Beta blockers are a class of drugs prescribed for a host of different treatments. While they may be used to treat heart disease, glaucoma, and hypertension, many doctors prescribe beta blockers for those with anxiety - especially those with severe anxiety and anxiety attacks.
Many people have reported using beta blockers with some success. But there are many risks associated with this class of drug, and in some cases it's possible that beta blockers will increase your anxiety, rather than help it.
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Do Beta Blockers Work?
In theory, beta blockers may help reduce anxiety. But they don't reduce anxiety in everybody, and they can't cure anxiety altogether. You'll need to continue to take the medication for the rest of your life, otherwise your anxiety will come back.
If you're willing to commit to medication, then you're willing to commit to something better and safer. Take my free anxiety test to find out about better ways to permanently cure anxiety.
How Beta Blockers Work
Beta-blockers are a class of drugs. They target what's known as a "beta receptor" that is found on many cells in the sympathetic nervous system, including the heart, kidneys, muscles, and airways. During times of stress, these areas of the body are "excited" by epinephrine.
In those with heart disease, as well as other health issues, beta blockers reduce the effects of adrenaline on the sympathetic nervous system in order to prevent second heart attacks and other disorders that are exacerbated by stress.
There are many types of beta blockers. Two of the most common prescribed for anxiety are Propranolol and Atenolol. Other beta blockers may only affect areas that are not ideal for reducing anxiety, or may cause too many side effects.
Beta Blockers Are Not Approved for Anxiety Reduction
Maybe the most important reason to avoid beta blockers is that they're not technically approved for anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) use. Doctors prescribe these medicines "off-label" - meaning that they aren't approved for use but are used anyway.
Off-label use is not uncommon for medications - not even medications for anxiety. What makes beta-blockers unique is that not only are they used off-label, but doctors aren't even sure why beta blockers reduce anxiety. Their mechanism is unknown. Doctors only know that those taking beta blockers appear to have fewer anxiety symptoms.
Medicine as a Treatment
Medicine in general should not be used to treat anxiety unless it's combined with more effective options. Medicine can only dull anxiety, not cure it, and in most cases it can cause the brain to become dependent on the medicine and rely on it during times of stress.
For those living with anxiety, this can be a tremendous problem. Anxiety itself indicates that you are already struggling to cope with stress. If you also depend on this medication - or any medication - especially without combining it with some form of therapy, then you're going to find it much harder to cope with anxiety after you stop taking the medication.
Side Effects of Beta Blockers
Yet the main reason to avoid beta blockers is the side effects. What's unique about beta blockers is that no one knows how they'll affect any given person. Everyone responds to beta blockers differently. So while some may find some relief from their anxiety, others may find their anxiety to be much worse, while others may see no effect on their anxiety or significantly more adverse reactions.
The most common side effects of beta blockers for anxiety include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Sleep Disturbances/Nightmares
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Metabolism Changes
In rare cases, heart disease may become a problem for those taking beta blockers.
How Beta Blockers Increase Anxiety
Some people tolerate beta blockers well, and find that they're successful in reducing anxiety symptoms. But others find that the side effects increase their anxiety overall.
Those with panic attacks are especially prone to this anxiety increase, because many of the side effects of beta blockers act as triggers to anxiety attacks, and increase stress in those taking the medications.
Furthermore, the nightmares, sleep disorders, shortness of breath, hallucinations, and general ill feeling can increase anxiety in all patients, leading to significant disturbances in coping ability.
Beta blockers have their place as an anxiety treatment, but beta blockers also have several dangers that make them a risky choice for regular use. Always consult a doctor before taking any beta blocker, and make sure that you keep your doctor informed of any side effects.
Alternative Treatments to Beta Blockers
All medications have their risks, and as mentioned above, medications in general are not an ideal form of treatment. Still, other medications may be more successful at reducing anxiety than beta blockers. Some people prefer medicines like busparone, while others may benefit from benzodiazepines like Valium.
Still, the best way to treat anxiety is to use a non-medicinal treatment that won't cause dependency or side effects.
I've helped many people that have suffered from anxiety recover and live an anxiety-free life. But to do that I need to know your symptoms. Please take my free anxiety test now and get recommendations for effective treatment options.
Hayes, Peggy E., and S. Charles Schulz. Beta-blockers in anxiety disorders. Journal of affective disorders 13.2 (1987): 119-130.
Silvestri, Antonello, et al. Report of erectile dysfunction after therapy with beta-blockers is related to patient knowledge of side effects and is reversed by placebo. European heart journal 24.21 (2003): 1928-1932.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.