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The Best Medication for Anxiety Disorders

written by: renasherwood • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/14/2011

People diagnosed with anxiety disorders are often prescribed medication. The most common types are antidepressants, benzodiazepines and beta blockers according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders medication is often prescribed in conjunction with cognitive behavior therapy.

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    Anxiety Disorders Medication: Antidepressants

    There are three types of antidepressants. The most popular type prescribed for anxiety disorders are serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs.) They may be prescribed whether a patient has a depressive disorder or not. SSRIs are thought to help stabilize the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. If the brain cannot absorb enough, the person tends to become drowsy or prone to insomnia and experience chronic body pains.

    If a patient cannot take SSRIs, then a doctor or psychiatrist may try the older type of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) such as Anafranil (clomipranine) or Tofranil (impipramine). However, TCAs have not been proven to be affective for obsessive compulsive disorder.

    All antidepressants have side effects but these can differ for each person. Common side effects include drowsiness, increased appetite and weight gain. SSRIs are often tried first because they are thought to have fewer side effects. But if a person just starting an SSRI feels suicidal then an SSRI is not for them.

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    Anxiety Disorders Medication: Benzodiazepines

    Benzodiazepines are almost the ideal anxiety disorders medication. These include Buspar (buspirone), Xanax (alprazolam) and Klopin (clonazepam). The National Institute of Mental Health notes that Buspar has the best reputation for working the quickest for anxiety patients. Benzodiazepines help the brain absorb the amino acid γ-Aminobutyric acid (better known as GABA.) GABA helps to calm down the nervous system.

    The one big problem with benzodiazepines is addiction. This is because the body becomes tolerant of these medications. So in the beginning two pills may help, but then suddenly they are not enough and four pills are needed to elicit the same effect. This grows and grows until the person is addicted. To counteract this, they are prescribed for short-term use only, often in conjunction with cognitive behavior therapy. The medication helps the patient stay calm so that he or she is able to pay attention to the therapy sessions. Benzodiazepines are not prescribed for children, notes the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

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    Anxiety Disorders Medication: Beta Blockers

    Beta antagonists or beta blockers are often prescribed off-label for anxiety patients, especially those with migraines. Beta blockers help lower blood pressure by making sure adrenaline cannot chemically bind with beta receptor nerves. Adrenaline triggers the “flight or fight” response in a body that accompanies panic attacks.

    It is thought that lowering blood pressure can help prevent some of the symptoms that often accompany panic or anxiety attacks such as a pounding heart and chest pains. Beta blockers include propranolol (Inderal) and metoprolol (Lopressor).

    NB: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.

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    Sources

    “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Controlling Anxiety.” Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D. Alpha Books; 2006.

    “The Family Intervention Guide to Mental Illness: Recognizing Symptoms & Getting Treatment.” Bodie Morey & Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D. New Harbinger Publications; 2007.

    National Institute of Mental Health. “What medications are used to treat anxiety disorders?” http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/mental-health-medications/what-medications-are-used-to-treat-anxiety-disorders.shtml

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “Treatment.” http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/treatment