Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Medication for Anxiety

Table of Contents

Imagine feeling scared for no reason at all. It’s hard to focus; your heart is racing, you’re sweaty, and you might feel sick. This is what it’s like for people who have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are a type of mental illness that causes constant and overwhelming worry and fear.

There’s good news for those who struggle with anxiety disorders. Medication can be a powerful tool to treat anxiety. It can help calm the mind and body so a person can better manage their daily life.

There are different kinds of medications used to treat anxiety disorders, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines. It’s important to talk to a doctor to find the best treatment for you.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

What Are Anxiety Disorders_

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that cause extreme fear or worry. The American Psychiatric Association classifies them in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is not a single, monolithic condition but rather a spectrum of disorders, each with their unique characteristics and symptoms. Here are some of the different types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it. People with GAD may worry excessively about health, money, family, or work, and the worry is often unrealistic or out of proportion to the situation.
  • Panic Disorder: This disorder is characterized by unexpected and repeated episodes of intense fear, known as panic attacks. These episodes are accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Also known as social phobia, this disorder involves overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations. The worry often centers on a fear of being judged by others or behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or lead to ridicule.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both. These symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school, and personal relationships.

Common Symptoms and Effects of Anxiety Disorders

Symptoms of anxiety disorders vary from person to person but generally revolve around excessive, often irrational, fear and dread. Here are some common symptoms and effects of anxiety disorders:

Physical Symptoms:

Rapid heart rate, muscle tension, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, and restlessness can all be physical manifestations of an anxiety disorder. These symptoms can be intense and can often cause discomfort.

Emotional Symptoms:

Feelings of fear, dread, irritability, and restlessness often characterize anxiety disorders. People with these conditions might constantly feel on edge and struggle to control their worries.

Behavioral Symptoms:

Anxiety disorders can lead to avoidance behaviors — people might avoid places, situations, or things that trigger their anxiety. This avoidance can interfere with their daily functioning, such as school, work, or relationships.

Cognitive Symptoms:

People with anxiety disorders often struggle with persistent, intrusive thoughts or fears. They may also have difficulties concentrating and struggle with decision-making.

In severe cases, the symptoms of anxiety can become so debilitating that they interfere with a person’s ability to lead a normal life. As such, it’s crucial that anyone experiencing such symptoms seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Treatment for anxiety can involve a variety of approaches, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, medications such as anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants, and lifestyle changes such as stress management techniques.

Treatment Approaches for Anxiety Disorder

Treatment Approaches for Anxiety Disorders

Effective treatment approaches for anxiety disorders can vary from person to person, depending on their specific symptoms and circumstances. However, some common treatment approaches include:

  • Medication: There are various types of anxiety medications available, each working in a unique way to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Some common types of anxiety medication include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Benzodiazepines, and certain types of antidepressants.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy involves learning new ways to think and act. By identifying negative thought patterns, people can start to change their reactions and behaviors in anxiety-provoking situations.
  • Exposure Therapy: This approach involves facing fears in a safe and controlled way. Over time, the fear response to these situations decreases, which can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Role of Medication in Comprehensive Treatment Plans for Anxiety

Medication plays a critical role in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Here’s how:

  • Symptom Relief: Anxiety medications can provide rapid relief from symptoms, helping individuals to feel better and manage their day-to-day activities more effectively.
  • Enhance Therapy Efficacy: Medication is often used alongside therapy. By reducing symptoms, medication can make it easier for individuals to participate in therapy and make the most of it.
  • Long-term Management: Some types of anxiety medications, such as SSRIs, can be used for long-term management of anxiety disorders, helping to reduce the frequency and intensity of anxiety symptoms.

Therapy Options

Therapy is a crucial part of treatment for anxiety disorders. Some common therapy options include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This involves working with a mental health professional to identify harmful thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Exposure Therapy: This involves gradual exposure to the situations or objects that trigger anxiety, helping individuals to become less sensitive to them over time.
  • Group Therapy: This involves meeting with a group of people who have similar anxiety symptoms. Group members can share their experiences, learn from each other, and provide mutual support.

