Panic Attacks
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Medications for Panic Attacks

Victoria LeBlanc, MS, LCPC
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:

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:

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.

Article Resources
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  2. Boyer, W. Serotonin uptake inhibitors are superior to imipramine and alprazolam in alleviating panic attacks: a meta-analysis. International Clinical Psychopharmacology (1995).
  3. Roy-Byrne, Peter P., et al. Relapse and rebound following discontinuation of benzodiazepine treatment of panic attacks: Alprazolam versus diazepam. The American journal of psychiatry (1989).
  4. Wiborg, Ida M., and Alv A. Dahl. Does brief dynamic psychotherapy reduce the relapse rate of panic disorder? Archives of General Psychiatry 53.8 (1996): 689.
  5. Noyes, Russell, Michael J. Garvey, and Brian L. Cook. Follow-up study of patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia with panic attacks treated with tricyclic antidepressants. Journal of affective disorders 16.2 (1989): 249-257.
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