Anxiety is a problematic condition. During times of intense anxiety, many people want to find immediate relief. The only thing that can provide immediate relief to intense anxiety is medication, but unfortunately, medications tend to be prescription only. That's why many people wonder if there are any over the counter medications for anxiety, in order to get the rapid relief they need.
What is Your Anxiety Score?
Medications dull anxiety, but they don't cure it. You need something more powerful - something that can cure anxiety forever. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test to find out how much you worry, how your anxiety compares to others, and what non-medicine strategies can treat it.
Unfortunately, there are currently no approved over-the-counter anxiety medications. But there are a few things you can take without a prescription that may provide you with relief that, while not medications per se, either have similar effects or have potential to re-create anxiety medication benefits.
We'll explore these options in this article. If you haven't yet, make sure you take our free 7 minute anxiety test so that you can score your anxiety severity and see safe treatments.
Why Medication is Prescription Only
Anxiety medications are controlled substances for a reason. Anxiety occurs in the brain, and anything powerful enough to affect the brain should likely be used only when recommended by a doctor.
But it should be noted that even if you could take an OTC medication, it may not be something you want to use. Anxiety is not a disease that can be cured by taking some medication for a week. It's something that needs changes in the way you think and feel. That involves learning to cope with the issues that cause you stress, something that medications don't do.
Medications dull anxiety, but they don't cure it. You'd have to take the medication for the rest of your life, and that can be dangerous and not ideal, since anxiety medications also stop working after a year or so.
Still, medications can help. So why are there no over-the-counter ones?
Potential for Abuse
Most anxiety medications are also drugs of abuse. Taken in certain ways, these drugs can cause significant mental impairment, and the concern is that if they were available over the counter, many people would be taking these drugs off label. That's too dangerous.
Remember, these are drugs that affect your brain directly. They alter your body's production and reception of neurotransmitters. That can be useful for reducing anxiety, but can both cause significant side effects and be extremely dangerous if more is taken than directed. They also interact with numerous other medications, alcohol, and more. These medications simply cannot be over the counter without posing a significant risk to the community.
Also, most anxiety medications also cause significant, and possibly even dangerous withdrawal symptoms - not unlike withdrawing from alcohol abuse.
Other Reasons to Avoid Medications
Another problem with anxiety medications is that they can make anxiety worse. In the short term, these medicines may provide some relief. But unfortunately, if you use these medicines for so long without any additional coping tips, your brain will start to depend on them as the only way to cope with stress.
So when you stop taking these medicines, you'll have lost some of your natural coping skills which, if you suffer from anxiety, may already have been struggling. That's a significant risk without alternative treatments and a doctor's supervision.
Will Anxiety Medications Ever Be Available Over the Counter?
There may be a day when an over the counter anxiety medication is possible. Some medications, like Buspirone, are a bit less powerful (while still useful for mild anxiety) and have fewer side effects. It is possible that a medication like Buspirone may someday be released, but given that it can also take several days for the medications to start working (no instant relief) and are not as powerful as benzodiazepines and other prescription medications, it still may not be the right choice.
Someday there will be an over the counter anxiety medicine, but as of yet, there are no medications that meet the criteria that would make them a viable option as an OTC.
Alternatives to OTC Anxiety Meds
Until an over the counter medication becomes available, there are several options that you could try. Some of these options include:
- Exercise Exercise has been extensively studied, and intense exercise may actually mimic the effects of some of the more powerful anxiety medicines. Exercise releases calming endorphins and burn away the stress hormone cortisol, so if you need rapid relief, a trip to the gym or a 30 minute jog may be highly beneficial.
- Kava Kava is an herbal supplement that some studies have shown may be as effective as several of the anxiety medications. Kava should still be used under the supervision of a doctor since it can also interact with other medicines and alcohol, but kava is an herb that is available without a prescription, so it may be worth attempting. Passionflower and valerian may also be beneficial, although they are not believed to be as powerful.
- CBD OIL CBD oil is an extract of the cannabis plant (known as Cannabidiol). It is usually taken from industrial hemp, which contains very little THC (the drug that causes the high), and even then any remaining THC is completely removed. Although we cannot recommend CBD oil yet due to lack of research and questionable legality, there are studies showing that this extract may have stress relief benefits. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of CBD.
- 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, or Sam-e Although many neurotransmitter imbalances have been linked to anxiety, serotonin is the one that has the strongest connection for most people. In theory, increasing serotonin levels in the brain should be able to decrease anxiety symptoms. According to natural health promoters, 5-HTP, L-Tryptophan, and Sam-e are three supplements that increase serotonin levels. It is not clear that they work in the research, but they are available over the counter for those interested in trying it.
- Water and Magnesium In some cases, anxiety may be caused by or exacerbated by a lack of important nutrients. So drinking a lot of water, taking magnesium supplements - these may help some people reduce their anxiety and find some degree of relief, even if it doesn't cure your anxiety altogether.
Again, none of these are guaranteed immediate cures, but they can be a tremendous help. If you're someone that benefits from relaxation exercises like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization, then you should try those as well.
You should also never self-medicate with alcohol, or any drug not designed for anxiety. Self-medication has the same effect as anxiety medicines - use them when you're feeling anxious, and you start to depend on them and lose your ability to cope any other way.
Next Steps for Anxiety
It's simply not a quick fix. It's something that you need to work on regularly and learn the skills necessary for reducing the way your stress affects you and preventing your anxiety from becoming unmanageable. It involves long term solutions, but in the end, these solutions can be very effective and reduce any chance that your anxiety comes back.
I've helped many people cure their anxiety without the use of medications. But it all starts with your symptoms.
Click here to take my free anxiety questionnaire, and get a recommended treatment based on what you're experiencing.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Aug 08, 2018.