9 Types of Anxiety Medications to Tackle Specific Symptoms

Written by Reid Wilson, PhD

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Living with anxiety can be challenging and overwhelming. There are many non-medicinal strategies you can use to overcome your symptoms, but when this isn’t enough, there are various medications available that can help alleviate anxiety symptoms and improve overall well-being. Below, you will find nine different types of anxiety medications, each designed to tackle specific symptoms and provide relief for individuals struggling with anxiety disorders.

1. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are a widely prescribed class of medications that increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. They are commonly used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. Examples include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and escitalopram (Lexapro).

2. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs work by increasing the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. They are often prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and certain types of phobias. Examples include venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

3. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are fast-acting medications that work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps calm the brain. They are typically used for short-term relief of severe anxiety or panic attacks. Examples include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).

4. Beta Blockers

Beta blockers are primarily used to treat high blood pressure and certain heart conditions, but they can also be prescribed for performance anxiety or situational anxiety. They work by blocking the effects of adrenaline, reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat and trembling. Propranolol (Inderal) is a commonly prescribed beta blocker for anxiety.

5. Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs are an older class of antidepressant medications that can also be effective for treating anxiety disorders. They work by increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. TCAs are generally prescribed when SSRIs or SNRIs have not been effective. Examples include imipramine (Tofranil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor).

6. Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs are another older class of antidepressants that can be used for anxiety disorders. They work by inhibiting the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which increases the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. MAOIs are typically prescribed when other medications have not been effective or due to specific treatment considerations. Examples include phenelzine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate).

7. Buspirone

Buspirone is a medication specifically approved for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. It works by stimulating serotonin receptors and reducing excessive worrying. Buspirone does not cause sedation or dependency, making it a suitable long-term treatment option.

8. Anticonvulsants

Some anticonvulsant medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica), have been found to be effective in managing certain types of anxiety disorders. They work by reducing the excitability of neurons in the brain, which can help alleviate anxiety symptoms.

9. Trazodone (Desyrel)

Trazodone is an antidepressant medication that is sometimes prescribed off-label for the treatment of anxiety disorders, particularly when insomnia is a prominent symptom. While its primary use is as an antidepressant, trazodone’s sedating properties can also help alleviate anxiety symptoms and promote sleep. It works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain and blocking certain receptors. Trazodone is often prescribed at lower doses for its sedative effects, making it beneficial for anxiety-related sleep disturbances. However, it’s important to note that trazodone is primarily used as an antidepressant and there are other medications that are more commonly prescribed specifically for anxiety disorders. As always, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate diagnosis and medication recommendations.

Important Note:

It is important to remember that medication should always be prescribed and monitored by a healthcare professional who can determine the appropriate anxiety medication and dosage based on individual needs and considerations. Please consult your prescribing doctor with any questions about these and other medications.

For more information about anxiety medications, please visit our self-help section containing a medication usage guide and detailed medication profiles.

About the Author

Dr. Reid Wilson

REID WILSON, Ph.D. has spent his entire 30-year career in the field of self-help for
anxiety disorders and OCD. He is Director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center and is an international expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, with books translated into nine languages. In 2014 he was honored with the highest award given by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and he was presented the 2019 Service Award by the International OCD Foundation. 

To learn more about Dr. Wilson, click here.

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