Over 10% of American adults take anxiety medications in the form of antidepressants. Anxiety medications are often paired with therapy to help manage an anxiety disorder. The use of anxiety medications may be short-term or long-term, depending on the needs of the individual, how severe the symptoms are, whether there are other medical conditions present, and how therapy is working on its own. There are a number of different anxiety medications that can be prescribed.
Benzodiazepines are the most common class of anxiety medications and are normally prescribed to manage anxiety over the short-term. This class of anxiety medications is designed to promote relaxation and minimize tension in the muscles, easing the physical symptoms of anxiety. Common examples of benzodiazepines are diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax). Unfortunately, if benzodiazepines are used over the long-term, increased tolerance and dependence can result, requiring ever increasing doses to have the same effect.
When it comes to long-term use, there are many doctors who prefer to prescribe tricyclic antidepressants over benzodiazepines when prescribing anxiety medications. Tricyclic antidepressants are very effective in treating anxiety disorders, but they come with a high risk of side effects, which include blurred vision, dry mouth, urinary retention, and constipation. Examples of tricyclic antidepressants include desipramine (Norpramin) and nortriptyline (Aventyl).
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs are anxiety medications that work to stop to the reabsorption of serotonin by specific nerve cells in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter created by the body and acts to balance a person’s mood. Blocking its reabsorption means there is more available and mood is improved. SSRIs are anxiety medications known to produce fewer side effects than tricyclic antidepressants. However, they do still have potential side effects, including weight gain, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction. Examples of SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa) and fluoxetine (Prozac).
Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
SNRIs are anxiety medications that work in two ways by stopping the reabsorption of both serotonin and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine by cells in the brain. Since these anxiety medications are thought to be just as effective as SSRIs, they are often a first choice for doctors. There are potential side effects of SNRIs, which include stomach upset, headaches, insomnia, a rise in blood pressure, and sexual dysfunction. Examples of SNRIs include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
Anxiety medications can be prescribed by your family doctor, pediatricians, psychiatrists, and in some states nurse practitioners. They can be taken to treat many different types of anxiety, such as general anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and social anxiety disorder. If you think you have a problem with anxiety, speak with your health care provider.
You will want to be sure that your health care provider is aware of all medications you are taking when prescribing anxiety medications so that you can avoid unwanted and dangerous drug interactions. You should also ask questions of your own regarding anxiety medications, including how the medication will help you, whether there are any types of food or drinks you should avoid consuming, and what the potential side effects are.