Panic Attacks

Medications for Panic Attacks

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Medications for Panic Attacks

Suffering from panic attacks can be like having non-fatal heart attacks. Panic attacks can be debilitating, often causing stress that interferes with daily functioning. Often one of the first treatment options that you'll consider is medication. In this article, we'll discuss some of the most common medication recommendations for treating panic attacks.

Medication is not a cure

Mental health disorders cannot be cured by medicine alone. You need to commit to a therapy treatment which can get at the root cause for your anxiety symptoms.

Doctors Are Quick to Prescribe Drugs

It's extremely common to find out you have panic attacks from a medical doctor, rather than a psychologist. That's because the physical symptoms of panic attacks are very similar to serious health disorders. It is common for people to seek help from their primary care physician rather than thinking that they are suffering from a mental health issue.

Often doctors will recommend a medication for treating panic attacks. While you should always follow your doctor's advice, you should also know that medication alone will not eliminate panic attacks. Often people find that once they stop taking the medication, their symptoms return.

Problems with Panic Attack Medications

Medications will always have their place. If your panic attacks are severe, other treatment options aren't working and you need immediate help, they can provide that relief. There are however side effects and other issues to consider:

  • Tranquilizers and Personality Changes In order to prevent panic attacks, the drugs provided for panic disorder are incredibly powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they can cause severe fatigue, a loss of energy, and sometimes even personality changes. For some this is worthwhile however many find the side effects of medication to be undesirable.
  • No Guarantee Many of these medications also are not guaranteed to reduce panic attacks. Most are created for anxiety, but not for panic, and while the two are related, since they're both anxiety disorders, they are still caused by different thought processes and physical reactions. While uncommon, some people actually see a panic attack increase because of the way the symptoms of these medications make them feel.
  • Thoughts and Coming Off Meds Medications for panic attacks cannot be taken forever, nor should they. Many also lead to dependency which can cause significant withdrawal symptoms. Some individuals build up a tolerance to the medication, finding that they are no longer effective at their usual dosage. This can lead to upping the dosage or having to change medications. Unfortunately, panic attacks are more common when you fear panic attacks; as soon as you start to come off medication you're going to focus on whether or not you are having a panic attack, which makes you more likely to have them.

Medications for panic attacks don't address the root cause of them. While you may find some relief from your panic attacks, you may also suffer from fatigue and other significant side effects.

Types of Medications for Panic Attacks

Despite these problems, panic attack medications do have their place. In some cases the attacks may be so severe that some temporary relief is needed. In those cases, you may be prescribed any or all of the following medications:

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a powerful anti-anxiety drug that is often prescribed for panic attacks. Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are some of the most common. These medications have a mild sedative property and may cause dependence, but tend to work because they reduce the activity of nerves in the brain responsible for emotional changes.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are another common panic attack medication, although they are more effective for other anxiety disorders. Antidepressants are mood boosters, and positive moods can decrease the likelihood of anxiety attacks. They come in three groups: tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Examples include:

  • TCAs - Tofranil, Elavil, and Anafranil
  • MAOIs - Nardil, Marplan, and Parnate
  • SSRIs - Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.

All of these antidepressants have side effects, including a potentially dangerous increase in depression, headache, low blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, and weight gain.

Other Anxiety Medications

Doctors may also prescribe other anxiety medications or sedatives to manage panic attacks, but usually they'll try the above options first. Drugs like buspirone may be prescribed after weaning off the above medications to manage anxiety but it is unknown whether or not it can control panic attacks in the long term.

You may find that you need medication help to deal with your panic attacks but the most important thing to remember is that no medication should be used alone. You should always combine medication with therapy so that you can eventually stop taking medication without the anxiety and panic attacks returning.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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