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Medications for Treating Anxiety

Medications for Treating Anxiety

What can these medications do?
What side effects may occur?
What else should I know about antianxiety medications?

What can these medications do?
Feeling worried or afraid sometimes is perfectly natural. These feelings can even be helpful—they can keep you safe by "warning" you that danger is nearby. Yet sometimes these feelings get out of hand and make it hard for you to deal with everyday life. You may feel too afraid to go to school or too nervous to spend time with friends. People who feel worried, frightened, or uneasy most of the time, even when there is nothing to be afraid of, have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can take several forms, including panic attacks, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Anxiety disorders are treated with psychotherapy, medications, or both. Today there are more medications for treating anxiety than ever before, so if one medication doesn't work, there are usually others you can try. The right medication, especially when combined with psychotherapy, can help a person who has an anxiety disorder feel calm and participate in normal life again. back to top

What side effects may occur?
There are several types of antianxiety medications. Benzodiazepines are fast-acting medications that can help most people feel better within a day to a week. The most common side effects are sleepiness and clumsiness. Antianxiety medications can also cause slowed-down thinking. When a dose of a benzodiazepine is too high, you may experience confusion. Drinking alcohol while taking one of these medications can lead to serious, even deadly, problems. In addition, you can become addicted to benzodiazepines, so a health professional will probably give them to you for just a short period of time. Sometimes you only need to take them once in a while—when your anxiety becomes severe or you have trouble sleeping. When it's time to stop taking benzodiazepines, your health care provider will have you stop taking them gradually. You may have a withdrawal reaction if the medications are stopped too suddenly. This can cause more anxiety, shakiness, headache, dizziness, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite.

BuSpar (buspirone) is another antianxiety medication. BuSpar doesn't cause as much sleepiness as benzodiazepines, but it works more slowly. It is not addictive. Possible side effects include dizziness, upset stomach, headache, and nervousness.

If you are taking a medication, it is important to ask your health care provider about the possible side effects. Make sure you or a parent knows what to do if side effects occur. Don't stop taking your medication or start taking more or less of it without talking with your health care provider first.

In addition, a number of medications for treating depression can also be used to treat anxiety disorders. In particular, some newer depression medications, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are widely used for anxiety, too. Although these medications are generally safe, some people may feel more on edge or nervous when they first start taking them. back to top

What else should I know about antianxiety medications?
You can't buy antianxiety medications at the drugstore. A health professional must prescribe all antianxiety medications. If you feel anxious or worried all the time, talk with your parents, another trusted adult, or your health care provider. Don't take someone else's anxiety medicine, such as a friend's or a parent's. A medication that works for someone else may not work for you and could even hurt you. back to top

Last Modified Date: 3/19/2001
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