Anxiety Medication and Antidepressants: Do They Make a Difference?

The exact type of medication for anxiety and stress depends largely on how it is to be used in your recovery. Some anxiety medications work by making your body relax so that your mind will follow. These are useful for providing rapid relief during a period of intense anxiety but are not beneficial, and may even make things worse if used long-term.

Most often, drugs used for short-term relief of anxiety are members of the benzodiazepine class of drugs, which includes diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and lorazepam (Ativan).

Another class of anxiety medication, known as “fight or flight” response and can be useful in the short-term to treat performance anxiety or manage the intense anxious response people with social anxiety disorder have when they must face public situations. Beta-blockers used for anxiety sufferers include propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin).


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Because of their direct impact on the cardiovascular system, beta-blockers are not for everyone. They are not recommended for people with low blood pressure (as they may lower blood pressure further and make you faint) or for people with asthma or diabetes.

Other anxiety medications can be helpful when the condition is a chronic, ongoing problem. They produce changes in brain chemistry that make anxiety reactions less likely. Among them:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants: These include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft). These common antidepressant drugs are often first-line options for anxiety sufferers as well.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): These are an older class of antidepressant that are not used as often today because most people respond better or have fewer side effects with newer drugs. Still, for some, TCAs seem to work best to relieve anxiety. Examples of TCAs used for anxiety include amitriptyline (Elavil), imipramine (Tofranil), and nortriptyline (Pamelor).
  • Other antidepressants: Some newer antidepressants have an effect not just on serotonin, like the SSRIs, but also on norepinephrine and sometimes dopamine. Many of these can be effective for treating anxiety. They include venlafaxine (Effexor), bupropion (Wellbutrin), and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

It’s important to remember that antidepressant drugs are designed for long-term use. They will not work unless you take them daily, as prescribed. You won’t feel better if you pop one of these pills whenever you feel your anxiety ramping up.

In fact, such use of these drugs may make you feel considerably worse. That’s because you need to reach a steady blood level in order to feel better, and the increase or decrease in blood levels that accompany starting or stopping these medications may make you temporarily feel worse. That’s why doctors sometimes temporarily prescribe a benzodiazepine to take for a few days or weeks when you’re starting a new medication for anxiety.

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Originally published in February 2016 and updated.

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