Remember, treatment should always be supervised by a healthcare professional, and it’s essential to follow the prescribing doctor’s instructions when taking anxiety medications to avoid side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Treatment approaches can take time to work – typically, four to six weeks – and may need to be adjusted over time. Patience and open communication with the healthcare provider are key.

Medication Options for Anxiety Disorders

Medication Options for Anxiety Disorders

There is a wide range of FDA-approved anxiety medications, each with different benefits and considerations. Here are some examples:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): These include drugs like fluoxetine and sertraline. SSRIs are often the first-line treatment for generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder due to their effectiveness and generally good tolerability.
  • Benzodiazepines: These include medications like alprazolam and diazepam. Benzodiazepines are particularly effective for short-term anxiety relief but can be habit-forming with long-term use, leading to severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • Buspirone: This medication is a non-benzodiazepine option for generalized anxiety disorder. Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone does not carry the risk of dependence.
  • Antidepressants: Apart from SSRIs, other types of antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants and certain newer medications, can also be used to treat anxiety disorders.

Mechanism of Action and Effectiveness of Medications in Managing Anxiety

Different medications work in various ways to manage anxiety:

  • SSRIs: They work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the nerve cells, leading to more serotonin availability in the brain, which can enhance mood and reduce anxiety.
  • Benzodiazepines: They work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA, slowing down brain activity, and helping individuals feel more relaxed.
  • Buspirone: This medication interacts with serotonin receptors in the brain, which can help regulate mood and anxiety levels.
  • Antidepressants: Different antidepressants work in unique ways, but generally, they aim to balance chemicals in the brain that affect mood and emotions.

Addressing Potential Side Effects and Considerations of Medication Use

Each medication comes with potential side effects. Some common ones include:

  • Drowsiness: Often seen in medications such as benzodiazepines.
  • Dizziness: This can occur with various anxiety medications.
  • Weight gain: This can occur with certain medications, especially some types of antidepressants.

It’s crucial to discuss potential side effects and considerations with your prescribing doctor. This discussion can include potential drug interactions with other medications or substances, the risk of developing habit-forming tendencies with certain drugs like benzodiazepines, potential withdrawal symptoms, and considerations for specific populations such as young adults or pregnant women.

As everyone’s reaction to medication varies, it’s important to note that side effects may lessen over time and that regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider will help adjust the treatment plan as needed. It’s also important to remember that medication alone is typically not a complete treatment plan; it should be part of a comprehensive mental health care strategy that might include psychotherapy, stress management techniques, and lifestyle changes.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a common type of anti-anxiety medication. They are frequently the first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

How SSRIs Work in the Brain to Alleviate Anxiety Symptoms

  • SSRIs function by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood.
  • By blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, SSRIs increase the availability of serotonin in the synaptic gap between nerve cells, which can reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Common SSRIs Used in the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders

There are several commonly used SSRIs, including:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Escitalopram

The choice of specific SSRI often depends on the patient’s specific symptoms, overall health, the presence of any other mental or physical health issues, and their personal response to medication.


Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for the short-term relief of severe, acute symptoms of anxiety. While effective, they are typically not the first choice for long-term management of anxiety disorders due to potential side effects and the risk of dependency.

Mechanism of Action and Effects of Benzodiazepines on Anxiety

Benzodiazepines reduce anxiety by:

  • Enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at the GABA-A receptor in the brain, resulting in sedative, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant properties.

Potential Risks and Considerations with Benzodiazepine Use

Benzodiazepines carry several important considerations:

  • They can cause physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms can occur if the medication is stopped abruptly.
  • Long-term use can lead to increased tolerance, necessitating higher doses for the same therapeutic effect.
  • Common side effects include dizziness and drowsiness.

Given these risks, benzodiazepines should always be taken under the supervision of a prescribing doctor.

Buspirone and Other Non-Benzodiazepine Anxiolytics

Buspirone represents an alternative to benzodiazepines and SSRIs for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. It is particularly useful for individuals who do not respond to or cannot tolerate other anxiety medications.

