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Medicines for anxiety

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Medicines commonly used to treat anxiety include antidepressants (for example selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, known as SSRIs) and benzodiazepines.
  • Antidepressants correct an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that contributes to anxiety.
  • Common side effects of SSRIs include nausea, headaches, weight gain and sexual side effects.
  • Benzodiazepines may be used short-term to relieve anxiety, but aren’t recommended for long-term use, as they are addictive.
  • There are many other treatments, including psychological therapy, which can sometimes be used to treat anxiety instead of or together with medicines.

What is anxiety?

Everyone gets worried or anxious from time to time. But for some people, anxious feelings don’t go away and are out of proportion to the situation they are facing.

If you have an anxiety disorder, anxious feelings may come on and persist without any particular reason. Anxiety affects everyone differently, and can include a wide variety of symptoms including:

  • feeling very worried or anxious a lot of the time
  • having trouble calming down
  • panic attacks
  • avoiding situations or things that cause anxiety

Learn more about anxiety.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are suffering from symptoms related to anxiety, you should see your doctor. Your GP can help assess your symptoms. They will make a diagnosis and discuss your options for treatment and management of anxiety.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is anxiety treated?

Not everyone who has anxiety needs medicine. Anxiety is complex. If you have anxiety, your doctor or healthcare provider will ask detailed questions about what you are experiencing. Different approaches may also be used to treat different types of anxiety.

The first step to treating anxiety is usually understanding what it is and how it affects you.

Lifestyle changes such as regular physical exercise and reducing your stress levels can also help.

Your doctor or a therapist may also recommend psychological therapy. Your doctor might refer you to a psychologist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychological therapy that can help you change your thoughts and behaviours.

If your anxiety is moderate or severe, or you do not feel better with psychological therapy, your doctor might also prescribe medicines. These are sometimes known as 'anti-anxiety medications’.

If your doctor recommends medicines to treat anxiety, you might like to ask about the following:

  • What are the benefits of the medicine for anxiety?
  • What are the risks of the medicine?
  • What are the possible side effects?

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What types of medicines are available to treat anxiety?

Medicines commonly used to treat anxiety include antidepressants and benzodiazepines. These correct an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that causes anxiety.


There are several kinds of antidepressants. The most common types 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 6 to 12 months, if they aren’t experiencing side effects.


Benzodiazepines, also known as sedatives, increase the calming effect of certain chemicals in your brain and nervous system. This usually reduces anxiety and promotes sleep.

They are usually only used to reduce anxiety for a short term (less than a month, and even shorter is safer) as they are addictive. Benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed to help with sleep problems. Ask your doctor about the best time to take these medicines to avoid side effects.

Other medicines

For information about other medicines and treatments that are used to treat anxiety, and the evidence behind them, see Beyond Blue’s ‘A guide to what works for anxiety’.

What are the side effects or risks associated with medicines for anxiety?


It can often take a long time to treat anxiety with antidepressants. It might take several weeks for the medicine to take effect.

Antidepressants can cause side effects in some people. These may include:

Specific side effects will depend on the type of antidepressant your doctor has prescribed.

Some side effects may improve over time. If you are experiencing side effects from any medicine, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor. There may be things you can do to improve the side effects, or other medicines to try instead.

Some antidepressants can cause a harmful reaction when taken with certain other medicines. Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medicines. This includes sleeping pills and pain relieving medicines. Remember to mention any non-prescription, herbal or other complementary medicines you take, as these might also interact with your prescribed medicines.

Take your medicine as prescribed. Do not adjust doses on your own without speaking to your doctor. Don’t drink alcohol while taking medicines for anxiety. These medicines can increase the effects of alcohol.


Benzodiazepines can be helpful for short-term treatment of anxiety and insomnia. However, they can have serious effects, including addiction, if used for longer than a few weeks. Take them only as prescribed by your doctor.

Don’t mix benzodiazepines with drugs or alcohol, as they can increase their effects. Benzodiazepines can affect your alertness and coordination, so don’t drive or use heavy machinery if you are affected.

Looking for more medicine information?

Healthdirect’s medicines section allows you to search for medicines by brand name or active ingredient. It provides useful information about medicines such as:

Are there any alternatives to taking medicines?

Depending on the type of anxiety, alternative therapies can be helpful. They can be used alone or combined with physical (medicines) and psychological treatments. Complementary medicine interventions are also sometimes recommended for anxiety.

There is evidence that some of these may reduce symptoms of anxiety including:

  • yoga
  • relaxation training
  • acupuncture

Ask your doctor if these approaches could help you.

Resources and support

  • If you are concerned or unsure about the effects of your medicine, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or other health practitioner, or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
  • You can find out more about your medicine by reading the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI)
  • Call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to speak with a pharmacist who can answer your questions about medicines.
  • For support and information about anxiety and medicines used to treat anxiety, visit Beyond Blue.
  • To speak to a crisis counsellor, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2023

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