The role of medication in anxiety treatment When you’re overwhelmed by heart-pounding panic, paralyzed…
When you’re overwhelmed by heart-pounding panic, paralyzed by fear, or exhausted from yet another sleepless night spent worrying, you’ll do just about anything to get relief. And there’s no question that when anxiety is disabling, medication may help. But are drugs always the best answer?
Many different types of medications are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, including traditional anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines (typically prescribed for short-term use) and newer options like SSRI antidepressants (often recommended as a long-term anxiety solution). These drugs can provide temporary relief, but they also come with side effects and safety concerns—some significant.
They are also not a cure. In fact, there are many questions about their long-term effectiveness. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, benzodiazepines lose their therapeutic anti-anxiety effect after 4 to 6 months of regular use. And a recent analysis reported in JAMA Psychiatry found that the effectiveness of SSRIs in treating anxiety has been overestimated, and in some cases is no better than placebo.
What’s more, it can be very difficult to get off anxiety medications without difficult withdrawals, including rebound anxiety that can be worse than your original problem.
So where does that leave you if you’re suffering? Even when anxiety relief comes with side effects and dangers, that can still sound like a fair trade when panic and fear are ruling your life.
The bottom line is that there’s a time and place for anxiety medication. If you have severe anxiety that’s interfering with your ability to function, medication may be helpful—especially as a short-term treatment. However, many people use anti-anxiety medication when therapy, exercise, or other self-help strategies would work just as well or better, minus the drawbacks.
Anxiety medications can ease symptoms, but they’re not right for everyone and they’re not the only answer. It’s up to you to evaluate your options and decide what’s best for you.
Benzodiazepines (also known as tranquilizers) are the most widely prescribed type of medication for anxiety. Drugs such as Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam) work quickly, typically bringing relief within 30 minutes to an hour. That makes them very effective when taken during a panic attack or another overwhelming anxiety episode. However, they are physically addictive and not recommended for long-term treatment.
Benzodiazepines work by slowing down the nervous system, helping you relax both physically and mentally. But it can also lead to unwanted side effects. The higher the dose, the more intense these side effects typically are—although some people feel sleepy, foggy, and uncoordinated even on low doses. This can cause problems with work, school, or everyday activities such as driving. The medication hangover can last into the next day.
Common side effects of benzodiazepines include: