Understanding anxiety medication: options and uses

Here, we discuss anxiety medication options, considerations and how it might fit into your anxiety treatment plan.

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his page was clinically reviewed by Dr Donna Grant (MBBS, MCRPsych, BSc Hons), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, in June 2023.

Living with anxiety can be difficult and it can have a negative effect on lots of different areas of your life. However, there are medications available that can help to reduce your anxiety symptoms and improve wellbeing.

Here, we will explore different types of anxiety medication and their uses. We’ll also explore the benefits that anxiety medication can have, as well as other treatment approaches for anxiety.

Whether you’re looking to understand different anxiety medications or seeking guidance on the approach that’s best for you, this article aims to provide a clear overview of anxiety treatment options.

Types of anxiety medication

There are a number of types of medication for anxiety, each of which are suitable to different scenarios and levels of need. It’s important to understand that the type of medication you might receive depends on your specific needs and the recommendations of a healthcare professional.

Some types of anxiety medication include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – SSRIs tend to be prescribed as a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders. Medications such as sertraline, fluoxetine and citalopram fall under this category. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s involved in regulating mood. By increasing serotonin levels, SSRIs can help to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve your wellbeing
  • Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) – SNRIs, such as venlafaxine and duloxetine, work in a similar way to SSRIs by increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. These medications are often prescribed for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and can provide relief from anxiety symptoms
  • Benzodiazepines – benzodiazepines are a class of medications that act as central nervous system depressants. These type of medications help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Examples of benzodiazepines that can be prescribed for anxiety include diazepam and lorazepam. While benzodiazepines can be effective in the short-term, they can also be addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms if they’re used over a longer period of time. Therefore, benzodiazepines for anxiety only tend to be prescribed for shorter durations
  • Buspirone – buspirone is an anxiolytic medication that works by affecting the serotonin receptors in the brain. It’s often used for treating GAD and can be useful for people who don’t want to take benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers – beta-blockers, such as propranolol, are sometimes prescribed to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. These can include things like a rapid heartbeat, trembling and sweating. They work by blocking the effects of adrenaline, which can reduce the physical manifestations of anxiety

It’s important that you speak to a healthcare professional about anxiety medication, so they can advise on which is the most suitable for you. They’ll be able to take everything into account, including your individual circumstances, medical history and potential side effects.

Medication is often just one element of a full treatment plan, which may include therapy, lifestyle changes and self-care practices.

Anxiety diagnosis

If you think you need medication to help your anxiety, a good first port of call when it comes to seeking support is to make an appointment to see your GP. They’ll be able to talk to you about how you’re feeling and the symptoms you’re experiencing.

Using this information, your GP will be able to either diagnose anxiety themselves, or refer you to a mental health specialist, like us at Priory, for further review. It’s likely that a GP will also conduct a physical examination to rule out any other causes for your symptoms.

Most commonly used anxiety medication

Sertraline is one of the most commonly prescribed anxiety medications in the UK. As an SSRI, it’s frequently used to treat many types of anxiety disorder, including GAD, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Sertraline helps regulate serotonin levels in the brain, reducing anxiety symptoms and promoting a sense of calm. It’s well-tolerated by lots of people, has minimal side effects and has a proven track record of effectiveness in managing anxiety.

Other commonly prescribed anxiety medications in the UK include:

  • Citalopram (SSRI)
  • Escitalopram (SSRI)
  • Diazepam (benzodiazepine)
  • Propranolol (beta-blocker)

While the above are all commonly prescribed, it’s really important that you speak to a healthcare professional, such as a doctor or a psychiatrist, to find the most suitable type of anxiety medication for you. They’ll be able to provide you with personalised advice and monitor your treatment progress.

The benefits of anti-anxiety medication

When it’s prescribed and used appropriately, medication offers lots of benefits when it comes to treating anxiety. These include:

  • Symptom-relief. Anti-anxiety medications can provide relief from the symptoms of anxiety. These may include excessive worry, panic attacks, restlessness and irritability. By targeting the underlying neurochemical imbalances associated with anxiety, these medications can help to restore a sense of calm and improve your wellbeing
  • Improved daily functioning. Anxiety can significantly impact your ability to carry out daily activities, such as work, school and social interactions. However, by reducing your symptoms, anxiety medication can help you to regain control over your life. It can improve concentration and productivity, and help you to cope better in your day-to-day life
  • Enhanced quality of life. Living with untreated anxiety can be challenging and can have a negative impact on your quality of life. However, by helping to get symptoms under control, anxiety medication can provide a boost to your quality of life. It can help you to find enjoyment in life again, engage more fully in relationships, and achieve your personal goals. This can lead to a greater sense of fulfilment and satisfaction
  • Can be used in addition to therapy. Medication alone might not be a complete solution for anxiety. However, it can work alongside other treatment methods, such as therapy. Combining medication with therapy can help to address both the physiological and psychological aspects of anxiety. Medication can also help you to engage better in therapy by reducing the intensity of your symptoms. This means you’re able to learn coping skills and apply them in your daily life
  • Short-term support. In certain situations, such as during a particularly challenging period, anti-anxiety medication can provide valuable short-term support. It can help you to regain stability, manage crises and navigate difficult circumstances until other anxiety coping strategies and long-term treatment plans are put in place

Getting help for anxiety

If you have anxiety and are considering getting help, it’s important to understand that you’re not alone, and that help is available. The first step in the process will be for you to reach out to a healthcare professional. You could make an appointment with your GP to discuss your options, or get in touch with a mental health expert such as a psychiatrist. They will be able to assess your symptoms, provide an accurate diagnosis and guide you towards appropriate treatment options.

At Priory, our mental health treatment specialists will work with you to develop a tailored treatment plan. It's likely that this will be a combination of therapy, lifestyle changes and medication.

During anxiety treatment at Priory, you’ll benefit from a range of evidence-based therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for anxiety. We can also teach you self-care techniques that you can use to help you cope with your anxiety symptoms. These may include things like breathing exercises for anxiety.

Remember, seeking support is a proactive step towards taking control of your mental health and wellbeing. With the right help, you can find effective strategies to manage and overcome your anxiety.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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