Medication for Anxiety

Mary Lucas, RN
Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 7/16/2020

Nervousness and anxiety are not the same thing. It’s normal to feel nervous from time to time, but carrying around intense and unwarranted nervousness, fear or anxiety can be disruptive and a sign of something more serious. 

Anxiety disorders are common, and there are many treatment options available to people suffering from them. 

What is Anxiety? 

Have you ever experienced an elevated heart rate, upset stomach or general nervousness before giving a presentation? You’ve experienced anxiety. It’s a normal feeling. 

But when this feeling becomes pervasive, overwhelming or happens when there’s really no reason to  be nervous or worried, it could indicate a mental health condition warranting medical treatment. 

Anxiety disorders are a mental health condition like depression. And like depression, an anxiety disorder can be incredibly disruptive. 

That said, it’s not uncommon. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults are believed to have some kind of anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And anxiety of this kind can interfere with your normal day — disrupting your social, personal and work life.

There are several types of anxiety disorders, though when people talk about “anxiety,” they’re usually referring to generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive fear or worry, on most days for at least six months. Other symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include: 

  • Restlessness or feeling on-edge
  • Moodiness or irritability 
  • Feeling drained or fatigued 
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing 
  • Muscle tension
  • Racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach 
  • Sweating or tremors 

Other forms of anxiety include: panic disorders (characterized by panic attacks), phobias or intense fear, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and separation anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety Medication Types 

Once diagnosed with anxiety, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication to help treat the symptoms. There are several different types of anti-anxiety medications, and different drugswithin those types. Here are a few of the more common examples: 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are antidepressant medications that can also be effective at treating anxiety. Examples of SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), sertraline (Zoloft®), paroxetine (Paxil®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®). 

These drugs are taken on a daily basis and generally take a few weeks to begin working. Common effects include: sexual dysfunction, headache, weight gain and insomnia.

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are another class of antidepressants and examples include the drugs venlafaxine (Effexor®) and duloxetine (Cymbalta®). Side effects of these medications include: sexual dysfunction, insomnia, headache, upset stomach, blood pressure increase, and weight gain.


Benzodiazepines including alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), diazepam (Valium®), and lorazepam (Ativan®) manage anxiety in a short-term manner. This means you only take it when you experience symptoms of anxiety, rather than daily. 

They promote relaxation and reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. However, you can build a tolerance to their effects, requiring more and more to achieve the same benefits.

Tricyclic antidepressants

Amitriptyline (Elavil®), nortriptyline (Aventyl®, Pamelor®) and other tricyclic antidepressants have largely been replaced by the use of SSRIs. These drugs may come with more significant side effects such as drop in blood pressure, urinary retention, constipation, blurry vision and dry mouth.

Other Anxiety Treatments 

In addition to medication, your healthcare provider may recommend you talk with someone about your anxiety. Psychotherapy involves talking through your anxiety and other life stressors to help understand the causes behind them.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps you identify flawed thought patterns and behaviors that may be worsening your anxiety. By learning to control these troubling thoughts, you can neutralize their effects on your emotions.

Getting Help 

Anxiety can be debilitating and make daily living a significant challenge. Though it may be hard to ask for help, medical professionals can help determine whether medication or a combination of medication and other treatments may be right for you. 


This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.