Taking Medication For Anxiety

medication for anxiety

Taking Medication for anxiety

The decision of whether or not to take medication for anxiety is a very personal one. For some, starting a medication is a welcomed relief while others work to avoid medication at all costs. In this post, I will outline common medications used to treat anxiety as well as some of the common misconceptions about taking medication. This post is neither for or against medications. Its simply to provide education to anyone who is considering medication as a part of their anxiety treatment.

Typically, when a person is experiencing the physical effects of anxiety the first step they will take is talking with their PCP. If medication is discussed or prescribed a doctor will usually recommend that the individual also pursue counseling for their anxiety. Many people who come to me for counseling have already been prescribed something to help with their anxiety. They might or might not have started taking it. Depending on what symptoms you are having you might be prescribed one of the following:  

SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) 

Celexa, Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil

This class of medication is considered the first-line medication for treating anxiety disorders. These medications work to increase the availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin which is involved in regulating mood. Its important to know that SSRI’s do not work immediately and to  give them several weeks to reach their full effectiveness before you decide if they are working or not.

SNRI’s (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) 

Cymbalta, Effexor, Pristiq

Another class of medication that works with serotonin but also works to increase the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.

TCA’s (tricyclic antidepressants) 

Elavil, Pamelor, Tofranil 

These medications also work to increase the availability of serotonin and norepinephrine.


A class of medications that are sedating and typically only prescribed for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms. They are fast-acting and can provide immediate relief from symptoms of panic attacks. Because they are so effective in getting rid of the uncomfortable sensations of anxiety, dependency and addiction are risks associated with taking this class of medication. 

Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, Xanax

*Benzodiazepines put to sleep the part of the brain that therapy aims to alter. In order to teach the brain what to do when it is afraid or feeling anxious and threatened we need it to be awake and accessible. The goal is to help you move away from these medications as they are only intended for short term use.

*All medications have the potential of causing adverse side effects and should be discussed directly with your physician who is prescribing your medication.

Common Misconceptions about Taking Medication For Anxiety:

1- If I start taking something, I will have to be on it forever. My response to this is maybe… and maybe not. You have the option to start something and decide its not for you. You also might start taking something and realize how much it helps you. This is a bit of that all-or-nothing thinking that I’ve talked about before. 

2- It’s not going to make a difference. Again, maybe you’re right, but maybe it will help. There are some mental health/medical professionals that promote anxiety medications as more of a placebo effect. There are also many professionals and research that do support the effectiveness of medications for anxiety. Everyone is different in how their body responds to things and you won’t know if it makes a difference unless you try it. 

3- I will have to deal with new side effects that I don’t want. Yep, it’s possible. Again, you won’t know until you try. If the side effects of taking the medication are worse than your anxiety symptoms then by all means talk with your doctor about stopping or changing it. 

4- If I’m taking medication I don’t need therapy. Medication is one channel for reducing anxiety but it is not a cure. Medication alone does not teach you how to cope with anxiety or help you understand why you are anxious to begin with. Therapy in combination with medication has been shown to be the most effective combination for reducing anxiety, especially for those who are suffering with OCD symptoms. View more information specific to OCD here.

5- I will become dependent and have to take more and more. While there is a risk of this particularly with the benzodiazepines, this is not likely with the other classes of medications that you would take for anxiety. If you are working with your physician to monitor your medication dosage and working with your therapist to address underlying causes of your anxiety you will have the tools you need for times when your anxiety spikes. 

When it comes to deciding whether or not a medication is going to be a part of your anxiety treatment there are many factors to consider. Talking with your doctor and your therapist will help you decide what is right for you and your situation. 

If you are a Virginia resident and looking for a therapist who specializes in anxiety, feel free to view my openings and schedule an initial appointment. Appointments are offered conveniently via teletherapy. Its never too early or too late to care for your mental health. 


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