Medication does not cure anxiety disorders, but often provides short-term relief from symptoms. Dr. Mansfield, can you tell us about some of the medications prescribed for anxiety and how they work?
Of course, Dr. Jerman. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed for people with panic disorder or social anxiety disorder. Antidepressants can take several weeks to start working and may cause side effects such as headache, nausea, or difficulty sleeping.
For people with generalized anxiety disorder, a benzodiazepine may be prescribed. Benzodiazepines are sometimes used to treat short-term symptoms of anxiety.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger in the brain, that inhibits or reduces the activity of nerve cells within the brain. Benzodiazepines open GABA-activated channels in the brain, which makes the nerve cells resistant to excitation. In other words, benzodiazepines force the brain to relax.
Although benzodiazepines can be helpful in relieving short-term symptoms of anxiety, there is a potential for a number of serious side effects, including depression and drowsiness that can affect speech, coordination, and cognitive function. In addition, some benzodiazepines can be habit-forming, and misuse of habit-forming medications can lead to addiction, overdose, or death.
Beta-blockers are another form of medication prescribed to treat the short-term, physical symptoms of anxiety. Beta-blockers work by preventing norepinephrine and epinephrine from binding to certain receptors in the vascular system. This reduces heart rate, which can ease other anxiety symptoms, such as trembling and sweating.