoms. In some cases, medication may be so helpful that no additional treatment is needed. In others, medication is used alongside therapy or people pursue therapy without medication.
Bridge To Learning
Psychiatrists and doctors prescribe anti-anxiety medications to give you the support you need as you learn practices and techniques to reduce and deal with anxiety. In these cases, medication treatment is usually limited. Through therapy, you develop the skills you need.
If your anxiety is so severe that you can't function normally, your doctor may prescribe you anti-anxiety medications. People who have anxiety disorders may fall into this category. When you can't take care of your basic needs, go to work, or interact with other people, medications for anxiety can be the key to everyday functioning.
People with anxiety disorders often benefit from taking medicine for anxiety. There are several distinct types of anxiety disorders as well as other mental health disorders that often feature anxiety. They include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety
- Separation Anxiety
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Adjustment Disorder
- Substance-induced Anxiety Disorder
- Anxiety Related to a Medical Condition
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
What Are Prescription Anxiety Meds Available?
Your doctor will be the one to prescribe or not prescribe an anxiety med for you. Still, it's a good idea to be familiar with the most common anxiety medications beforehand if that is probable. After all, you probably want some input into what you put into your body. By learning about the options, you can be prepared to have an intelligent discussion with your doctor.
Anxiety Med Names
Anxiety med names can be confusing. One reason is that generic names and brand names are often used interchangeably. Another reason is that many people don't like to talk about their medications for mental health problems, so the names of these medications are often less familiar. Below is a list of brand name anxiety medicines and their generic equivalents. The brand name(s) are listed first, followed by the generic names.
- Xanax: alprazolam
- Klonopin: clonazepam
- Ativan: lorazepam
- Lexapro: escitalopram
- BuSpar: buspirone
- Valium: diazepam
- Vistaril, Atarax, Vistaril IM, Hyzine, Vistaject-50, Rezine, Vistacon, Vistacot, Vistazine, Vistazine 50: hydroxyzine
- Cymbalta: duloxetine
- Effexor XR: venlafaxine XR
- Gralise, Horizant, Neurontin, Gabarone: gabapentin
- Brisdelle, Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexava: paroxetine
- Wellbutrin: bupropion
- Zoloft: sertraline
- Prozac: fluoxetine
- Inderal: propranolol
Anxiety Medication List For Most Adults
Adults can take any of the anti-anxiety medicines if their doctor agrees. It's important to give your doctor your full medical history and medication list before you discuss what the best anti-anxiety medication for you is. If you have other medical conditions, certain anxiety medications might cause you additional medical issues.
When you talk to your doctor about deciding on an anxiety medicine for you, tell them if you have any of the following conditions:
- Heart, liver or kidney disease
- A bleeding or clotting disorder
- Seizures or epilepsy
- Narrow-angle glaucoma
- Bipolar disorder
- Suicidal thoughts
- A recent heart attack
Anti-anxiety Medication List For Seniors
Seniors have different needs than other adults as well as children and teens. They need medications that have fewer side effects and have milder effects. It's also important to avoid medications that cause memory problems, increased risk of falls, incontinence, and problems with balance and movement.
Some of the most common medications for anxiety in the elderly include:
Anxiety Medication For Children
For children, the most common medications for depression and anxiety are usually SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and Lexapro. Children who have experienced a recent trauma or who have intense anxiety attacks may be better treated with short-term anxiety medication treatment with benzodiazepines such as Ativan, Xanax, and Klonopin. Other medications for acute stress in children may include atypical antidepressants such as BuSpar and Ambien.
It's important to make sure children are protected from the side effects of anxiety medications. Many of the side effects go away after a month or two of starting them. Report symptoms like nervousness, light-headedness, weakness, or fatigue when your child sees their doctor.
However, if you notice any of the following symptoms, report them to your child's doctor immediately:
Anxiety Medication For Teens
Doctors may prescribe anxiety medications for teens just as they do for children. However, it's even more important that doctors prescribe nonaddictive anxiety medication for teens. Teens are more likely to get anxiety and sleep medications illegally if they have prescriptions for them.
