10 Drugs Commonly Prescribed for Anxiety

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in the United States. More than 40 million Americans live with one. This kind of anxiety is more than the usual temporary anxiety problems we all experience. Anxiety disorders are persistent anxiety that interferes with daily living and relationships. Fortunately, anxiety treatment is often effective in helping people reclaim full, healthy lives.

When doctors diagnose an anxiety disorder, they typically recommend cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and medication. The combination of these two types of treatment is usually the most effective approach to managing an anxiety disorder. Drugs for anxiety work to relieve symptoms, such as nervousness, panic and insomnia. CBT helps you understand and address the root of anxiety. With time, CBT can give long-term control over anxiety symptoms.

Classes of Anxiety Drugs

Anxiety medicine will not cure an anxiety disorder. But medications can relieve the emotional and physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder. This allows people to better participate in CBT.

Classes of drugs for anxiety include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications or anxiolytics include benzodiazepines, or benzos, and a non-benzodiazepine alternative. Benzos are for short-term management of anxiety symptoms. They relieve symptoms, such as panic or worry, quickly. But people rapidly develop a tolerance to their effects and they are potentially addictive. So, doctors usually do not use them long-term for anxiety treatment. 

  • Antidepressants balance brain chemicals that control mood and stress. This can be helpful in treating anxiety disorders, especially if depression is also present. There are several classes of antidepressants, with varying side effects. It can take several weeks or even a couple of months to see the full benefit of these drugs. 

  • Beta blockers are drugs that treat high blood pressure and certain heart problems. But their effects can also be helpful for relieving physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate, flushing and trembling. This makes them useful for anxiety disorders and for occasional performance anxiety, such as public speaking. These uses are off-label, meaning they do not have formal FDA approval for this purpose.

Common Anxiety Drugs

For any one person, it’s hard to say what are the best drugs for anxiety. Certain drugs work better for some types of anxiety than others. They also have different side effects and risks. This makes it important to work with a doctor who has experience treating different forms of anxiety. This drugs for anxiety list looks at 10 commonly prescribed options:

  1. Alprazolam (Xanax) is a benzodiazepine anxiolytic. It comes in several dosage forms, including a tablet, extended-release (ER) tablet, orally disintegrating tablet, and a concentrated liquid. You take the ER tablet once a day and the other forms 2 to 4 times a day. Common side effects of benzos include sedation, problems concentrating, and memory problems.

  2. Atenolol (Tenormin) is a beta blocker. It is available as a tablet for once or twice daily dosing. Common side effects include fatigue, dizziness and lightheadedness.

  3. Buspirone (Buspar) is a non-benzodiazepine anxiolytic. It does not have the same issues with tolerance and addiction as do benzos. It is a tablet you usually take twice a day. Consistency is important: always take it with food or always take it without food. You should also avoid large amounts of grapefruit juice, which can increase amounts of buspirone in your body and increase risk of side effects. Common side effects include fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness and headache.

  4. Clonazepam (Klonopin) is another benzo anxiolytic. It is available as a regular tablet and an orally disintegrating tablet. You take it up to three times a day, with or without food.

  5. Diazepam (Valium) is also a benzo anxiolytic. It comes as a tablet, solution, and concentrated liquid. For concentrated liquids, you add the dose to a beverage or soft food, such as pudding. Then, you must consume the entire drink or snack.

  6. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) is an SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor). This class usually has milder side effects than some of the other antidepressants. Duloxetine is an extended-release capsule you take once or twice a day.

  7. Escitalopram (Lexapro) is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). This type of antidepressant usually has fewer side effects than other kinds. However, some people have a decrease in their sex drive or ability. It is available as a tablet and a liquid. You usually take it once daily.

  8. Lorazepam (Ativan) is another benzo. Like some of the other benzos, it comes as a tablet and a concentrated liquid. You usually take it 2 to 3 times a day.

  9. Propranolol (Inderal) is another beta blocker. It is available as a tablet, solution, and ER capsule. The ER capsule dosing is once daily at bedtime. You take the other forms up to four times a day. Side effects are similar to atenolol.

  10. Sertraline (Zoloft) is an SSRI that comes as a tablet and a liquid. The usual dose is once daily. Stomach upset and restlessness are common side effects. Sexual difficulties are also possible.

It may take some trial and error to find the right medication to manage anxiety. If you are having side effects, talk with your doctor. There may be another option to treat your anxiety. Do stop taking your anxiety medicine without talking with your doctor first. It may be necessary to slowly taper the dose down before stopping it.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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