How Do Anxiety Disorder Medications Work?


When someone suffers from an anxiety disorder, it goes beyond the regular anxiety that everyone suffers from day to day.  This form of anxiety can be chronic, recurring and extreme to the point of being unbearable.  Therefore many doctors will recommend prescription medication to help treat the problem.

Some people will not mind medication, as it is a quick fix, while others will prefer psychotherapeutic treatment instead.

Of course, no medication will “cure” anxiety disorders.  However, taking the right medication can control certain undesirable symptoms of the disorder.  Therapeutic medication for anxiety disorders must be prescribed by a physician, usually a psychiatrist who can then offer further assistance through psychotherapy.  In some cases both medication and psychotherapy is recommended will be recommended by a psychiatrist.

Forms of Medication

Antidepressants are one form of medication used to treat anxiety disorders as well as depression.  These forms of medication alter the brain chemistry immediately, though they can take as long as 6 weeks to reduce symptoms.  It is vital that patients take the prescription regularly if this treatment is to work.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are a certain type of antidepressant that alters the levels of neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain chemistry, thus allowing easier communication between brain cells.  SSRIs like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil and Celexa are recommended for panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, and post traumatic stress disorder.

Effexor is related to the other SSRIs and used to treat general anxiety.  SSRI’s are recommended because they are effective and cause less overall side effects than other antidepressants.  However some side effects do persist.

Tricyclics are also used to treat various anxiety disorders and include brands like Tofranil and Anafranil.  These start at low dosage and are gradually increased with minor symptoms like dizziness, drowsiness, and weight gain.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are another class of antidepressant medication.  Prescriptions like Nardil, Parnate and Marplan are useful in treating certain types of disorders like panic and social phobia.  However side effects are heavy, especially if certain foods or other medications are taken along with MAOIs.

Then there are anti-anxiety drugs, which are high-potency benzodiazepines.  This class includes names like Ativan, Klonopin and Xanax.  For the most part these drugs have less side effects than the others, though drowsiness is still listed.

Another problem is that benzodiazepines are believed to be more addictive than other medications; sometimes patients must increase dosage as the body gets use to the initial amount.  Like most addictive drugs, withdrawal symptoms can appear if the patient stops taking the medication.  Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed on a short term basis.

Beta blockers such as Inderal are another form of traditional medication used to treat heart problems.  It can also help with social phobia and may be prescribed on a short term basis if a phobic event can be predicted, such as a large gathering or public speech.

There is a risk in all traditional medication, but in some extreme cases it may be the only practical solution—and even requested by the patient who wishes to stop the symptoms of anxiety.

Last Updated on March 4, 2024