Mental Health

Medications for anxiety. Do they work and should you take them

Many people are worried about prescription medications for anxiety or any other mental health issue. And rightfully so. Most medications have side effects that are often worse than mental illness itself. Taking them comes with a risk, and it totally depends on you, whether you want to take that risk or not. 

Our society today is also obsessed with “natural” remedies, meditation, etc. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you suffer from mental disorder you may find it impossible for you to meditate or use breathing techniques. I had moments in my life of severe anxiety when it literally took over my body and mind. I could barely think of how to do necessary tasks like wake up and go to work after sleepless nights filled with agony and fear (that's how severe anxiety can feel). If it's not your case - great. Maybe you don't need to take a medication route, and it doesn't have to be a first thing you try for anxiety either, but I am here to remind you that it's an option. Medications can be helpful in more severe cases, and it's ok not to be able to deal with it on your own. Mental illness is just like any other illness, and it requires treatment. 

There are quite a few options to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Of course, I haven't tried every possible medication under the sun, so I am going to write this post based on my experience. Also my experience does not mean that it will be the same for you, so always make sure you speak with your health care provider, which you will have to do anyway to have medications prescribed to you if you need it. But to choose the best medication for you, you will have to try quite a few, and compare them in a similar way I am doing it in the table below. Not all of them will work, and it is absolutely normal. I would like to encourage you to keep trying, at least from time to time, chances are high you will find the "right one" for you. Some of them do really help.

Comparison of anxiety medications (based on my experience)

Antidepressants (SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors)

Honestly, it’s my least favorite class of medications for anxiety. These medications increase levels of serotonin ("happiness hormone") in the brain. They do it by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin into neurons. It's very simple to say that increase of serotonin helps depression, as well as anxiety, but for many people it does. It's of course important to note that medication alone is not as powerful as in combination with therapy, so if anything, you can use the time you start feeling better on medication wisely. Start implementing other helpful techniques in your life such as meditation and exercise, and maybe even going to therapy sessions if you can. 

I personally don't like SSRIs because they don’t help my anxiety that much. If anything, they boost my mood a little (what they are meant for), but it's not my main concern. After all, for me constant anxiety is much bigger issue than low mood from time to time (I don’t have depression, but keep in mind, that anxiety can lead to it if left untreated). Also, I experienced side effects from this class of medications, one of them is having random tics, that made my anxiety even worse. I have tried Zoloft (Sertraline) and Prozac (Fluoxetine).

Benzodiazepines. Are they safe?

Benzodiazepines or minor tranquilizers enhance the effect of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) that produces a calming effect by attaching to a special protein (known as GABA receptor) in our brain. Benzodiazepines do help calm anxiety almost immediately, but they have bad reputation due to high risk of tolerance and dependance. They are usually prescribed short-term for immediate relief. That way they are safe. Long-term (more than 2–4 weeks) use can result in a worsening of the symptoms they were initially prescribed for. It's most definitely not fun, but sometimes 3 days of treatment with Benzodiazepines can help you get your sleep back and start thinking more clearly and logically (to basically regain control over your brain). It is very much needed for recovery, and that's why I personally appreciate Benzodiazepines. 

Antihistamines for anxiety

Besides helping with allergies this group of drugs is used to treat anxiety sometimes. One of them I used to be prescribed long ago – Atarax (Hydroxyzine). I didn’t notice any difference with it, although it’s believed to be equivalent to benzodiazepines and buspirone in efficacy, according to data.

If anything, first generation of antihistamines can make you very sleepy and act as muscle relaxants. For instance, I occasionally take diphenhydramine or doxylamine for sleep (Unisom).

Azapirones

This group of drugs is prescribed for anxiety disorder and useful particularly for those who had not been on benzodiazepines. They are not as effective as the latest, but honestly, guys, I was recently prescribed Buspar (Buspirone), and it is working for me. It took a while for it to start working but it’s currently keeping my anxiety at bay.

I am yet to find out how long I can take this medication. Usually anxiety medications are not prescribed for long periods of time (except for antidepressants), but it’s great to know there are helpful options out there.

As I have mentioned before, I am still working on improving my mental health, trying not to rely on medications completely. GAD is a chronic condition that will probably come and go depending on many factors (life situations, for example). Knowing all your treatment options (including self-help) is extremely important and helpful. Here I talk about some "natural" remedies I find helpful.

These are all medications I have tried, and I am aware of. Please do remember, that it’s my experience. There are, of course more drugs that are prescribed for GAD. Do let me know in the comments, what is your experience with anxiety medications? Do you take any? What helps you? I will see you next time, on Pillows&Trees.