Certain groups are at the greatest risk of abusing anxiety medication than most teens. These include students who are white, female or have had a legal prescription for anxiety for several years.
Medication For Social Anxiety
If you have problems being in social situations, social anxiety disorder medication may be the best medication for anxiety to meet your needs. Many different medications for social anxiety have been used. However, certain ones are considered the most common medications for social anxiety. Preferred social anxiety medication options include:
- Luvox CR
- Effexor XR
Anxiety Medication For Dogs
Anyone who has had a dog with intense or long-running anxiety problems knows the pain of watching your pet suffer. Besides that, anxious dogs can sometimes hurt people or damage property. For all these reasons, anxiety medication for dogs can be crucial to your dog's well-being.
Your veterinarian can prescribe a dog anxiety med for your pet. Some of the most common are:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Elavil (amitriptyline)
- BuSpar (buspirone)
- Clomicalm (clomipramine)
- Sileo (dexmedetomidine)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Reconcile (fluoxetine)
- Paxil or Seroxal (paroxetine)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
You can get over the counter or natural dog anxiety medicine, but even so, you still need to talk to your veterinarian about what you're giving your dog for anxiety. These supplements may include:
- SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine)
Effects And Side Effects Of Anxiety Medication
Different anxiety medications work differently to produce a calming effect. Knowing the specific effects of anti-anxiety medications can help you have an informed discussion with your doctor about them. You also need to know the side effects that might cause you problems. Then, you can make an educated decision about what types of anxiety med you're willing to take.
These drugs work very quickly, so they're very helpful for people with anxiety attacks or extremely intense episodes of acute anxiety. They slow down the nervous system, giving you a physical and mental sense of calm.
Benzodiazepines Side Effects
Side effects of benzodiazepines include drowsiness, memory problems, dizziness, confusion, poor balance, poor coordination, stomach upset, slurred speech, headaches, difficulty with concentration, and blurred vision.
Anxiety medicine names for benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. These drugs aren't usually the recommended medication for anxiety and depression that occur together because they can cause depression to get worse.
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.
It's important not to drink alcohol or take painkillers or sleeping pills when you are taking benzodiazepines. Antihistamines can intensify the intended effects of these medications, so it's important to let your doctor know when you're taking either type of medicine. Antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft can make benzodiazepines more toxic.
Paradoxically, benzodiazepines can also increase your anxiety or cause manic symptoms.
These drugs are not recommended for people over 65, people who have a history of substance abuse, or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
SSRI Antidepressant Effects
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase the serotonin levels in your brain. Anxiety medication names for SSRIs include Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Luvox, and Zoloft. Rather than giving you a quick feeling of calm within a half hour or so as benzodiazepines do, these drugs work more gently, smoothly, and steadily.
SSRI Antidepressant Side Effects
With SSRIs, there is less risk of addiction than with benzodiazepines. However, they can cause anxiety medication side effects like:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain
- Excessive sweating
- Increased depression
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
SSRI Antidepressants Precautions
Although these drugs don't cause the same level of withdrawal as benzodiazepines, they still need to be reduced gradually before you stop taking them. If not, you might experience extreme depression, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms.
Beta Blockers Effects
Beta blockers, including Inderal medication and Tenormin, are 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.
Beta Blockers Side Effects
The side effects of anxiety medication in the beta blocker category include:
- A headache
BuSpar is a relatively new anxiety medication that acts as a mild tranquilizer. Just like SSRIs, BuSpar increases the serotonin in the brain. It also decreases the dopamine. It has the advantage of being slow-acting without causing sedation, memory problems, or coordination problems. The withdrawal effects are very minor. It's best used for generalized anxiety disorder and is often the best medicine for anxiety if you're an older adult or have substance abuse problems.
