When you suffer from anxiety, many areas of your life can be affected. It undermines your self-esteem and can have profound effects on work and school performance and social relationships. But there is help. Anti-anxiety medication has proven to be effective in reducing the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety disorders, especially when used in conjunction with therapy.
The class of medication most commonly prescribed for anxiety is known as the benzodiazepines. Ativan, Klonopin, Valium and Xanax are examples of this type of drug. Also known as anxiolytics or tranquilizers, these medications work by reducing activity in the central nervous system, calming and sedating the user. They are fast-acting, making them the perfect solution for people suffering from panic attacks. Their sedating effects are also useful in patients suffering from insomnia.
Aside from being used as anti-anxiety medication, benzodiazepines can be used to treat
- seizures (Klonopin, Valium, Tranxene)
- alcohol withdrawal symptoms (Librium)
- muscle spasms (Valium)
- Agitation (most commonly Ativan)
- insomnia (Ambien, Dalmane, Doral, ProSom, Restoril).
The 2 main types of benzodiazepines are short-acting and long-acting. Which category they fall into depends upon how quickly the body metabolizes them and if doses of them have a cumulative effective or not, as well as how quickly they act and the length of time they are effective. For longer-term treatment of general anxiety, the long-acting versions, such as Xanax and Valium, will be more beneficial. When the effects need to wear off more quickly, such as when treating panic attacks or insomnia, short-acting benzodiazepines, like Restoril or Ambien, are more advantageous.
As a central nervous system depressant, benzodiazepines should be taken with care. Because of their sedating effects, side effects such as:
- loss of coordination
- muscle weakness
- appetite changes
- dry mouth
and it is strongly cautioned not to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking them. Benzodiazepines also come with the risk of abuse and dependency. Higher doses are more likely to cause side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Gradually tapering the dose over several weeks can help reduce the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms like nausea, muscle cramps and seizures.
Antidepressants and beta-blockers
While benzodiazepines are the most commonly used anti-anxiety medication, there are other options, such as antidepressants and beta-blockers. SSRIs are the antidepressants most commonly prescribed for treatment of anxiety. Examples of SSRIs are Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. Low doses are started and then increased gradually. Tricyclic antidepressants and MAOIs are also antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders.
Antidepressants can have serious side effects, and can cause thoughts of suicide, especially in children and adolescents. SSRIs can cause:
- feeling jittery
- sexual problems.
Side effects of tricyclics include:
- dry mouth
- bladder problems
- blurred vision
- sexual dysfunction.
Lastly, MAOIs can cause drastic increases in blood pressure, which can lead to stroke. Certain foods, medications and other substances containing tyramine should be avoided when taking MAOIs. No matter which antidepressant is used to treat anxiety, a doctor should supervise to reduce the risk of serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
Typically used for treating heart conditions and high blood pressure, beta-blockers are most useful in treating the physical manifestations of anxiety, such as sweating, trembling and rapid heartbeat. Side effects of these drugs are cold extremities, dizziness, fatigue and weakness. People with diabetes or asthma should not use beta-blockers, because they can make these conditions worse.
So if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, take heart. Anti-anxiety medication can help you control the intense worry and fear associated with anxiety while also treating the physical symptoms. Most people with anxiety can life happy, productive lives with the help of drugs such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants and beta-blockers, so consult with your doctor today to see if any of these drugs are right for you.
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