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.
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 .
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