FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here

Medications for Anxiety: A Complete Guide

Jill Johnson

Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 12/12/22

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone. Almost all adults experience anxiety from time to time, with some experiencing persistent, concerning anxiety as the result of an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders are very common. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31.1 percent of all American adults will experience some form of anxiety disorder during their lives.

Due to the prevalence of anxiety disorders, a large range of medications is available to treat and manage anxiety. 

Although these medications don’t “cure” anxiety, they can improve many symptoms of anxiety as a mental health condition, helping you to feel better and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Anxiety medications can range from over-the-counter products to prescription medications that you’ll need to discuss with your healthcare provider.

Below, we’ve listed medications currently used to treat anxiety, along with information on each medication’s effects, side effects and more.

Anti-Anxiety Medications: An Overview

Medications designed to treat anxiety are called anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety drugs. They’re some of the most widely used medications in the United States, with one in six American adults, as of 2013, prescribed some type of psychiatric medication.

Several different classes of medications are used to treat anxiety. These medications all work in slightly different ways to reduce the severity of anxiety symptoms and help you enjoy an easier, less stressful daily life.

Types of anxiety medications include:

  • Benzodiazepines

  • Antidepressants

  • Beta-blockers

  • Other medications, such as antihistamines, anticonvulsants and buspirone

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used to treat anxiety disorders. Some medications in this class are also prescribed as sleeping pills for the short-term treatment and management of insomnia.

Benzodiazepines are some of the most widely used medications in the United States, with tens of millions of users nationwide.

Benzodiazepines reduce anxiety, relax muscles and promote sedation. Most benzodiazepines are prescribed for short-term use. When used over the long term, benzodiazepines can have a significant potential for increased tolerance, dependence and abuse.

One advantage of benzodiazepines is that they typically start working very quickly. People who use benzodiazepines to treat anxiety often begin to feel their anti-anxiety effects in less than an hour, making them an effective option for treating anxiety in the short term.

How Benzodiazepines Work

Benzodiazepines work in the body by increasing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-amino butyric acid, or GABA.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter — a type of chemical messenger that’s used by the brain and body to send messages between neurons. GABA’s job is to decrease activity in the neurons to which it binds. This can cause you to feel less anxious, stressed and fearful.

GABA is also thought to be responsible for regulating activity in the areas of your brain that are responsible for emotion and memory, thinking and certain essential biological functions.

By increasing the effects of GABA, benzodiazepines essentially slow down certain activity in the brain to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. 

List of Benzodiazepines Used for Anxiety

Benzodiazepines are very widely used, with tens of millions of prescriptions in the United States alone. Data from clinical studies indicate that benzodiazepine use is highest in older people

Common benzodiazepines include:

  • Alprazolam. Sold as Xanax®, alprazolam is the most widely prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States. It’s used to treat a large range of anxiety and panic disorders.

  • Chlordiazepoxide. Sold as Librium®, chlordiazepoxide is typically used to treat anxiety and certain symptoms of alcohol/drug withdrawal.

  • Clorazepate. Sold under the brand names Tranxene® and Gen-Xene®, clorazepate is prescribed to treat a range of anxiety disorders.

  • Diazepam. Sold under the brand name Valium®, diazepam is another widely prescribed benzodiazepine that’s used to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, seizures (typically in combination with other drugs) and drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

  • Estazolam. Sold under the brand name Prosom®, estazolam is typically prescribed as a treatment for insomnia, including insomnia caused by anxiety.

  • Flurazepam. Available as Dalmane®, Flurazepam is a benzodiazepine derivative that’s primarily used as a short-term treatment for insomnia.

  • Oxazepam. Sold under the brand names Serax® and Zaxopam®, oxazepam is used to treat anxiety and certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Other benzodiazepines, such as temazepam and triazolam (available as Halcion®) are used as sleep aids and aren’t widely prescribed for anxiety. 

Benzodiazepine Side Effects

Benzodiazepines can cause side effects, including some that may affect your alertness, physical health and daily life.

Common side effects of benzodiazepines include:

  • Drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Headache

  • Upset stomach

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Tremors

In some cases, benzodiazepines may cause breathing issues, including respiratory depression (failure of the lungs to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen properly).

Taken in the evening, particularly when used to treat anxiety-related insomnia, it’s common for some benzodiazepines to cause a next-morning “hangover” effect. 

Most benzodiazepines are only recommended for short-term use. When used for the long term, treatment with benzodiazepines can lead to dependence, addiction and abuse.