BuSpar Side Effects
With BuSpar, the side effects of anxiety medication are relatively mild. They include:
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Weight gain
- Dry mouth
Considerations When Choosing Medications For Anxiety
Before you can come up with an antianxiety medication list you're willing to discuss; you need to know what the most frequently used medications are for your situation. There are several things to consider, and your doctor's insight will help you learn even more about the different choices available to you. Some things medical professionals consider before prescribing anti-anxiety medications are your age, biological needs, addictions, and the severity of your anxiety.
What Type Of Anxiety Do You Have?
Different anxiety medications best treat different anxiety disorders. In general, benzodiazepines are most helpful for the sudden anxiety associated with panic attacks. Generalized anxiety responds better to antidepressants and new anxiety medications such as BuSpar. Many doctors choose Inderal medication as the best medication for social anxiety. Talk to your doctor about which is the best anxiety medicine to meet your individual needs.
How Severe Is Your Anxiety?
If you have just minor anxiety, it's best to avoid anti-anxiety medicine. If you do need anything, your doctor will likely choose a low dose and a mild anxiety medication. If your usual anxiety level is high, though, your doctor may choose a stronger med for you.
What Is Your Age?
If you're an older adult, you have special medical needs. Drugs stay in your system longer than they did when you were younger. Sedative medications affect you more. Also, the older you get, the more likely it is that you're on multiple medications for various conditions, so there's a greater risk of harmful drug interactions.
Children need medication for anxiety that suits their age, too. It's always important to avoid harmful effects. Anxiety medication for children needs to be safe enough to avoid lasting harm and to allow them to grow and develop normally.
Do You Need Fast-Acting Or Long-Term Anxiety Meds?
Some medications, such as Ativan and Xanax, work very quickly. These are most suitable for short-term use. They can also be helpful for people who have panic attacks and need relief quickly. Other medications, especially those used for long-term conditions such as OCD or generalized anxiety disorder, may need a medication that works more slowly and has less risk of addiction.
Do You Struggle With Addictions?
Addictions present a problem for people with anxiety. Fast-acting medications can lead very quickly into a cycle of addiction. Addicts are known for their drug-seeking behaviors, and they may seek anxiety medications once they've tried them. So, if you take anxiety attack medication and find yourself constantly asking how to get anxiety medication, this can be a sign that you need to treat your anxiety differently.
You do have options for treatment. You can take non-addictive anxiety medication or opt out of medication treatment entirely and focus on therapy instead.
Do You Need Medication For Anxiety And Depression?
Anxiety doesn't always come alone. Often, it's a part of a complex problem such as major depression with anxiety. That's one reason doctors prescribe antidepressants as medication for depression and anxiety. Certain prescription drugs are better medications for anxiety and depression together than others. Some of the most common antidepressants used for anxiety depression medication are:
- Celexa (citalopram)
- Lexapro (escitalopram)
- Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Zoloft (sertraline)
- Cymbalta (duloxetine)
- Effexor (venlafaxine)
- Wellbutrin (bupropion)
- Luvox (Luvoxamine)
Depression anxiety medications have a major advantage over most of the drugs used only as anti-anxiety medicine. That is that they are slower-acting, so they don't tend to be addictive. So, in most cases, antidepressants are the best medications for anxiety and depression.
It's more important to take antidepressants used as anxiety and depression medication than it is to take fast-acting anxiety medication. Even the best anxiety medications that are fast-acting might be taken as needed, depending on how your doctor prescribes them. They have a shorter half-life, meaning that they stay in your system for a shorter time. However, antidepressant medications for depression and anxiety need to be taken every day, so they can build up in your bloodstream and stay at a constant level.
Another thing to remember is that the medications typically used for brief anxiety medication treatment may work almost immediately. With antidepressant depression and anxiety medication, though, it might take about two weeks to see results.
If you present with symptoms of depression along with symptoms of anxiety, your doctor may suggest a med for depression and anxiety that can help with both problems. Even if you don't show symptoms of depression, your doctor may choose an anxiety and depression medication for your anxiety to prevent problems with depression as well. That's because generalized anxiety disorder can lead to depression when you become so desperate to calm down that you start to feel depressed or even suicidal.
