With so many different types of medication available to treat anxiety disorders, it can be hard to know where to turn. While it’s best to discuss your specific symptoms, triggers, and history with a medical professional to determine the right treatment for you, it’s always good to know what’s out there.

When it comes to anxiety disorders, the two main types of medications are antidepressants and antianxiety medications. While anitianxiety drugs claim to fight anxiety, antidepressants have gained in popularity over the years and are now the most used medications for anxiety disorders. Anitanxiety medications and other drugs such as sedative and beta blockers are good choices in specific instances, such as social anxiety and panic disorder.


There are three types of antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

SSRIs are the most popular form of antidepressant for the treatment of anxiety disorders, and can be used in cases of generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. The reason for their popularity is that, unlike the older antidepressants, this newer class of medication has fewer negative side effects.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for healthy brain function. This brain chemical helps to lessen anxiety, keep mood stable, control aggressive impulses, and stabilize arousal. When there isn’t enough serotonin available in the brain, anxiety disorders can result. SSRIs block this neurotransmitter from being reabsorbed, which means that there is more serotonin available for the body’s use.

Brand names of SSRIs include:

  • Prozac
  • Celexa
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft

Tricyclic antidepressants are the oldest form of antidepressant, and they’ve historically been used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. They work by increasing levels of serotonin as well as another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. Much like SSRIs, these medications block the reabsorbtion of these neurotransmitters and make the receptor sites more sensitive to their presence. Unlike SSRIs, Tricyclic antidepressants have a higher incidence of negative side effects including constipation, trouble urinating, dizziness and vision problems. They’re used when a patient is unresponsive to SSRIs. Brand names include:

  • Elavil
  • Tofranil
  • Anafranil

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) block monoamine oxidase, an enzyme produced by the body that breaks down the neurotransmitters that help control anxiety. They are contraindicated with several foods, which means that, if you eat cheese or drink red wine for example, you’re more likely to suffer from stroke. That’s one of the reasons that these medications are only prescribed in certain situations or when SSRIs fail to work. Brand names include:

  • Nardil
  • Parnte
  • Marplan


 Once the main treatment for anxiety disorder, benzodiazepines are essentially tranquilizers designed to induce relaxation. They work quickly on the action of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to slow activity in the brain, calming the nerves and reducing racing thoughts.

They are especially helpful during a panic attack because of how quickly they work. While they were originally designed as the antianxiety class of prescription medication, they’re now used in conjunction with antidepressants in the beginning treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. Once the antidepressant and therapy begin to take effect, patients are generally tapered off the benzodiazepine. The reason is that patients tend to build up a tolerance, requiring more and more of the benzodiazepine for relief, and they can often be addictive.

Brand name benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Valium


Buspar is an antianxiety medication that helps to reduce the fear, tension, and nervousness associated with anxiety disorders. Buspar works by stimulating serotonin receptor sites on the nerve cells that need that serotonin to stabilize mood. The difference between Buspar and other antianxiety medications is that Buspar does not have sedative effects. The most common negative side effects are dizziness, headache, nausea, lightheadedness, insomnia and excitement. Withdrawal from Buspar can have its own negative effects including irritability, anxiety, agitation and insomnia.

Beta Blockers and Sedatives

Beta blockers are used most often in cases of performance anxiety related to social anxiety. They’re designed to treat high blood pressure, so their action on heart rate and shaking due to heart palpitations helps reduce the symptoms of anxiety when someone with social anxiety is facing a performance situation.

Sedatives are used to treat insomnia, and they can help alleviate this symptom of anxiety disorder. They can be used in conjunction with antidepressants or in cases of very mild anxiety related to sleep disorder.

Always talk with your doctor about which prescription medications are right for you, and make sure to communicate with your doctor about any effects the medication might have once you’ve started taking it. If it isn’t providing relief, you might have to up the dosage or change medications. There’s no reason to suffer in silence. If you seek help, there is relief available.

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