When used over the long term at high doses, benzodiazepines can cause withdrawal symptoms if they’re stopped suddenly.

If you’re prescribed any type of benzodiazepine, do not abruptly stop taking it without first talking to your healthcare provider. They’ll inform you about how to safely reduce your dosage and stop using your medication without developing withdrawal syndrome.

Overall, benzodiazepines can be very effective at treating anxiety and may be a good treatment if you have an anxiety or panic disorder. 

However, due to the abuse potential of benzodiazepine medications, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions closely if you’re prescribed this type of anxiety medication. 

Antidepressants

Certain antidepressants are prescribed to treat anxiety. Although originally designed to treat major depression, several modern antidepressants also target the neurotransmitters that are responsible for feelings of anxiety and stress, making them effective anxiety medications. 

Unlike benzodiazepines, which can start working very quickly, antidepressants can often take several weeks to begin treating anxiety symptoms. 

Because of this, antidepressants are generally used for long-term treatment and management of chronic anxiety, not for relief of acute panic attacks or other short-term anxiety symptoms. 

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a class of antidepressants that are often used to treat anxiety disorders. 

These medications work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin and increasing the levels of serotonin in your brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for regulating a wide range of functions within the body, including your mood, ability to concentrate, memory, relaxation, appetite and ability to sleep.

People affected by anxiety and depression are believed (at least, in part) to have altered levels of serotonin. Due to their effects on serotonin levels, SSRIs can often work as effective treatments for anxiety symptoms.

SSRIs first came onto the market in the 1980s, and while they’re not considered addictive and have a lower potential for abuse than benzodiazepines, SSRIs have a variety of potential side effects that you should be aware of before using any medication of this type for an anxiety disorder.

List of SSRIs Used to Treat Anxiety

Several SSRIs are prescribed in the United States to treat anxiety disorders. Common SSRIs used to treat anxiety include:

  • Sertraline. Sold under the brand name Zoloft®, sertraline is a widely used SSRI that’s primarily prescribed to treat depression. It’s also used to treat some anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

    You can learn more about how it works for the treatment of anxiety, its side effects and more in our full guide to sertraline (Zoloft).

  • Escitalopram. Sold under the brand name Lexapro®, escitalopram is prescribed to treat several anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorders.

    We’ve explained how escitalopram works, its common side effects and more in our guide to escitalopram (Lexapro).

  • Paroxetine. Sold under the brand name Paxil® (and others), paroxetine is prescribed to treat social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and several other anxiety-related medical conditions.

    Our complete guide to paroxetine (Paxil) goes into greater detail on how this medication works, both as an antidepressant and as a treatment for anxiety disorders.

  • Fluoxetine. Sold under the brand name Prozac®, fluoxetine is another SSRI. Although it isn’t approved by the FDA specifically for treating anxiety, healthcare professionals might prescribe fluoxetine off-label for certain forms of anxiety.

    You can find out more about how fluoxetine works, its potential side effects and more in our complete guide to fluoxetine (Prozac).

  • Fluvoxamine. Sold under the brand name Luvox®, fluvoxamine is prescribed for several anxiety disorders and related mental health issues, including social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Citalopram. Sold under the brand name Celexa®, citalopram is prescribed off-label to treat a range of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
    Citalopram is also used as an off-label treatment for certain eating disorders, including binge eating disorder.

online mental health assessment

your mental health journey starts here

Other Antidepressants Used to Treat Anxiety Disorders

In addition to SSRIs, several other types of antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat depression. These include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). 

SNRIs work similarly to SSRIs. In addition to increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain, they also increase the level of norepinephrine — a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating alertness, attention, memory and other mental and physical functions.

SNRIs used to treat anxiety include:

  • Duloxetine. Sold under the brand name Cymbalta®, duloxetine is an SNRI that’s used to treat general anxiety disorder.
    Our guide to duloxetine (Cymbalta) for anxiety provides more information on how this medication works as a treatment for anxiety, depression and other conditions, its side effects and more.

  • Venlafaxine. Sold under the brand name Effexor®, venlafaxine is used to treat social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Some monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) may be effective as treatments for certain anxiety conditions, such as social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. MAOIs are older antidepressants that were first discovered in the 1950s by clinical researchers.

Like other antidepressants, MAOIs work by boosting the level of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, in the brain. While effective, they’re more likely to cause drug side effects and interactions than newer antidepressants used to treat anxiety.

Most MAOIs are not approved by the FDA to treat anxiety. However, they may be prescribed by your healthcare provider for off-label use if other treatments aren’t effective. 

