There are many different anxiety medications available. These mediations have generally proven benefits for relieving anxiety symptoms - particularly for severe anxiety - although many come at a cost, since in order to treat your anxiety they need to alter your brain chemistry in a way that many people find problematic.
Anxiety Drugs - Not the First Choice
Medications are the last resort of the anxiety treatment world. There are uses for anxiety medications, but the truth is that anxiety - more than nearly any other condition - benefits from medical intervention the least.
That's because anxiety coping requires you to train your mind to handle the stress of day to day living. When you use medicine to cope with your anxiety, you start to depend on them. Without the medications, your anxiety will come back, and you'll be back where you started.
In addition, anxiety drugs have a tendency to affect your personality and your energy levels in ways that make daily living problematic. Let's look at the pros and cons of anxiety medications:
- Requires little effort.
- Can complement therapy.
- May speed up recovery in those with severe anxiety.
- Can be used when other therapy solutions have not worked.
- Considerable likelihood of gastrointestinal side effects.
- Often causes extreme fatigue.
- Causes dependence and withdrawal issues.
- Body develops a tolerance causing them to lose effectiveness.
- Prevents introduction of natural coping strategies.
- May alter personality.
Again, this is not to say that medicinal use is necessarily bad. It does, however, show that for anxiety, medicine isn't the best first choice.
Most people go straight to the medications, but even therapeutic studies agree that medicinal use can actually hurt the potential for long term anxiety management and recovery. And, over time, not only will you need to stop taking the medications eventually - you'll lose the ability to cope without medication in the interim.
Still, there are times when you may choose to utilize prescription medications for anxiety. Below is a breakdown of the types of medications available, along with information about their effects and usage patterns.
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Type 1: Antidepressants
Contrary to popular belief, not all antidepressants were specifically designed to treat anxiety. Many were simply designed to alter brain chemistry in a way that makes it easier to cope with life stresses, and in this way, it's possible for several of them to reduce anxiety. Many were found to treat anxiety over the course of their antidepressant testing, and because many of those that suffer from anxiety also have depression (and vice-versa), these medications may benefit both.
The following are antidepressant drugs that may be prescribed as part of an anxiety treatment in order to facilitate mood, along with the side effects of these anxiety drugs:
Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Fluvoxamine (Luvox).
Possible side effects include nausea and vomiting, decreased libido, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea, and restlessness.
Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Venlafaxine (Effexor); Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq); Duloxetine (Cymbalta).
Possible side effects: possible anxiogenic effect (may actually increase anxiety in some patients), agitation, insomnia, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs) such as Imipramine (Tofranil), Desipramine (Norpramin), Doxepin (Sinequan), Nortriptyline (Pamelor), Amitriptyline (Elavil), Clomipramine (Anafranil).
Possible side effects include dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, drowsiness, and low blood pressure. Overdose can be fatal.
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) such as Tranylcypromine (Parnate), Phenelzine (Nardil), Isocarboxacid (Marplan).
Possible side effects include initial worsening of anxiety, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, edema, light-headedness and assorted neurological symptoms. Using these drugs may imply dietary restrictions and bears risk of toxicity. Overdose can be fatal.
Atypical Antidepressants such as Bupropion (Wellbutrin) and Trazodone.
Possible side effects include drowsiness and weight gain. These drugs are normally reserved for treating milder forms of anxiety disorders.
Type 2: Benzodiazepines
Perhaps the most commonly prescribed anxiety-only medications are benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are well known by their brand names, which include Alprazolam (Xanax), Clonazepam (Klonopin), and Lorazepam (Ativan).
Compared to anti-depressants, benzodiazepines have both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that they're designed specifically for controlling the symptoms of anxiety. They generally provide a sedation effect, which ensures that your body responds more calmly to stressors. They can also be adjusted fairly easily, and are generally well tolerated - although some minor gastrointestinal side effects are fairly common.
However, they're not without their problems either, and in many cases their problems outweigh their benefits:
- Sedation can become too strong, causing fatigue.
- Memory loss and concentration issues have often been reported.
- The drugs seem to lose their effectiveness over time.
- Benzodiazepines may lead to severe withdrawal symptoms if not weaned off slowly.
Benzodiazepines are also not ideal for some types of anxiety, and they often interact with drugs and alcohol that can be dangerous.
Benzodiazepines are not "bad" in any way, but they do come with risks, and they require you to stay on them, otherwise you may experience withdrawals that bring intense symptoms.
Note: Given the way they contrast each other, antidepressants and benzodiazepines are often prescribed together.
Type 3: Other Pharmacological Agents
Depending on the type of anxiety you have and what you've responded to, doctors may prescribe other medicines as well. Beta blockers and anticonvulsants are a few of the more well-known agents.
These are often used to control specific symptoms of anxiety, rather than level out neurotransmitter function itself. They may also be designed to reduce "autonomic arousal," which often occurs during panic attacks.
Research has also continued in the field of anxiety recovery, as more pharmaceutical companies seek to develop treatment options that act quickly without the dependency or side effects of most modern medications. The list above will be updated with the release of any new types of effective anxiety reduction drugs.
The Benefits and Dangers of Anti-Anxiety Drugs
Anxiety is a complex disorder, and may respond to anxiety drugs in different ways. There is no perfect anti-anxiety drug, as many create side effects or cause dependency in a way that make them less than idea for regular use.
It would be disingenuous to state that anxiety medications have no place. They're actually quite valuable for those that absolutely need them - those that are not responding well to psychological intervention and effective behavioral training techniques. But they shouldn't be used as an instant anxiety cure, and if you do decide to use these medications, make sure you're complementing them with behavioral therapy techniques that will ultimately reduce your need to use these medications over time.
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