What Are Your Physical Needs?
Anxiety medications don't just affect your mind; they affect your body as well. Finding the best medication for your physical well-being is important. It can be difficult if you have other medical conditions. Children, teens, and elderly adults have different physical needs than the adult age group.
If you are under or overweight, your doctor might consider choosing an anxiety medicine that helps with that. Underweight that's linked to nervous habits like excessive use of caffeine or nicotine can easily be overcome once the anxiety is controlled. In fact, about 25% of people gain weight on antidepressants often used for anxiety.
For people who are overweight or obese, certain anti-anxiety medications that cause weight loss or inhibit weight gain can be used. Some of these are:
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
What Does Your Doctor Think Is The Best Anxiety Medication For You?
Of course, you need your doctor's approval to get any prescription anxiety medications. If you decide to get an over-the-counter or natural medication or supplement, it's also a good idea to check with your doctor(s) and let them know what you take for your anxiety. Then, they can take those additional anxiety treatments into account in every aspect of the care they provide for you.
Over The Counter Anxiety Medication
If your anxiety isn't so severe that it disrupts your daily functioning, you may fare best with mild anxiety medications or natural anxiety medicine you can get over the counter. This type of medicine for anxiety has few if any side effects, although the anxiety symptom relief is typically not as effective for severe anxiety as prescription medications.
Natural Anxiety Medication
You don't need a prescription, and you can relax more about side effects when you take natural anxiety medication. Natural medicine for anxiety includes:
- Chamomile tea or supplements
- L-theanine supplements or green tea
- Valerian in tea or supplements
- Lemon balm extracts
- Passionflower extracts
- Omega-3 fish oil capsules
- B-complex vitamins
- Vitamin D
- Ginkgo Biloba
This type of medicine for anxiety and depression is relatively safe. However, you need to mention that you're planning to take them when you talk to your doctor. Some have sedative properties, so they could react with other medications you're taking to cause too much sedation.
Other OTC Anxiety Medication
You can use any of a variety of over the counter anxiety medication pharmacies sell. You can get anxiety medication over the counter to help with mild and infrequent anxiety. Suggested over the counter anxiety medicine is typically limited to small doses of Benadryl.
Over the counter anxiety medicine listed under natural anxiety medicines above are usually very safe, but OTC anxiety medication in other categories may cause serious side effects.
You can also get dog anxiety medication over the counter. Be sure you talk to your pet's veterinarian before using any over the counter medicine for anxiety. These include:
- Composure Liquid
- Quiet Moments
- HomeoPet Anxiety
- Be Serene
Can You Solve Your Problems Without Anxiety Medications?
If you can solve your anxiety problems without medication, you can avoid the risks and side effects that come with them. There are several ways to help yourself. If you feel these changes will be difficult to make, a therapist can help you improve your lifestyle choices through cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy is a proven treatment for anxiety and has research to support its effectiveness.
Some of the other things you can do for anxiety besides taking medications are:
- Getting involved with yoga, tai chi, or an exercise program
- Spending time in nature
- Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or praying
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Do deep breathing exercises
What To Do Next
Whether you would like to take prescription or over the counter anxiety medications, you need to discuss your symptoms and choices with your doctor.
Another thing you can do to beat your anxiety now and in the future is going to a therapist for cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT has been shown to be the most effective treatment for anxiety - even more effective than anxiety medication!
A counselor can help you make changes as well as learn helpful techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. If you have social anxiety, they can help you learn how to function better without medicine for anxiety. Even if you decide to take anxiety medicine, your best option is to do cognitive behavioral therapy along with it.
Help is at your fingertips with BetterHelp.com, an online platform that makes it possible for licensed counselors to work with you wherever you are and on your schedule. You can be calmer, function better in your everyday life, and increase your happiness day by day when you get the help you need to overcome your anxiety!