Antianxiety Drugs

Antianxiety drugs are prescription medications used to treat the symptoms of prolonged or severe anxiety. These medications are often called anxiolytics.

Anxiolytics, beta-blockers, or antidepressants, which generally have an anxiety-reducing component, are all effective antianxiety drugs.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, are frequently prescribed antianxiety drugs because they are effective at longterm symptom control, are nonaddictive, do not cause the memory issues often associated with other classes of anxiolytics (for example, difficulty forming new memories), and generally have minimal side effects, which typically disappear after a week or two, with the exception of decreased libido, which tends to persist. They act by keeping the neurotransmitter serotonin circulating in the brain. SSRIs take several weeks to become effective and cannot be abruptly stopped without risk of withdrawal symptoms. Selective norepenephrine inhibitors (SNRIs) have a similar profile to SSRIs, but they affect norepenephrine rather than serotonin.

KEY TERMS

Anxiolytics—
Another name for antianxiety drugs.
Beta blockers—
Drugs typically used to control high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias, which can be used to treat anxiety.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—
A class of effective antidepressants that are frequently prescribed for anxiety.

Benzodiazepines, a class of anxiolytics, act quickly to control anxiety symptoms (for example, during a panic attack) but can be addictive, can cause withdrawal symptoms when stopped, and can affect new memory formation. They increase the amount of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) circulating in the brain. It is possible to develop a tolerance for these medications, requiring more in order to achieve the same degree of symptom relief. Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed for brief periods of time. Anxiolytics should never be combined with alcohol, as the interaction may be serious or life-threatening.

Hydroxyzine is also used to manage anxiety. It is fast-acting, is not addictive, and does not affect the libido. It appears to act by blocking the histamine receptor as well as increasing circulating serotonin in the brain.

Beta blockers, typically used to control high blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmias, may be effective at reducing or eliminating the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid or irregular heart rate, sweating, and shaking or jitteriness, because they decrease the amount of norepenephrine (adrenalin) circulating in the body. They are often prescribed for brief situational anxiety, such as for handling public speaking or stressful meetings.

See also Anxiety and anxiety disorders ; Antidepressant drugs ; Neurotransmitter .

Resources

BOOKS

Abramowitz, Jonathan S., and Autumn E. Braddock. Hypochondriasis and Health Anxiety. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe, 2011

Asperheim, Mary Kaye. Introduction to Pharmacology. St. Louis: Saunders Elsevier, 2009.

Bellenir, Karen. Mental Health Disorders Sourcebook.. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2012.

Boarder, Michael R., David Newby, and Phyllis Navti. Pharmacology for Pharmacy and the Health Sciences: A Patient-Centred Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Brick, John. Handbook of the Medical Consequences of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. New York: Haworth Press, 2008.

Sapp, Marty. Test Anxiety: Applied Research, Assessment, and Treatment Interventions. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2013.

Stekel, Wilhelm. Conditions of Nervous Anxiety and Their

Treatment. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis, 2013. Weeks, Justin W. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of Social Anxiety Disorder. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2014.

PERIODICALS

Miller, Lisa. “Listening to Xanax: How America learned to stop worrying about worrying and pop its pills.” New York. March 18, 2012. http://http://www.nymag.com/news/features/Xanax-2012-3/ (accessed July 13, 2015).

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “The DAWN Report: Emergency Department Visits Involving Nonmedical Use of the Anti-Anxiety Medication Alprazolam.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, May 22, 2014.

WEBSITES

Mayo Clinic. “Generalized anxiety disorder.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxietydisorder/basics/definition/con-20024562 (accessed July 13, 2015).

Mayo Clinic. “Social anxiety disorder (social phobia).” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/basics/definition/con-20032524 (accessed July 13, 2015).