WHAT ARE ANXIETY MEDICATIONS AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
Anxiety is a normal and useful response to potentially stressful or dangerous situations. It increases our awareness of what’s going on around us. For most people, anxiety is short-lived and normally goes away once the situation has passed. This is not the case for an estimated 40 million adults in the United States who have some type of anxiety disorder and experience ongoing and unwarranted psychological distress. That distress may also manifest itself in physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, or chest pain.
Anxiety medications include multiple types of drugs that are used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders. The three most commonly prescribed types of anxiety medication are
- anti-anxiety medications (also known as anxiolytics), and
Antidepressants and anxiolytic medications work primarily by affecting the balance of certain chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. Beta-blockers and other types of drugs are used to address the physical symptoms that may accompany an anxiety attack. First-generation antihistamines are also used to help with anxiety symptoms because they have a sedating effect.
Anxiety disorders are associated with certain chemical imbalances in the brain involving neurotransmitters such as
- norepinephrine, and
- gamma aminobutyric acid or GABA.
These chemicals are associated with an individual’s sense of well-being or with the ability to relax.
- Anxiety medications can’t cure an anxiety disorder, but altering the level of these chemicals, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs help control the psychological symptoms.
- Beta-blocking drugs work by blocking the receptors that are associated with some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety — including rapid heartbeat
FOR WHAT CONDITIONS ARE ANXIETY MEDICATIONS USED?
Anxiety medications are used either alone or in combination with psychotherapy to treat a number of different disorders all classified as “anxiety disorders.” These include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic disorder (PD)
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are used in treating panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and general anxiety disorder. One tricyclic, clomipramine (Anafranil), may also be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- The antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are used for panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Other antidepressants, including the serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are used for panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Buspirone (BuSpar), an anti-anxiety drug, is used in the treatment of general anxiety disorder.
- The benzodiazepines are used to treat general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
- First-generation antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, can be used to treat general anxiety disorder.
- Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, are used to treat performance anxiety, a kind of social anxiety disorder, and are sometimes used for panic disorder.
- Alpha-blockers, such as prazosin, are used in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, specifically for nightmares.
- Other drugs, such as anticonvulsants and antipsychotics are used as augmentation therapy to increase the overall response to therapy when symptoms persist after receiving treatment with first-line anti-anxiety drugs.