Anxiety is a normal human response that is typical in stressful situations. However, being anxious constantly can indicate underlying issues that require care and treatment, such as anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are classified as mental health conditions that impact the person’s life and make it challenging to deal with typical daily events.
Fortunately, scientists and researchers have been studying them for decades, and have developed medications for their treatment and management. This article will examine these medications, their potential benefits, and any side effects they may have.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
While Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are primarily used as antidepressants, they are sometimes considered as a treatment option for certain anxiety disorders. SSRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, which can be beneficial in managing symptoms of anxiety disorders.
It can take some time, typically weeks, for the body to adjust and for the SSRIs to start working. Give it time and talk to your doctor if you do not see changes in a month or two.
Possible side effects of using SSRIs include dizziness, weight gain, blurry vision, headaches, restlessness, sexual dysfunction, upset stomach, sleep and nausea problems, dry mouth, or fatigue.
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors inhibit the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is another hormone crucial for mood regulation. It also increases energy levels and focus, which is vital for those with depression who might not have the energy to complete daily tasks.
While they are as effective as SSRIs, these medications tend to have more side effects, including upset stomach, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, increased blood pressure, and headaches. However, these go away after a few weeks, but you should always talk to your doctor if you have them and they last more than two weeks.
If you are taking SNRIs, you may experience some side effects, including sexual dysfunction, weight gain, high blood pressure, headaches, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, constipation, drowsiness or fatigue, sleep problems, upset stomach, dry mouth, nausea, or dizziness.
Our bodies have evolved to prepare us for unpleasant or threatening situations through the fight-or-flight response. Part of it is the production of adrenaline, which is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone.
It causes an increase in heart rate, increases lung efficiency, and causes the blood vessels to dilate so they can transport more blood to the muscles and brain. It also raises blood sugar levels and causes the pupils to dilate. All these bodily changes help us deal with whatever causes that response.
Certain situations, such as public speaking, can also cause adrenaline production. For it to be effective, it has to bind to beta receptors located all over the body. If we can interrupt this binding process, we can reduce the fight-or-flight response; this is what beta blockers do.
Although approved for treating heart-related conditions, doctors can also prescribe a beta blocker like propranolol as an anxiety medication. This is called an off-label prescription and is recommended for those who have anxiety in specific situations.
Since they do not alter brain chemistry or deal with the psychological causes of anxiety, they are not a treatment.
Beta blockers can cause weight gain, sleep problems, extreme tiredness, cold feet and hands, low blood pressure, and sleep problems.
As with the other medications on this list, benzodiazepines have multiple uses. They are a sedative used to encourage relaxation by increasing the effects of a neurotransmitter known as GABA in the brain. This method of action is what makes them effective as relaxants for people with anxiety disorders.
Benzodiazepines also work fast, with users seeing positive effects in about two hours. Their quick action also makes them useful for treating panic attacks, phobias, and social anxiety.
Doctors do not prescribe benzodiazepines for longer than six months because they become less effective the more people use them, and this leads to people taking more to get the same effect. This, plus their addictive nature, makes them dangerous in the long term. However, they can prescribe them alongside SSRIs until the latter takes effect.
Benzodiazepines can have serious side effects that include headaches, speech, coordination or balance issues, headaches, blurry vision, upset stomach, confusion, and loss of focus or memory.
Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)
These are among the first types of medications to be used to treat anxiety and depression. They work similarly to SNRIs by blocking norepinephrine and serotonin reuptake.
Doctors do not generally prescribe them these days, instead prescribing SSRIs due to their fewer side effects. However, doctors still prescribe them when other anxiety medications do not work.
Common side effects of taking TCAs may include weight changes, dizziness, constipation, difficulty urinating, increased appetite, excessive sweating, tremors, sleepiness, blurred vision, low blood pressure upon standing, sexual problems or erectile dysfunction, and dry mouth.
Serious Anxiety Medication Risks
Although they have a lot of benefits and some mild side effects, anxiety medications also come with some risks.
The Food and Drug Administration identified an increased risk of suicidal thoughts in adolescents and children taking antidepressants. Their studies show this risk increased within a few weeks of starting the medication. For this reason, it mandated that all manufacturers add expanded warning labels on their boxes to further explain them to prescribing doctors.
Tolerance and Dependence
Both of these mainly have to do with long-term use of benzodiazepines, but they can happen with other anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants. While there is always a risk of either or both happening, the highest likelihood is in those who use these medications for over three months.
Such dependence can also lead to withdrawal symptoms if the person stops taking the medication. These include seizures, sweating, sleep problems, depression, restlessness, and additional anxiety. There is also an increased risk of overdose and vehicular accidents for those who combine these medications with alcohol or opioids.
Anxiety can be crippling depending on how severe it is and what causes it. Fortunately, there are different medications to help deal with it. Talk to your doctor before taking these medications to explore their benefits and understand potential side effects if you have anxiety or an anxiety disorder.