MAOI antidepressants that may be used to treat anxiety disorders include phenelzine, selegiline and tranylcypromine. 

If you’re prescribed a MAOI, your healthcare provider may require you to carefully monitor your use of other medications and consumption of certain foods to avoid interactions.

Finally, some tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are used to treat anxiety disorders. Tricyclics are an older class of antidepressants first developed in the 1950s. And, like similar antidepressants, work by increasing the levels of certain mood-related neurotransmitters in your brain.

Tricyclic antidepressants that are used to treat anxiety disorders include clomipramine, doxepin and imipramine.

Like other older antidepressant medications, tricyclic antidepressants typically have a higher risk of causing side effects than more modern SSRI and SNRI medications. Because of this, they’re rarely used as first-line treatments for anxiety.

Beta-Blockers 

Beta-blockers are a class of medications that are used to reduce blood pressure. They’re often prescribed to manage heart conditions, such as angina, irregular heartbeat and heart failure, or to increase heart function in people who’ve recently had a heart attack.

Certain beta-blocker medications are also effective at treating the physical symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as tremors.

Although they aren’t approved by the FDA as medications for anxiety, your healthcare provider may prescribe a beta-blocker off-label if you’re affected by anxiety in stressful situations. 

Beta-blockers work by blocking the effects of epinephrine, or adrenaline, a hormone responsible for controlling your fight-or-flight response. By blocking the effects of epinephrine, beta-blockers slow your heartbeat and improve blood flow throughout your body.

Beta-blockers may be particularly helpful for treating the symptoms of performance anxiety — a form of anxiety that’s related to speaking, acting or performing in front of others in certain social situations. 

Like benzodiazepines, beta-blockers start working quite quickly to treat the physical symptoms of anxiety. For example, propranolol, a widely-used beta-blocker, usually starts working less than one hour after it’s taken.

One thing to note about beta-blockers is that they only treat the physical effects of anxiety, not the underlying psychological cause. 

As such, they’re usually only prescribed to treat moderate or severe anxiety that only occurs in certain situations, such as anxiety related to public speaking or other stressful situations. 

Beta-blockers used to treat anxiety include:

  • Propranolol. Propranolol is a common, widely-prescribed beta-blocker that’s often used off-label to treat performance anxiety. If you often experience the physical symptoms of anxiety while speaking, interviewing, or auditioning, this medication may help.
    Propranolol has been used in the United States for more than 40 years. We’ve explained how it works, its adverse effects and more in our detailed guide to propranolol.

  • Atenolol. Atenolol is a slightly longer-acting beta-blocker than propranolol. Although it’s not officially approved to treat anxiety, it’s occasionally used off-label to treat the physical symptoms associated with performance anxiety.

Like other prescription medications, beta-blockers may cause side effects. Common side effects of beta-blockers include:

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Constipation

  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)


Beta-blockers can also interfere with certain other medications, including medication for heart disease and other conditions. 

To avoid these side effects and interactions, you’ll need to discuss your general health and use of other medications with your healthcare provider before using any type of beta-blocker to treat anxiety. 

Other Medications for Anxiety

Most cases of anxiety are treated using medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants or beta-blockers, often in combination with behavioral therapy. However, several other types of medication are also used to treat anxiety. 

Other medications for anxiety include: 

  • Antihistamines. Some antihistamines have a calming effect on mood, making them an effective option for some cases of mild to moderate anxiety. These drugs can also help to promote sleep — a common difficulty for people with anxiety disorders.
    Hydroxyzine, sold under the brand name Vistaril®, is an antihistamine that’s occasionally used as a short-term treatment for anxiety.

  • Anticonvulsants. Anticonvulsant medications, such as gabapentin and pregabalin, may help to treat symptoms of certain anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.

  • Buspirone. Buspirone is an azapirone medication that’s used to treat certain anxiety disorders. Like SSRIs, buspirone may take several weeks of treatment to produce a noticeable improvement in the symptoms of anxiety.

In addition to the use of medication, psychotherapy, habits and lifestyle changes can often help to treat anxiety.

Many of these habits, such as meditation, self-care and techniques for promoting relaxation and stress management, can be practiced at home. 

You can find out more about dealing with anxiety this way in our guides to calming down anxiety on your own and natural remedies for dealing with anxiety symptoms.

psych meds online

psychiatrist-backed care, all from your couch

The Bottom Line on Anti-Anxiety Meds

A wide range of different medications, from antidepressants to benzodiazepines, beta-blockers and more, are used to treat anxiety. 

