What Drugs Are Prescribed for Anxiety?

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What Medications Are Used to Treat Anxiety Disorders?

It isn’t uncommon for you to feel anxious at some point in time, but the feeling usually goes away by itself. If you have an anxiety disorder, it is much different. If you are diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder, you will usually be prescribed treatment, which most often consists of medication and psychotherapy.

Drugs don’t cure anxiety, but they make symptoms manageable so you can function better and be productive in your daily activities. There are different types of drugs used to treat anxiety. Since people differ and different drugs react differently depending on the person, your physician might have to try several different kinds of medications to find the perfect match for your specific needs.

Here are some of the common kinds of drugs used to treat anxiety:


Benzodiazepines are used to treat many kinds of anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. There are several examples of benzodiazepines, including:

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)

These kinds of medications are usually for the short-term treatment of anxiety. Benzodiazepines are known for causing drowsiness, problems with memory, and difficulty with balance. Benzodiazepines are addictive, and there is an increasing epidemic of abusing these drugs. It is important that they are taken only as prescribed and for short-term treatment until your doctor prescribes other treatment for your condition. But, if you suffer from some form of panic disorder, your doctor might prescribe these kinds of medications for as long as a year.


Used for treating chronic anxiety disorders as well as acute or shorter-term forms of anxiety, buspirone affects the chemicals in the brain to regulate mood, but the medication isn’t fully understood. It might take several weeks for the full effects of buspirone to appear. A generic version is available, as well as the brand name, Buspar. It can have several side effects, including nausea, headaches, and dizziness.

Antidepressants can be used to treat anxiety disorders. These medications affect neurotransmitters but often take anywhere from four to six weeks to produce effects that are noticed. There are different kinds of antidepressants.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by affecting your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects your sexual desire, memory, sleep, mood, and appetite. SSRIs typically are prescribed at low doses to start then your doctor will gradually increase the dosage. Here are some examples of SSRIs that can be prescribed for anxiety disorders:

  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)

Several different side effects might result from SSRIs, but most people tolerate these medications rather well. They can have serious side effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, mood changes, muscle weakness, sexual dysfunctions, dry mouth, nausea, diarrhea, and suicidal tendencies.


Tricyclics work rather well for treating most anxiety disorders, but it isn’t effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Tricyclics are believed to work much like SSRIs. The dose of tricyclics is gradually increased by the prescribing physician.

Examples of tricyclics often prescribed for anxiety are:

  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)

These drugs have been around a while, and since they are older drugs they aren’t prescribed as often because the newer drugs result in fewer side effects. Tricyclics can cause blurred vision, weight gain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, and other symptoms. Usually the side effects can be controlled by changing the amount of the dose or by switching to a different tricyclic.


Monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can treat social phobia and panic disorders. They address anxiety issues by increasing the number of neurotransmitters that help regulate mood. MAOIs are FDA-approved for treating depression, but there are several used off-label as an anxiety treatment. Those MAOIs include:

  • Parnate
  • Emsam
  • Marplan
  • Nardil

MAOIs are also older dinners that can lead to more side effects than newer medications. There are specific restrictions with MAOIs as well. As an example, you can’t have red wine or cheese or take certain birth control pills, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, cold and allergy medications, or herbal supplements because they can dangerously raise your blood pressure and have life-threatening effects.

Beta Blockers

Most often used to treat heart conditions, beta blockers are sometimes used off-label to relieve anxiety symptoms, specifically social anxiety disorder. A beta blocker such as Inderal might be used to help reduce the anxiety you suffer in stressful situations, such as public speaking or attending an office party.

Discuss Medications with Your Healthcare Provider

You should talk with your physician about your anxiety, so a proper treatment plan can be prepared for your needs.

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