Not everyone who has anxiety needs medication. Anxiety is complex. If you have anxiety, your doctor or healthcare provider will need to ask detailed questions about what you are experiencing.
The first step to treating anxiety is usually understanding what it is, how it affects you and if possible making lifestyle changes. Your doctor or a therapist may also use psychological therapy. Your doctor might refer you to a psychologist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychological therapy that can help you change your thoughts and behaviours, or other types of psychological therapies.
If your anxiety is moderate or severe, or you do not feel better with psychological therapy, your doctor might also prescribe medications.
Types of anxiety medications
Medications for anxiety include antidepressants and benzodiazepines. These correct an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that causes anxiety.
There are several kinds of antidepressants, but the ones most commonly used to treat anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medicines increase the level of certain chemicals in your brain that can affect your mood.
Most people who take antidepressants will be advised to take them for at least 12 months, if they are tolerating them well.
Benzodiazepines, also known as sedatives, are usually only used to reduce anxiety for a short term (less than a month, and the shorter the safer) as they are addictive. Benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed to assist sleep.
Important information about anxiety medication
Medication often takes longer to treat anxiety than it does to treat depression. It might take several weeks for the medication to take effect. Studies show that anxiety medication works better if someone also has therapy.
Anxiety medication can cause side effects in some people. These may include:
- more anxiety
- weight gain
- dry mouth
- difficulty with sexual drive or arousal
These side effects normally fade away, but if you are experiencing side effects from anxiety, always tell your doctor as they may be able to help.
Some antidepressants can cause a harmful reaction when taken with certain other medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you take any other medications, including sleeping pills and painkillers.
Take your anxiety medication as prescribed. Do not adjust doses on your own without consulting your doctor. Don’t drink alcohol while taking anti-anxiety medication.
If you are not sure about taking medications to treat anxiety, ask your doctor about the following:
- What are the benefits of the particular medication for anxiety?
- What are the risks of the medication?
- What are the possible side effects?
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Last reviewed: March 2020