Table of Contents

Types of Anxiety Medication

Medications are often used to reduce symptoms commonly associated with anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, stress, worry, and depression. Several types of medication are effective in managing symptoms of panic attacks, including:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – Zoloft®, Lexapro®, Prozac®, Paxil®

SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin by the brain, leaving more serotonin free for the brain to use to improve mood. Examples include sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), and paroxetine (Paxil). SSRIs are often considered as the first-line treatment for anxiety disorders due to their efficacy and relatively favorable side effect profile. This medication for anxiety and depression is usually the first line treatment for anxiety disorders as they typically have fewer side effects than other medications.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) – Effexor®, Cymbalta®

SNRIs are generally considered effective anti-anxiety medications due to their dual mechanism. Examples include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta). SNRIs are another class of antidepressants that are commonly used for anxiety disorders. They increase the levels of both the serotonin and norepinephrine neurotransmitters by inhibiting their reabsorption into the brain. SNRIs commonly treat Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Benzodiazepines – Ativan®, Valium®, Klonopin®, Xanax®

Benzodiazepines work by promoting muscle relaxation while calming the mind through the neurotransmitter GABA. Common examples of benzodiazepines include lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), Alprazolam (Xanax).

These are often used as a last resort due to their potential for developing a tolerance, dependence, and/or withdrawal symptoms, meaning you should not use them if you have a history of substance abuse. Benzodiazepines may be prescribed in conjunction with another class of medication for long-term management while covering short-term needs like panic attacks.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs):

This class of medication is not a first choice and is usually only used when long-term benzodiazepine usage is not recommended. Although effective in treating anxiety, tricyclic antidepressants are often considered more third line for treatment, given the greater potential for side effects.

Buspirone (BuSpar) for Anxiety

Buspirone (BuSpar) is an anti-anxiety medication that works by stimulating serotonin receptors in the brain. Buspirone does not provide immediate relief of anxiety symptoms. It usually takes several weeks of regular use for the medication to reach its full effect. It is important to take buspirone consistently as prescribed to experience its full benefits. Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone is not known to be habit-forming. Buspirone is a popular medication treatment option for anxiety disorder, helping people feel calmer, more relaxed, and less worried. As it takes 2-6 weeks to become active in the body, it must be taken consistently to be effective. Do not use buspirone if you have taken an MAO inhibitor in the past 14 days.

Beta-Blockers (Propranolol) for Anxiety

Beta-blockers are an effective short-term anti-anxiety medication, usually taken just before a stressful situation. Beta-blockers, such as Propranolol, are typically used to manage physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heartbeat, tremors, and sweating. They work by blocking the effects of adrenaline, helping to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. By slowing the heart rate, beta-blockers reduce physical feelings of anxiety while calming the mind. This can be used both as a scheduled medicine as well as an as-need medicine for anxiety, particularly performance anxiety.

Gabapentin for Anxiety

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant drug that also goes by Neurontin, Gralise, or Gaborone. Its initial purpose was to control certain types of seizures in people who have epilepsy, relieving nerve pain from shingles, or calming restless leg syndrome. However, it is also sometimes prescribed off-label for the treatment of anxiety disorders, particularly generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Off-label use refers to the use of a medication for a condition or purpose that is not specifically approved by regulatory authorities but is supported by some evidence or clinical experience.

The exact mechanism of how gabapentin works for anxiety is not fully understood. It is believed to modulate the release of certain neurotransmitters, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is involved in the regulation of anxiety and stress. By enhancing GABA activity, gabapentin may help reduce anxiety symptoms.

To find a psychiatrist who specializes in medication management for Anxiety Disorders search our psychiatrist directory by applying the “Anxiety” filter in the “Treatment Areas” drop down box.

Side Effects of Anxiety Medication

As each type of anxiety disorder medication has different side effects, medication is prescribed on a case-by-case basis. Your doctor or psychiatrist will select the medication with the least harmful side effects for your particular condition. As the side effects of some medications balance out after a few weeks of taking them, giving yourself time to settle into the new medication can be necessary. If extremely undesirable symptoms persist, tell your primary healthcare provider so you can discuss other options.

