Medication for Anxiety Disorders in Adults

NYU Langone psychiatrists often prescribe medication to manage anxiety disorders as well as coexisting mental health conditions, such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Our experts choose a medication based on your symptoms.

Medication can be a short or long term treatment option, depending on your symptoms and your response to treatment. Often, medication is used in conjunction with behavioral therapy or psychotherapy. A medication consultation with an NYU Langone psychiatrist enables you to ask questions about your treatment and discuss your concerns.

Antidepressants

The most common medications used to manage certain types of anxiety, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia, are a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

These medications work by increasing levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. Increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain improves communication between nerve cells, leading to improved mood and lower levels of anxiety.

It can take up to 12 weeks for SSRIs to take full effect. Commonly prescribed SSRIs include sertraline and citalopram. Side effects may include insomnia, anxiety, nausea, sexual dysfunction, and diarrhea.

Medications known as atypical antidepressants may also be prescribed to manage some anxiety disorders. These medications include bupropion and mirtazapine. The side effects associated with these medications include dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches.

Atypical Antipsychotics

A class of medications called atypical antipsychotics helps relieve symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in people who do not respond to antidepressant medication alone.

These medications, which include quetiapine and aripiprazole, are prescribed because they have a lower risk of serious side effects than conventional antipsychotic medications. Side effects of atypical antipsychotics may include weight gain, tremors, and involuntary and repetitive movements.

Atypical antipsychotics are often taken in combination with an antidepressant on a daily basis.

Atypical antipsychotic medications can alter a person’s metabolism, increasing his or her risk of developing diabetes and high cholesterol. People who take these medications must have their weight, blood sugar, and lipid cholesterol levels monitored regularly to avoid serious complications.

Antianxiety Medications

If anxiety prevents you from going to work or otherwise participating in your usual activities, your doctor may prescribe an antianxiety medication, such as alprazolam, from a class called benzodiazepines. These medications calm the nervous system, providing short term relief of anxiety and panic disorder symptoms.

Side effects may include fatigue and dizziness.

Beta Blockers

For people with social phobia or specific anxieties, such as fear of public speaking or social interaction, a doctor may prescribe a blood pressure medication called a beta blocker, such as metoprolol. It reduces the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as shaking, palpitations, and sweating, without causing the side effects of antianxiety medications.

Side effects of beta blockers may include cold hands, headache, upset stomach, and constipation.

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