Exploring Other Non-Benzodiazepine Anxiolytics and Their Effects

Other non-benzodiazepine anxiolytics that can help manage anxiety symptoms include:

  • Hydroxyzine: An antihistamine that can be used off-label to treat anxiety.
  • Pregabalin: Originally developed to treat epilepsy, it is now also used in anxiety treatment.

Considerations and Effectiveness of Non-Benzodiazepine Options

  • These alternatives can be effective, but as with all medications, they may have side effects, such as dizziness and drowsiness.
  • Each medication’s effectiveness will vary from person to person, and what works best will depend on the individual’s specific symptoms, overall health, and response to medication.

Antidepressants for Anxiety Disorders

Beyond SSRIs, other classes of antidepressants are also commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. These include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and some types of tricyclic antidepressants.

Different Classes of Antidepressants and Their Impact on Anxiety Symptoms

Different classes of antidepressants work in distinct ways to alleviate anxiety symptoms:

  • SNRIs: These work by increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, helping to boost mood and reduce anxiety.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Some tricyclics, like imipramine, can be effective for panic disorder.

Effectiveness and Considerations of Antidepressant Use for Anxiety

  • Antidepressants can effectively manage anxiety, but they may come with side effects like weight gain, drowsiness, and changes in sexual desire.
  • It’s important to discuss these potential effects with your doctor, and closely monitor any changes in mood or behavior, particularly in young adults.

Beta-Blockers for Performance Anxiety

Beta-blockers are primarily used to manage cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure and arrhythmias, but they can also be effective in managing the physical symptoms of performance anxiety.

How Beta-Blockers Work to Reduce Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Beta-blockers work to mitigate physical symptoms of anxiety by:

  • Blocking the effects of adrenaline, a hormone that induces feelings of anxiety.
  • This blockade results in lower heart rate, reduced tremors, and decreased sweating, which are common symptoms of anxiety.

Considerations and Limitations of Beta-Blocker Use

Beta-blockers can be highly effective in controlling the physical symptoms of performance anxiety, but they do not address the emotional or cognitive aspects of anxiety.

They may also have side effects like dizziness, cold hands, and fatigue. As with all medications, potential benefits and risks should be discussed with your prescribing doctor.

It’s also worth noting that while beta-blockers can provide relief from acute symptoms of anxiety, they’re not typically a first-line treatment for generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. Instead, they’re most often used on an as-needed basis for situations that trigger performance anxiety.

Combination Therapy and Adjunctive Medications

Combination therapy refers to the concurrent use of multiple treatment approaches to manage anxiety disorders. This may involve:

  • The use of two or more different types of medications, such as an SSRI and a benzodiazepine.
  • The combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Studies suggest that combination therapy can often be more effective than a single treatment modality, particularly for severe or persistent cases of anxiety.

Adjunctive Medications to Enhance Anxiety Treatment

Adjunctive medications are additional drugs used to enhance the efficacy of the primary treatment. These can include:

  • The use of certain atypical antipsychotics or mood stabilizers as adjunctive therapy.
  • The use of sedative medications, like benzodiazepines, for short-term relief during initial SSRI treatment, as the full benefits of SSRIs often take several weeks to manifest.

Considerations and Effectiveness of Combining Medications for Anxiety

  • While combining medications can be highly effective in managing anxiety, it requires careful oversight by a healthcare provider due to potential drug interactions.
  • Side effects may also increase when multiple medications are used.

Challenges and Considerations in Medication-Based Treatment for Anxiety

Addressing Challenges and Potential Risks Associated with Medication Use

Every medication carries the potential for side effects, ranging from mild (such as dizziness or drowsiness) to more severe or life-threatening effects.

Some medications, such as benzodiazepines and certain antidepressant medications, can also cause physical dependence and severe withdrawal effects if the drug is suddenly discontinued.

Balancing Medication with Psychotherapy and Lifestyle Modifications

Medication is often most effective when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or exposure therapy) and lifestyle modifications (such as regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet).