Common side effects of SSRIs

  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Sexual problems
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Increased sweating

Common side effects of SNRIs:

  • Stomach issues
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Withdrawal symptoms with missed doses
  • Increase in blood pressure

Common side effects of benzodiazepines:

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory problems

Common side effects of tricyclic antidepressants:

  • Drop in blood pressure with sudden movements
  • Constipation
  • Urinary retention
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurry vision

Common side effects of Buspirone

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Excitement
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness

Common side effects of beta-blockers

  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decreased exercise tolerance

How Does Anxiety Medication Help Treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Taking SSRIs with GAD can treat and help prevent the recurrence of symptoms. This medication is prescribed on a longer-term basis and must be taken every day, whether or not you experience anxiety. Common examples of SSRIs used to treat GAD are citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft).

To find a psychiatrist who specializes in medication management for Anxiety Disorders search our psychiatrist directory by applying the “Anxiety” filter in the “Treatment Areas” drop down box.

How Does Anxiety Medication Help Treat Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is an intense fear surrounding separation from a loved one, usually a primary care provider. It is normal in young children and toddlers (usually starting around 8 months of age), but when the behavior ceases to be age-appropriate, additional treatment may be needed. Anxiety disorder medication is useful in the treatment of separation anxiety as it allows people to adjust to periods of separation. Once the physical symptoms are eased with medication, the fears associated with separation in an individual may dwindle. Due to the fact separation anxiety is commonly present in children, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and talk therapies are usually preferred. Anti-anxiety medication is only prescribed to children in severe

Cases. To find a psychiatrist who specializes in medication management for Anxiety Disorders search our psychiatrist directory by applying the “Anxiety” filter in the “Treatment Areas” drop down box.

How Does Anxiety Medication Help Treat Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a long-term intense fear of social situations that affects people of all ages and genders, reducing confidence and restricting daily activities. People with social anxiety may limit their exposure to the outside world, including in the workplace and social settings, which can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Beta-blockers are commonly prescribed to treat social anxiety disorders such as performance anxiety. Due to their fast-acting nature, people can take one before a particularly stressful event, temporarily minimizing feelings of stress. This way, people can manage their symptoms as and when they need to, usually before stress-inducing events such as public speaking.

Gabapentin has also been found to be potentially helpful in people living with social anxiety disorder. This is considered an off-label use since gabapentin is not FDA-approved for treating anxiety. To find a psychiatrist who specializes in medication management for Anxiety Disorders search our psychiatrist directory by applying the “Anxiety” filter in the “Treatment Areas” drop down box.

How Does Anxiety Medication Help Treat OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic, long-term disorder that involves unreasonable thoughts and fears which often lead to compulsive behaviors. Typically, it manifests as an intense fear of germs, a compulsive need to order things in a specific way, or repetitive behaviors.

Anti-anxiety medication treats OCD by minimizing the symptoms associated with obsessive compulsion. Certain medications, like SSRIs, can control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD, freeing people to lead lives that are less ruled by anxiety. Higher doses of SSRIs are usually required in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder than other anxiety disorders. Commonly prescribed SSRIs for OCD include fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), sertraline (Zoloft), and paroxetine (Paxil). These medications are usually started at a low dose and gradually increased over time to achieve the therapeutic effect. It may take several weeks or longer for the full benefits of the medication to be experienced.

In certain situations, other medications may be considered if SSRIs alone are not sufficient or well-tolerated. Examples include clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, and atypical antipsychotics such as risperidone or quetiapine. These medications are generally used when other treatment options have not been successful. To find a psychiatrist who specializes in medication management for Anxiety Disorders search our psychiatrist directory by applying the “Anxiety” filter in the “Treatment Areas” drop down box.

Who Can Prescribe Anxiety Medication?

Certified medical professionals, including doctors and psychiatrists, are qualified to prescribe anxiety medication. To find a psychiatrist who specializes in medication management for Anxiety Disorders search our psychiatrist directory by applying the “Anxiety” filter in the “Treatment Areas” drop down box.

photo of LifeStance provider Areum Kim, MD
Clinically Reviewed By:
Areum Kim, MD
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Dr. Kim is a member of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association. She specializes in the medication management of pediatric and young adult populations for mood and anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders, disruptive behaviors, trauma, and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD).

Medically Reviewed By:
Areum Kim, MD
View Profile

Dr. Kim is a member of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association. She specializes in the medication management of pediatric and young adult populations for mood and anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders, disruptive behaviors, trauma, and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD).