When you’ve decided to treat your anxiety with medication, there are several types to choose from. Below, we list some of the most commonly used anxiety medications.
No matter which medication you choose for your anxiety treatment, bear in mind the advice of Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He advocates a three-pronged approach: psychotherapy, exercise, and medication. Each can help support the other.
“There’s no magic in the treatment of anxiety,” he told Everyday Health. Though for many, finding the medication that offers relief from persistent and debilitating worry can feel like magic.
Antidepressants are often used as a first line of defense against anxiety disorders. The two most commonly types of antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
SSRIs increase the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin by blocking its reabsorption into the brain. SSRIs aren’t habit-forming, though some people do experience side effects, which can include sleep trouble, weight gain, and issues of sexual function. SSRIs require an investment of time; they take several weeks to reach their full effectiveness. Examples of commonly used anxiety medications include citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).
SNRIs increase levels of both the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine by inhibiting their reabsorption into the brain. SNRIs have similar side effects as SSRIs and also take several weeks to achieve their maximum effectiveness. Examples include desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and venlafaxine (Effexor).
These fast-acting sedatives help relax your muscles and calm the mind. Benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed in conjunction with antidepressants until those medications can reach their full effect. Because they are habit-forming, increase drowsiness, and can cause problems with balance and memory, benzodiazepines are most typically used for the short-term treatment of anxiety disorders.
There can also be powerful withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued. Examples of benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
Beta-blockers are most often prescribed to treat heart conditions, but their off-label use is for the relief of the physical symptoms of anxiety. A beta-blocker (or a short-acting benzodiazepine) can help with trembling, elevated heart rate, and sweating.
Beta-blockers are used on an “as-needed” basis, such as before giving an important speech or the last round of interviews with the dream job you want to nab. An example of a beta-blocker is propranolol (Inderal).
This one’s a bit of a mystery, as its not fully understood how buspirone works. Buspirone is used to treat both short-term and chronic anxiety disorders. While it can take up to several weeks for the drug to reach its full efficacy, buspirone has fewer of the sexual side effects of SSRIs. It can cause dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Buspirone is available as a generic drug as well as the brand-name drug Buspar.
They’re not just for hay fever. While antihistamines are primarily used to treat allergies and relieve itching, some have found them effective in the treatment of their anxiety disorders. Because they have not been thoroughly studied in this application, however, they are not widely used. Antihistamines can be used for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders on a short-term basis — no studies have yet proven its effectiveness for social anxiety disorder. Side effects may include dry mouth and drowsiness. Examples include hydroxyzine pamoate (Vistaril).