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Understanding Medications Used to Treat Anxiety Disorders

The first-line treatment for most anxiety conditions is psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and/or supportive-expressive therapy. These therapies, along with lifestyle changes (like exercise and good sleep habits), are well-established and highly effective treatments for most anxiety conditions.

However, in some cases therapy alone is not effective, particularly if the patient is suffering from excessively high anxiety and/or its physical side effects. In those situations, anti-anxiety medications, in combination with therapy, are often necessary to help patients feel better.

Types of Medications Used to Treat Anxiety Disorders

There are four general classes of prescription medications used to treat anxiety disorders:

  1. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor)

    SSRIs relieve depression and anxiety symptoms by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin by certain nerve cells in the brain, making more serotonin available, which improves mood. These drugs are “selective” because they only affect serotonin and not other neurotransmitters.

    Examples of SSRI medications include:

    • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
    • Citalopram (Celexa)
    • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
    • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
    • Sertraline (Zoloft)
    • Vilazodone (Viibryd)


  2. SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor)

    SNRIs increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine by inhibiting their reabsorption into the brain cells, which improves mood.

    Examples of SNRI medications include:

    • Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq, Khedezla)
    • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
    • Levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
    • Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)


  3. Tricyclic antidepressants

    Tricyclic antidepressants increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine by inhibiting their reabsorption into the brain cells. These medications are being prescribed less often in favor of SSRIs.

    Examples of tricyclic antidepressants include:

    • Amitriptyline
    • Amoxapine
    • Desipramine (Norpramin)
    • Doxepin
    • Imipramine (Tofranil)
    • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
    • Protriptyline (Vivactil)
    • Trimipramine (Surmontil)


  4. Benzodiazepine or other short-term drugs

    These medications relieve symptoms of acute anxiety, such as panic attacks. While other medications must be taken daily to manage anxiety symptoms, these drugs promote relaxation and reduce muscular tension to treat short-term anxiety in the moment. Examples include Xanax or Valium.

    Depending on the course of treatment, other medications are also sometimes prescribed, including MAOI's (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), anticonvulsants, and beta-blockers.

Common Side Effects of Anti-Anxiety Medication

Like all drugs, anti-anxiety medications do have some side effects. Some common ones may include:

  • Drowsiness or insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nervousness, agitation, or restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Sexual problems, such as reduced sexual desire or difficulty reaching orgasm or inability to maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction)
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision

Affording Your Anti-Anxiety Medication

If you have recently been prescribed daily medication for an anxiety disorder, you may be concerned about adding the additional expense to your monthly budget. The good news is that there are many ways to manage a maintenance medication , or a prescription taken over a long period of time.

Start by having a conversation with your doctor and/or pharmacist about your concerns, and when it’s time to fill your prescription, remember to comparison shop for the best price. The FamilyWize Drug Price Lookup Tool makes it easy to find the lowest price for your medication before even driving to the pharmacy.

In addition to comparing pharmacy prices, using a prescription discount card can help you save money each time you fill your anti-anxiety medication.

If you have or think you may have an anxiety disorder, it is important that you work with a medical professional to get help. Medication, on its own, can only ease the symptoms of anxiety and fear. However, therapy is the only proven way to rewire the brain to better manage anxiety over time. Visit,, or to learn more about seeking treatment for anxiety disorders.


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