Anti Anxiety Drugs

Woman taking a pill

Some people may be prescribed anti-anxiety drugs by a physician to help them deal with anxiety disorders.

Types of Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Several types of drugs can be used to treat anxiety. Antidepressant medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines, and tricyclic antidepressants, and other medications like buspirone or beta blockers can all be used as anti-anxiety medicines.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are often the first line of therapy for people who need treatment for anxiety disorders. These medications affect the function of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters that play a role in anxiety.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

SSRIs increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain; serotonin affects mood. These medications may be prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Examples of SSRIs that can be used for anxiety include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)

Both adults and children that take SSRIs should be closely followed for any change in behavior because of the increased risk of suicide especially at the beginning of therapy.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

SNRIs work on two separate neurotransmitters - serotonin and norepinephrine - and increase the amount of these chemicals available for use by the brain. Some SNRIs that are used to treat anxiety are venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).


Benzodiazepines were originally developed in the 1960s to treat anxiety and target the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor. If SSRIs are not effective, the physician may prescribe a benzodiazepine for the short-term management of anxiety or stress. Occasionally, the doctor may combine a benzodiazepine with another antidepressant to treat anxiety symptoms.

Some examples of benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety include:

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)

Benzodiazepines should not be used for long periods of time because of the risk of dependence.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Another type of antidepressant that can be used to treat anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder is the tricyclic antidepressant. These are older medications which can have significant side effects; patients with heart problems, closed-angle glaucoma and urinary retention may develop a worsening of the particular condition and should be closely monitored. Examples of these medications include:

  • Imipramine (Tofranil)
  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Desipramine (Norpramin)

Other Medications

Several other classes of medications can be used to treat anxiety.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs are antidepressant medications that can be used as anti-anxiety therapy in some situations. Patients who take these medications must be vigilant because MAOIs interact with certain foods and medications and can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure. Examples of MAOIs that can be used to manage anxiety are:

  • Phenelzine (Nardil)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)

Buspirone (BuSpar)

This medication can be used to treat generalized anxiety disorder; however, it does take a few weeks to become effective. This medication has little risk for abuse so it can be used for long-term treatments.

Beta Blockers

Beta blockers can be effective in treating the physical signs of anxiety like sweating and rapid heartbeat. These medications should be taken right before the situation that would promote the anxiety symptoms. Examples of these medications include propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin).

Visit to the Physician

Prescription anti-anxiety drugs should only be obtained through a physician. After learning more about the patient's symptoms, the physician may determine that these medications are the appropriate treatment for the anxiety condition. The patient should also discuss the side effects of the various classes of medications to determine which would be the best for the patient.

Close monitoring and communication with the physician can prevent potential problems with these anti-anxiety medications.

Anti Anxiety Drugs