Medication can help to relieve some of the symptoms of anxiety, but it also comes with a number of safety concerns and side effects, including a significant risk for addiction and dependency. To determine whether anxiety medication is necessary for you, you should consider all the benefits and drawbacks so you can make an informed decision.
There are countless anxiety medications used to treat anxiety disorders. From benzodiazepines to antidepressants, to beta-blockers prescribed off-label, there are plenty of options on the market today to help those suffering with anxiety. But even though anxiety medication can be effective, it is not necessarily a cure. Anxiety medication provides temporary relief, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. When you stop taking the drug, anxiety symptoms often come back with a vengeance.
So it’s important to understand the risks associated with anxiety medications. They can cause an array of side effects that are not only unpleasant, but potentially dangerous. Many medications can be habit-forming and addictive, making it hard to quit once you’ve started taking them.
Determining When Anxiety Medication Is Necessary
Just because you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean you will be required to take anxiety medication. Medication is only one component to treating anxiety. Even when a medication is prescribed, it is thought that the best results come from a combination of the right medication and working with a skilled therapist. Unfortunately, taking medication does not get to the underlying causes of the anxiety. And it’s easy to end up needing more and more medication to calm yourself down, which can lead to a pattern of abuse.
Benzodiazepines for Anxiety
Benzodiazepines are one of the most commonly used medications in the field of psychiatry. They work by binding to the GABA receptors in the brain, increasing the efficiency of the neurotransmitter. These drugs help relieve anxiety by slowing the central nervous system. They have become quite popular and tend to be the most widely prescribed drugs for anxiety. They are also prescribed as muscle relaxers and sleeping aids. Some of the common medications that fall into this category include:
- diazepam (Valium)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- alprazolam (Xanax)
- clonezepam (Klonopin)
These drugs are fast-acting and can provide sufferers with relief in 30 minutes to an hour. Since they work so quickly, they are effective in the event of a panic attack or other type of anxiety episode. Even though they are quite potent and effective, there are drawbacks to anxiety medication.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines work to reduce brain activity. Even though this helps to temporarily alleviate anxiety, it is associated with a number of unwanted symptoms. The higher the dose, the more pronounced these side effects will become. Some of the common side effects of this medication include:
- Drowsiness and lack of energy
- Slurred speech
- Clumsiness and slow reflexes
- Disorientation and confusion
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Loss of memory
- Upset stomach and nausea
- Double vision
- Impaired thinking
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
Benzodiazepines can also cause the individual to become physically and emotionally numb. Although they alleviate anxiety, they can also block feelings of both pain and pleasure.
SSRIs and Antidepressants for Anxiety
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat depression, personality disorders and anxiety. These medications are often preferred over benzodiazepines because there is lower likelihood of abuse. Since anti-depressants take four to six weeks to begin working, they cannot be taken as-needed. Waiting until you have a panic attack to take these medications will not work. They are useful for those suffering with chronic anxiety and in need of a long-term plan. Anti-depressants commonly prescribed for anxiety include:
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- citalopram (Celexa)
The common side effects associated with this type of anxiety medication are:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weight gain
- Stomach upset
Even though the risk for abuse of SSRIs is less, withdrawal is still an issue. If the medication is stopped abruptly, it can trigger symptoms such as fatigue, extreme depression, anxiety, irritability, insomnia and symptoms associated with the flu.
Alternatives to Anxiety Medication
When deciding whether anxiety medication is necessary for you, there are other factors to weigh besides the potential for relief and the risk of side effects. You need to be sure that prescription medication is your best option. Have you explored alternatives to medication? These commonly include:
- lifestyle and diet changes
- herbal remedies
- working with a therapist
- regular exercise
- acupuncture, massage therapy and other body work
- yoga and meditation
Consider choosing one or a combination of the above and trying to stick with it for at least one month. See if you note a difference in your anxiety level. All of these suggestions have been shown to relieve stress and reduce anxiety, and are great as alternatives to pharmaceuticals.
But even if you ultimately decide a prescription is necessary, it is a great idea to continue these healthy habits and activities in conjunction with medication. While the medication treats your immediate anxiety symptoms, you’ll be targeting the root causes so that you may one day decide you no longer need the medication at all!