Medication for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Medication can help provide relief from symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Psychiatrists at NYU Langone may prescribe antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antianxiety medications, and alpha-1 blockers for the treatment of PTSD.

When you start taking medication, our psychiatrists meet with you regularly to check the dosage and ensure the medication suits your needs. You may take one medication or use a combination to alleviate your symptoms.

At first, follow-up visits occur monthly. Over time, they can be extended to one visit about every three months.

Some people taper their medications until they no longer need them. Others use medication over the long term if their symptoms persist.

Antidepressants

The most common medications used for treating the depression and anxiety associated with PTSD belong to a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

These medications work by raising levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. This helps to improve communication between nerve cells, leading to improved mood and decreased anxiety.

It can take up to 12 weeks for SSRIs to become fully effective. Side effects may include insomnia, anxiety, nausea, sexual dysfunction, and diarrhea. Several types of SSRI medications are available, and NYU Langone psychiatrists are experts in matching the right medication to your symptoms, with as few side effects as possible.

Medications from another class of antidepressants, called serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, may be prescribed for people who have not responded to SSRIs. These medications may help people cope with the significant fatigue associated with depression.

Serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors are thought to improve communication between nerve cells by making more serotonin and another brain chemical, norepinephrine, available in the brain, helping to boost your mood. Side effects may include dry mouth, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia.

After treatment with an antidepressant has stabilized a person’s depression, doctors typically continue medication for about one year. Consult your doctor before stopping any medication.

Mood Stabilizers

For adults with PTSD who do not respond to antidepressants, doctors may prescribe a mood stabilizer. Mood stabilizers work by balancing brain chemicals that regulate emotions.

Doctors often prescribe these to people with PTSD when the main symptoms are anger, agitation, or irritability. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, and drowsiness.

Antianxiety Medications

A doctor may prescribe an antianxiety medication for adults with anxiety that prevents them from attending work or performing everyday activities.

This class of medication offers short-term relief by calming the central nervous system. Side effects may include fatigue and dizziness.

Alpha-1 Blockers

If a person has trouble sleeping or experiences frequent nightmares, a doctor may prescribe a class of medication called alpha-1 blockers. These medications help decrease the brain’s fear and startle responses.

Alpha-1 blockers have been shown to reduce the occurrence of nightmares and sleep disturbances in combat veterans with PTSD. Side effects may include dizziness, low blood pressure, and fainting.

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