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication for the treatment of panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Importance of Regular Monitoring and Adjustments in Medication Treatment

Regular follow-ups with the prescribing healthcare provider are crucial to monitor the effectiveness of the medication, manage side effects, and adjust dosages as needed.

It is also important to monitor for any signs of substance abuse, particularly when medications with addictive potential, such as benzodiazepines, are prescribed.

Regular reviews of the medication regimen are important as different stages of treatment may require adjustments in medication. For example, some medications are more effective in managing acute symptoms, while others are better suited for long-term management.


Medication can play a big role in treating anxiety disorders, but it’s often most effective when used with therapy and lifestyle changes.

If you have anxiety, seeking help and exploring all your treatment options is important.

Everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for another. Finding a treatment plan that works for you and getting the support you need to manage your anxiety is important.

Start Your Journey Towards Anxiety-Free Living with NuView Treatment Center

Start Your Journey Towards Anxiety-Free Living with NuView Treatment Center

If you or a loved one are struggling with an anxiety disorder, know that you are not alone and effective help is available. NuView Treatment Center is committed to providing personalized care for each individual, incorporating a combination of effective medications, evidence-based therapies, and holistic approaches to treat anxiety disorders.

At NuView Treatment Center:

  • We understand that each person’s experience with anxiety is unique. Our team of dedicated professionals creates tailored treatment plans designed to meet your specific needs.
  • We believe in a comprehensive approach to mental health care. Our treatment plans incorporate medication management, psychotherapy, and lifestyle modifications to address your symptoms and the underlying causes of your anxiety.
  • You’ll receive continuous support and regular monitoring to ensure your treatment plan is working and to make any necessary adjustments for the best results.

Anxiety doesn’t have to dictate your life. Connect with NuView Treatment Center today, and let’s work together on your journey toward an anxiety-free life. Begin your path to recovery and reclaim the peace and balance you deserve.

Contact NuView Treatment Center now at (323) 307-7997 or send us a message from our contact page to schedule your first consultation. Your new life is just a call away.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Absolutely, maintaining a balanced diet and regular exercise can have a significant impact on managing anxiety disorders. While this article focused mainly on medication and therapy, incorporating a healthy lifestyle is also a crucial part of anxiety management. Physical activity increases the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural mood lifters. Similarly, a balanced diet can help regulate your mood and energy levels.

Yes, besides medications and therapies, some individuals find relief through alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices. However, discussing these with your healthcare provider to ensure they’re safe and effective for your specific needs is important.

Benzodiazepines can start working within an hour, while SSRIs may take several weeks to show their full effects. Always consult with your prescribing doctor for specific timelines and expectations.

No, you should not stop taking your medication without discussing it with your healthcare provider first. Abruptly stopping can lead to withdrawal symptoms and a potential relapse of anxiety symptoms. Typically, a gradual tapering process under medical supervision is recommended when discontinuing anxiety medication.

If you’re experiencing severe side effects, it’s crucial to contact your healthcare provider immediately. They may adjust your dosage or suggest an alternative medication to manage your symptoms better and reduce side effects.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Barton S, Karner C, Salih F, et al. Clinical effectiveness of interventions for treatment-resistant anxiety in older people: a systematic review. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; 2014 Aug. (Health Technology Assessment, No. 18.50.) Appendix 1, Diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders set out in DSM-IV and ICD-10 classification systems. Available from:

Cassano, Giovanni B et al. “Psychopharmacology of anxiety disorders.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 4,3 (2002): 271-85. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2002.4.3/gcassano

Tanguay Bernard, Marie-Michèle et al. “Patterns of benzodiazepines use in primary care adults with anxiety disorders.” Heliyon vol. 4,7 e00688. 9 Jul. 2018, doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2018.e00688

Szeleszczuk, Łukasz, and Dawid Frączkowski. “Propranolol versus Other Selected Drugs in the Treatment of Various Types of Anxiety or Stress, with Particular Reference to Stage Fright and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 23,17 10099. 3 Sep. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijms231710099

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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