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What You Should Know About Anxiety Disorder Medication

Meloncauli is a former nurse and anxiety management therapist. She hopes everyone can take something away from her articles.

Kinds of Anxiety Disorders

When you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you may suffer to the extent that it severely interferes with your life. In fact, you may suffer from more than one anxiety disorder at a time, as there are many types of anxiety disorders, and they often overlap.

For instance, when you have a panic disorder, you can be said to be suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder or GAD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is also common amongst those suffering from both panic disorder and GAD. Co-morbidity amongst anxiety disorders is quite common.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and phobias generally are also other examples of anxiety disorders. Sometimes the symptoms can seem to overlap, but the common root symptoms are anxiety, fear, and worry. A little anxiety in life is normal and necessary to a degree—but chronic and longstanding anxiety can test us to the limit.

Anti-anxiety medications are given out very easily.

Anti-anxiety medications are given out very easily.

What Happens When You Seek Treatment?

Because anxiety disorders can disrupt your life and interfere with work or social life, for example, you will become keen to ‘cure it.' You may be confused as to how you seem to have lost control. There may be obvious reasons why it started or seemingly no reason.

Your first port of call will be your general doctor who will tell you that what you have is a form of mental illness. The doctor will tell you this because you fit the criteria as laid down in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. If your doctor thinks it is necessary, he may also suggest you see a psychiatrist.

At the least, he will probably offer you some anti-anxiety medication. A good general doctor will consider referring you for therapy first, or at least suggest this, in addition to placing you on anti-anxiety medication. There are no laboratory tests involved in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders.

Anti-Anxiety Medication

Before the availability of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), tricyclic antidepressants were commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Some of these, such as Tofranil and Anafranil, are still used today, but SSRIs are the most commonly used anti-anxiety medication. Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, and Sertraline are among the SSRIs you may be offered.

There are many! We should remember that SSRIs are actually anti-depressants but as mood disturbance is commonly experienced with anxiety disorders, they become a dual purpose medication.

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan are also used to treat anxiety disorders. These act very quickly and have commonly become known as the quick fix. Although doctors, in general, seem to be slightly less likely to prescribe you benzodiazepines these days, they are still an obvious and accepted option to both doctors and sufferers.

Beta-blockers such as Inderal are sometimes prescribed, especially for social anxiety. These are usually used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems but can be useful to calm some of the sudden physical symptoms such as palpitations. These should ideally be used as a short-term solution.

The Truth About Anti-Anxiety Medications

SSRI Side Effects:

Like many medications, all of the above can have side effects. Some of the SSRI side effects actually include:

  • sleep disturbance
  • agitation
  • shakiness
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • weight gain

This list is not exhaustive.

Adjusting to Side Effects Can Be Challenging

Note the agitation? There is a chance that you may actually feel more anxious when starting to take an SSRI and perhaps for the first several weeks. This can be the straw that breaks the camel's back for some people.

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Side Effects Are Different for Everyone

For people who experience these side effects, some may well not be able to tolerate the heightened anxiety. Patients should always be warned of this before starting on an SSRI. A very anxious person will already be experiencing shakiness, dizziness to a degree, agitation, sleep problems, and maybe even blurred vision sometimes. All this may feel more pronounced.

Now, not all SSRI medications will definitely give you all of these side effects, but it is a possibility. I have taken both tricyclic and SSRI medications. I have experienced side effects with both. Some of my worst side effects were with the SSRI medications, especially the increased anxiety in the first two or three weeks of taking them.

Weight Gain and SSRIs

Weight gain is common. Some people who have had experience often recoil at the thought of weight gain for any future need for this medication! On the plus side, many anxious people can lose weight, too, so taking SSRIs is likely to improve the situation. One should never stop taking SSRI medications abruptly and should always consult a doctor to be tapered off them under supervision.

Side Effects by Medication

Some anti-anxiety medications have well-documented side effects that are unique to that drug.

Beta-blocker side effects:

Beta-blockers can cause you to feel more tired than usual with a sense of weakness. You may also experience dizzy spells. The heart tends to beat more slowly.

Benzodiazepine Side Effects:

  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • trembling

Again, these side effects are similar to those felt with anxiety disorders. It is less common but should be noted that a general agitation and excitement may be felt as the drug wears off in between doses.

