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How to Know if Anxiety Medications Are Right for You

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Feeling anxious is a normal human response. For instance, it’s not unusual to feel anxious before an exam, when starting a new job, or moving to a new city. This type of anxiety is temporary and does not interfere with your ability to enjoy life. However, some people experience intense, debilitating anxiety that keeps getting worse over time. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 40 million Americans (or 18% of the population) suffer from an anxiety disorder. The incidence of anxiety has been increasing among teens and young adults in the United States. While generalized anxiety disorder can be easily treated, less than 4 out of 10 people get the treatment they need. How can you tell if you need anti-anxiety medication? 

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition in which a person worries persistently and excessively about a number of things, such as money, health, family, and work. It is characterized by an inability to control worrying thoughts, to worry more than warranted, and to expect the worst even in the absence of any real concerns.

Are there other types of anxiety disorders?

Yes, in addition to generalized anxiety disorder, there are other types of anxiety disorders, including phobias, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder are also classified as anxiety disorders. As a result, an anxiety disorder can have a wide range of signs and symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. For example, one person may have uncontrolled worrying thoughts while another person may have physical symptoms of anxiety such as palpitations and sweating. Therefore, the first step in figuring out whether you need treatment with medications is understanding the type of anxiety you’re dealing with. 

The good news is that the various types of anxiety disorders have one thing in common—they are all highly treatable and respond well to anti-anxiety medications, in combination with other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes. Your mental health professional can develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you, including prescribing anti-anxiety medications for several weeks or longer. 

How do you know if you should take anxiety medication?

There is no right or wrong time to start anti-anxiety medication— it varies from person to person. However, experts agree that when anxiety starts to interfere with your functioning in daily life, it is time to think about taking anxiety medication. If you feel paralyzed by worrying thoughts, are unable to focus on work, or your anxiety has started to affect your relationships, you should consider seeing a mental health professional who can treat your symptoms of anxiety. 

Types of medication for anxiety

Some of the most common medications used to treat anxiety symptoms are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—SSRIs. Examples of SSRIs include Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, and Lexapro. These medications can be used long-term to manage anxiety symptoms. Common side effects of SSRIs include nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, muscle weakness, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, and drowsiness. Upon discontinuation, you may experience withdrawal symptoms including insomnia. 

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors SNRIs like Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Effexor XR are antidepressant medications that are also approved to treat certain anxiety disorders including panic attacks. Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, upset stomach, dry mouth, excessive sweating, and headache.

Another class of anxiety medications is called benzodiazepines. Examples include Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan. These medications are used to treat anxiety for the short term only because they can lead to dependency and withdrawal. 

Other medications used to treat symptoms of anxiety include buspirone, beta-blockers, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs. 

What anxiety medication has no side effects?

All anxiety medications have the potential to cause side effects. However, some cause fewer side effects than others. In general, SSRIs are well tolerated with a low risk of serious side effects. For this reason, doctors often recommend them as the first choice of medications for anxiety disorders.

How do I know which antidepressant or anxiety medication is right for me?

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications cannot cure depression and anxiety but they can reduce your symptoms. Choosing the right medication may require some trial and error. The first anti-anxiety medication prescribed by your doctor may not work for you or it may cause intolerable side effects, in which case you will need to try another medication. While choosing the best anxiety medication or antidepressant for you, your doctor will take into consideration your symptoms as well as the potential side effects. They will also consider your other health conditions as well as any other medications and herbal supplements you are taking. 

Once your doctor has selected an anxiety medication for you, be patient. It may take several weeks for treatment with medications like SSRIs to be effective. Take your medication exactly as prescribed and take it consistently. If you experience side effects, wait to see if they get better over time as your body adjusts to the treatment. If the side effects continue to be bothersome or you don’t notice an improvement in your anxiety symptoms after several weeks, you may need to stop taking the medication and talk to your doctor about exploring other options. Remember, you should never stop taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications without speaking to the prescribing doctor first.

Is anti-anxiety medication bad for you?

Anxiety disorders can be debilitating. They can affect your ability to get through a normal day. Suffering intense worry day after day can take a toll on your health. Anxiety drugs can relieve some of the most common symptoms of anxiety disorders, whether it is heart-pounding panic, paralyzing fear, or inability to sleep due to worry. However, like all medications, anti-anxiety medications carry the risk of side effects and safety concerns. For example, benzodiazepines are only used for the short term. They are not recommended for long-term use due to tolerance (over time, you need more medication to get the same effects) as well as the risk of addiction. 

The bottom line is that if your anxiety is interfering with your ability to function normally, an anxiety drug may be helpful. As long as you take the medication as prescribed and follow your doctor’s instructions, it will do more good than harm. 


1. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics