Treatment of anxiety disorders often includes therapy, prescription medication, or a combination of the two.

Medications are prescribed to help reduce your symptoms. The four main classes of medications used to treat anxiety disorders are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants. At various biological levels, these medications alter and regulate the body's reactions to stress. Most take some time for maximum effectiveness, and you might have to try a few before you find the one that is the best for you.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs are considered the first-line drug defense against anxiety disorders.

  • How do SSRIs help with anxiety? SSRIs keep brain cells from reabsorbing too much of the mood-regulating hormone serotonin. It is thought that this increase in serotonin boosts your mood.
  • Do SSRIs cause side effects? All medications can cause side effects, but SSRIs tend to be well tolerated and cause fewer side effects compared to other types of anxiety medication. Side effects vary across different medications, and from person to person, but the more common long-term side effects of SSRIs include weight gain, sleeplessness or insomnia, and sexual dysfunction.
  • What SSRIs are available for prescription? SSRIs come in different formulations, including fluoxetine (Prozac® and generics), fluvoxamine (Luvox® and generics), citalopram (Celexa® and generics), escitalopram (Cipralex® and generics), paroxetine (Paxil® and generics), and sertraline (Zoloft® and generics).

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
SNRIs are thought to be as effective as SSRIs in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

  • How do SNRIs help with anxiety? In addition to limiting the amount of serotonin that the brain cells can reabsorb - like SSRIs do - SNRIs also free up another mood-regulating hormone, norepinephrine.
  • Do SNRIs cause side effects? All medications can cause side effects. Side effects vary across different types of SNRIs, but the most common side effects include nausea, headaches, minor increase in blood pressure, and insomnia.
  • What SNRIs are available for prescription? You might be prescribed venlafaxine (Effexor® XR and generics) or duloxetine (Cymbalta®.

Benzodiazepines are a quick-acting, short-term fix to acute anxiety and panic symptoms.

  • How do benzodiazepines help with anxiety? Benzodiazepines slow down the nervous system, reducing muscle tension and encouraging relaxation.
  • Do benzodiazepines cause side effects? All medications can cause side effects. When benzodiazepines are given in low doses, their side effects tend to be mild and include drowsiness, dizziness, sedation, and loss of balance. At higher doses, side effects include confusion, disorientation, breathing difficulties, depression, and amnesia. These medications may also cause problems with tolerance and dependence.
  • What benzodiazepines are available for prescription? Benzodiazepines come in different formulations, including alprazolam (Xanax® and generics), diazepam (Valium® and generics), and lorazepam (Ativan® and generics).

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Tricyclic antidepressants are an older class of medication sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety disorders.

  • How do tricyclic antidepressants help with anxiety? Like SNRIs and SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants inhibit the brain's absorption of mood-regulating hormones. Additionally, TCAs block other cell receptors, an action that may increase the incidence of side effects.
  • Do tricyclic antidepressants cause side effects? All medications can cause side effects. Tricyclic antidepressant side effects include constipation, blurry vision, dry mouth, dizziness, weight gain, and orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure when you stand up).
  • What tricyclic antidepressants are available for prescription? Tricyclic antidepressants come in different formulations, including clomipramine (Anafranil® and generics), desipramine (Norpramin® and generics), and imipramine (Apo-imipramine and other generics).

If you have any questions or concerns about your medication, speak promptly to your doctor or pharmacist. Certain anti-anxiety medications may not be right for you, depending on your health, age, and whether or not you are pregnant, so disclose any underlying conditions, allergies, or other concerns to your doctor. And because medications can interact, always tell your doctor and pharmacist about other medications or natural products and supplements that you are taking.

pharmacist about other medications or natural products and supplements that you are taking.

Medications to treat anxiety

  • alprazolam (Xanax® and generics)
  • citalopram (Celexa® and generics)
  • clomipramine (Anafranil® and generics)
  • desipramine (Norpramin® and generics)
  • diazepam (Valium® and generics)
  • duloxetine (Cymbalta®)
  • escitalopram (Cipralex®)
  • fluoxetine (Prozac® and generics)
  • fluvoxamine (Luvox® and generics)
  • imipramine (Apo-imipramine and other generics)
  • lorazepam (Ativan® and generics)
  • paroxetine (Paxil® and generics)
  • sertraline (Zoloft® and generics)
  • venlafaxine (Effexor® XR and generics)