Some of these medications are used for specific types of anxiety disorders, while others can be effective for a more diverse range of conditions, from generalized anxiety to separation anxiety disorder.

Of these medications, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” drug that’s best for everyone. Depending on your symptoms, your overall health and your previous experience with anxiety treatments, your healthcare provider may recommend one or several of the treatment options listed above. 

If you’re prescribed any type of medication to treat and manage anxiety, it’s important to closely follow the instructions provided by your healthcare provider. 

If you feel that you’d be better suited to another medication, or want to adjust the dosage of your current medication, talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes.

Need help for anxiety? We offer a range of mental health treatments online, including the ability to connect with a psychiatrist and, if appropriate, receive medication for anxiety or depression.

32 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Any Anxiety Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder
  2. Medication Options. (2019, July). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/find-help/treatment-help/medication-options
  3. Maust, D.T., Lin, L.A. & Blow, F.C. (2018). Benzodiazepine Use and Misuse Among Adults in the United States. Psychiatric Services. 70 (2), 97-106. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6358464/
  4. Bounds, C.G. & Nelson, V.L. (2021, November 14). Benzodiazepines. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470159/
  5. Haefely, W. (1984, June). Benzodiazepine interactions with GABA receptors. Neuroscience Letters. 47 (3), 201-206. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6147796/
  6. Griffin, C.E., Kaye, A.M., Bueno, F.R. & Kaye, A.D. (2013). Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System–Mediated Effects. The Ochsner Journal. 13 (2), 214-223. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684331/
  7. Despite risks, benzodiazepine use highest in older people. (2014, December 17). Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/despite-risks-benzodiazepine-use-highest-older-people
  8. Longo, L.P. & Johnson, B. (2000, April). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives. American Family Physician. 61 (7), 2121-2128. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2000/0401/p2121.html
  9. Chu, A. & Wadhwa, R. (2022, May 8). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554406/
  10. Brain Hormones. (2022, January 24). Retrieved from https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/hormones-and-endocrine-function/brain-hormones
  11. Singh, H.K. & Saadabadi, A. (2022, May 2). Sertraline. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547689/
  12. Landy, K., Rosani, A. & Estevez, R. (2022, October 9). Escitalopram. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557734/
  13. Shrestha, P., Fariba, K.A. & Abdijadid, S. (2022, July 19). Paroxetine. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526022/
  14. Rossi, A., Barraco, A. & Donda, P. (2004). Fluoxetine: a review on evidence based medicine. Annals of General Hospital Psychiatry. 3, 2. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC356924/
  15. Fluvoxamine. (2022, January 15). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a695004.html
  16. Shoar, N.S., Fariba, K.A. & Padhy, R.K. (2021, December 11). Citalopram. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482222/
  17. Sansone, R.A. & Sansone, L.A. (2014). Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors: A Pharmacological Comparison. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. 11 (3-4), 37-42. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008300/
  18. Adrenal Hormones. (2022, January 24). Retrieved from https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/hormones-and-endocrine-function/adrenal-hormones
  19. Dhaliwal, J.S., Spurling, B.C. & Molla, M. (2022, June 5). Duloxetine. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549806/
  20. Venlafaxine. (2022, January 15). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a694020.html
  21. Sub Laban, T. & Saadabadi, A. (2022, July 19). Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI). StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539848/
  22. Moraczewski, J. & Aedma, K.K. (2022, May 2). Tricyclic Antidepressants. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557791/
  23. Wilson, M. & Tripp, J. (2022, May 10). Clomipramine. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541006/
  24. Doxepin (Depression, Anxiety). (2017, May 24). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682390.html
  25. Fayez, R. & Gupta, V. (2022, July 16). Imipramine. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557656/
  26. Farzam, K. & Jan, A. (2022, July 21). Beta Blockers. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532906/
  27. Rehman, B., Sanchez, D.P. & Shah, S. (2022, October 12). Atenolol. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539844/
  28. Farzam, K. & Jan, A. (2022, July 21). Beta Blockers. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532906/
  29. Hydroxyzine. (2017, February 15). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682866.html
  30. Yasaei, R., Katta, S. & Saadabadi, A. (2022, May 2). Gabapentin. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493228/
  31. Cross, A.L., Viswanath, O. & Sherman, A.I. (2022, July 19). Pregabalin. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470341/
  32. Cadieux, R.J. (1996, May). Azapirones: an alternative to benzodiazepines for anxiety. American Family Physician. 53 (7), 2349-2353. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8638511/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

phone screen

Care for your mind,
care for your self

Start your mental wellness journey today.