Long-term vs. Short-term Use

There are other side effects, but these are the most common and of interest to those who are already very anxious. Benzodiazepine treatment should always be a short-term solution, a few weeks at most, in my opinion. I was addicted to this medication for nearly thirty years.

Whilst they certainly do seem to quell the panic state somewhat and generally tend to give a feeling of some calm, the effect is short-lived, and the side effects can be horrendous. To take them for specific events like a visit to the dentist, giving a presentation, an interview, etc, may be something else entirely. An as-needed approach is a much better way to use benzodiazepines if indeed you feel the need to use them at all.

There are other ways to relax. Most of these medications have side effects.

There are other ways to relax. Most of these medications have side effects.

Should You Use Medication for Your Anxiety Problems?

What I will say about this is taken from my personal experience of almost three decades on medication for my anxiety disorder problems.

Why I Chose To Discontinue My Medication

For all those years, I lived in a haze. My memory was poor and my concentration levels suffered greatly. I have taken all of the medications I mention and together at the same time. Beta-blockers did seem to help my social anxiety a little. The SSRI medications I took (and there were many different ones), did sometimes give me some relief.

That said, finding the ones that suit you best and that you can tolerate the best can seem like a long battle at times. I did get the heightened anxiety, weight gain and some other effects mentioned and it was the side effects that stopped me taking them in the end. I simply refused to take them anymore.

I was once tapered off one SSRI by a professional over the course of only three days, to be started on another. The effects were scary. These are not medications that should be messed about with.

Medication Isn't the Only Option

I know how awful anxiety disorders feel. I know that life becomes so affected that you feel you would do anything to be normal again. I know how attractive medication can seem. It is offered so easily these days, and if you are working and responsible for children, it does seem to be the only answer. It isn’t!

Consider Other Treatment Options

A lot of professionals reach for the prescription pad all too easily. Therapy is the long-term solution. Addressing the root problem head-on is the solution. Medication is a sticking plaster, not a cure.

It can help you through some bad patches with anxiety disorders, but equally, it may give you other problems you hadn’t bargained for. For nearly thirty years, they did not cure me. I know the subject of medicating mental illness is a controversial one but remember this:

Medication is a sticking plaster, not a cure.

The medications you may be offered alter the chemicals in the brain. There is no irrefutable test to say what the levels are like in your brain, to begin with. When the chemicals in the medications alter the chemical levels in the brain, once the medication is stopped, the brain has to re-adjust.

I might add it is a fact that less time is given to trials of mental illness medications than most other drugs. The drug industry values our anxiety problems tremendously. Dr. Claire Weekes had the answer to some of these problems before she died. She did use very short-term medication on her patients, but that was to enable her patients to be more receptive to her therapy.

Try to always see these kinds of medications as a short-term solution at best.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


meloncauli (author) from UK on October 30, 2012:

Hi Tiffany. I am sorry you are still suffering. I do hope some of what I write is useful to you. Take care

Tiffany Delite from Wichita, KS on October 29, 2012:

thank you for sharing your personal experience with anxiety. i, too, suffer from anxiety and depression, among other things. it has come and gone over the years, but it seems to be the worst it has ever been right now. great hub...blessings!

meloncauli (author) from UK on October 04, 2012:

Sorry for the late reply Rick. I have just found a spam folder! You sound like you are doing your best to find the best solutions medication wise. The stressors in your life? Are you not able to address these? These are probably your core problem.

meloncauli (author) from UK on May 08, 2012:

Thanks for your comment. Can not the stressors in your life be addressed ? I am a great believer in addressing the root problems. Ativan doesn't have good press here in the UK.

Rick Maselli from Akron, Ohio on May 02, 2012:

Great article. Really addresses the issue on medications thoroughly. I have to admit in my case, I have been on and off of different meds for many years now, but have been able to narrow it down from up to 8 meds, down to 2 for my anxiety. I take a Neurontin and I take Ativan. I was able to replace my antidepressant with Vitamin D3. Also having seasonal affective disorder or SAD, I take 5000 IU in the summer months and 10,000 IU in the winter months. It does work well for me.

As far as the anxiety issue, I have not been able to get off of the Ativan. I have tried biofeedback, neurotherapy, mediation, relaxation techniques and all have really helped, but because there are so many stressors in my life, I still need the meds. I confess. However, I am so glad I don't have to deal with any of the antidepressant side effects anymore.

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