Currently there are four main types of medication used to treat anxiety problems and disorders.
Tranquilizers (anti-anxiety drugs) work by reducing brain activity and slowing down the central nervous system. This not only reduces anxiety but thoughts and
feelings in general. This 'numbing' of feelings can be very calming but also habit-forming and long-term use should be avoided.
Benzodiazepines are the most common class of tranquilizers prescribed.
2. Antidepressants (Depression medication)
Now that a link between anxiety and depression has been established certain antidepressants are becoming more widely used to alleviate anxiety. These medications
can take up to 4-6 weeks to take effect and require long-term usage.
There are 3 main types of antidepressant used to treat anxiety:
i) Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI's)
These work by reducing the depletion of the neurotransmitter Serotonin (thought to be connected to mood) in the brain. They include:-
SSRI's are often used to treat: Panic Disorder, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
ii) Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA's)
Thought to be less habit-forming than the cyclics (eg. Benzodiazepines). Largely replaced by SSRI's. they are still used for some problems eg. Panic Disorder. Unlike
Benzodiazepines, Tricyclics usually require only a daily single dose. TCA's include:-
One major disadvantage of the tricyclics is that they sometimes produce cardiac effects (such as dizziness and palpitations) -- some of the very symptoms they are
used to alleviate.
iii) Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI's)
eg. Nardil (phenelzine)
One of the oldest classes of antidepressants, often used when others have not been effective.
Possibly effective in relieving panic disorder and social phobia MAOI's can have very serious side effects (sudden increase in blood pressure) and people taking
them often have to have a restrictive diet to protect from this.
A newer treatment, there is only one medication available:
Buspirone is a milder tranquilizer that works by increasing Serotonin levels and decreasing Dopamine levels in the brain.
Slower acting than the traditional anti-anxiety drugs, this medication has the advantage of not being as sedating or addictive as the older types of tranquilizer and
having less withdrawal effects.
4. Beta Blockers
Originally developed to treat heart problems (by reducing stress on the heart) this class of drugs work by blocking the adrenaline (produced when anxious) from
acting on various organs in the body. Common beta blockers prescribed are:-
Note that these drugs don't stop anxiety or adrenaline but stop some of the effects of the adrenaline eg. a speeding heart.
It is important to realise that medication is not a cure for anxiety problems. Taking prescription drugs doesn't deal with the underlying cause of the problem and once
medication is stopped the anxiety symptoms usually return with a vengeance. Also, many medications produce side effects, which may be as bad as or worse than the actual problem, and
long-term usage can lead to addiction and withdrawal problems. The same is also true when taking medications for depression, they do not cure the underlying problem.
Today, good practice for treating anxiety-related problems usually involves taking medication in the short-term to help alleviate symptoms alongside therapy (such as
CBT-Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help deal with problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviours that underlie these problems.
›› Learn more about anxiety
problems and disorders
"A state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible misfortune, danger etc." and to
be anxious is to be "worried and tense."
(The Collins English Dictionary)
Anxiety Problems and Disorders:
Self-damaging thoughts, feelings and behaviours with anxiety at their core