Anti-anxiety medications might offer one quick solution to your anxiety problems. These types of drugs include traditional anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines), as well as newer options like antidepressants and beta-blockers. They can help reduce your anxiety while you undergo therapy to get to the cause of the problem. However, you must understand that these types of drugs don't cure anxiety and they do come with side effects. Long-term reliance on these medications is not recommended.
Benzodiazepines can reduce anxiety quickly--usually within an hour--so they are a good option if you are having a panic or anxiety attack. Alprazolam (brand name Xanax), clonazepam (brand name Klonopin), diazepam (brand name Valium), and lorazepam (brand name Ativan) are in this category of anti-anxiety drugs. Side effects of benzodiazepines include sleepiness, "fogginess", and/or a feeling of being uncoordinated, all of which can cause problems if you need to be functional and alert. Benzodiazepines take a long time to get metabolized. For this reason, they can build up in your body if used for a long time. If you suffer from this build-up, the side effects worsen and you may develop slurred speech, confusion, depression, dizziness, inability to think clearly and reason, memory loss, and nausea, the inability to "feel" anything. Benzodiazepines decrease your anxiety but they also decrease feelings of pleasure and pain.
The advantage of antidepressants versus traditional anti-anxiety medications is that the risk for dependency and abuse is less. However, the downside of antidepressants is that they can take from 4 to 6 weeks to give you relief from your anxiety--so, they are of no use to you if you are having a panic attack, for example.
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, and Celexa and they are not without side effects: nausea, nervousness, headaches, sleepiness, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, nausea, and weight gain.
Buspirone (brand name BuSpar) works only for generalized anxiety disorders (GAD). It relieves anxiety by increasing serotonin in the brain (like SSRIs) and decreasing dopamine. Buspirone takes about two weeks to kick into effect but it has its advantages: it's not as sedating, doesn't negatively affect memory and coordination and it's minimally addictive. It also has less serious side effects: nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and dry mouth.
Beta-blockers are generally used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems. But they can work for anxiety too by blocking the effects of norepinephrine, a stress hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response. Beta-blockers control the physical symptoms of anxiety-like rapid heart rate, sweating, dizziness, and trembling voice and hands but not the emotional side of anxiety.
The above information about anti-anxiety medications does not substitute medical advice given by a health professional.
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