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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
It’s estimated that about 6.8 million people in the United States have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), making it one of the most common anxiety disorders that we know of. However, only about 43 percent of those who are dealing with it are receiving treatment for it. And for those who do seek treatment, finding the right generalized anxiety disorder medication can prove difficult.
People tend to be diagnosed with GAD if they struggle with anxiety more often than not over a period of six or more months. Physical symptoms of GAD include a rapid heart rate, muscle tension, tiredness, sleeping problems, stomach issues and more. Psychological symptoms include irritability, worry and more.
As you can probably see, these symptoms of anxiety can really impact your quality of life. Thankfully, GAD is absolutely treatable. One of the more common treatments is anti-anxiety medication.
But there are many anxiety medications out there — how do you know which one is the best for GAD? A healthcare professional will best be able to tell you which medication may be able to help treat you. This guide can also give you some background info on the best medications for GAD.
There are a number of anti-anxiety medications that can help you get a handle on GAD.
One type of anti-anxiety medication that has been known to be effective in relieving the symptoms of GAD are benzodiazepines.
However, benzodiazepines have some drawbacks — namely, their heightened risk of dependence. People who take benzodiazepines may build up a tolerance to them or become dependent on them. For this reason, healthcare professionals will often only prescribe them for a short time and they are not considered first-line treatment recommendations. .
Beta-blockers can also be used to treat symptoms of GAD. Though they are not intended for long-term use, they can help with things like a fast heartbeat and tremors.Beta-blockers are not FDA approved to treat anxiety, but are used off-label to treat GAD, social anxiety disorder and other mental disorders. Outside of anxiety, this medication is most often used to treat high blood pressure.
Another option often prescribed for anxiety is antidepressant medication.
Though they treat major depression, they can also work for anxiety disorders like GAD because they help the way your brain uses certain chemicals that are connected to stress and mood issues.
There are a few different types of antidepressants that could be used. One type are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Examples of SSRIs include sertraline, paroxetine and fluoxetine. All three of these have been found to help with symptoms of GAD and are even approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat it.
Selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another type of antidepressant medication used to treat anxiety. Venlafaxine and duloxetine are two SNRIs that are FDA-approved for the treatment of GAD. They have been found to reduce symptoms connected to this anxiety disorder.
To best determine what medication is right for you, a healthcare professional with experience navigating mental health conditions will do an assessment. They will look at your symptoms to determine if you have acute anxiety, take into account if you have another medical condition and work with you to determine the right first-line treatment for your anxiety symptoms.
There isn’t an anxiety medication that is a hard no when it comes to using it for GAD. It’s more about what will work best for you and your circumstances. Remember, not all anxiety medications work for all people.
One thing that could influence whether or not a medication is right for you is the timeline. If you need long-term treatment for GAD, beta-blockers won’t be a good option for you.
You also have to take into account any other medications you are on or if you have another medical condition.
For example, if you are on another type of antidepressant (like a monoamine oxidase inhibitor), you will likely be advised not to take an SSRI. Anticoagulants (which help with blood clotting issues) also do not mix well with SSRIs.
All of this is to say that there is no one anxiety medication you should for sure stay away from. Instead, it’s very dependent on you, how you experience GAD and what your needs are, as determined by your healthcare provider.
By partnering with a mental health professional, you’ll be able to discuss all of this (and more!), which will allow you to find the right anxiety medication for you.
Each type of anxiety medication has slightly different possible adverse effects — though there may also be some overlap.
People who take benzodiazepines may notice adverse effects like:
Nausea or vomiting
There are also common side effects associated with beta-blockers. They include:
Low blood pressure
Slower heart rate
As for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, they also come with potential side effects, such as:
Change in sex drive
Appetite changes or weight gain
Finally, side effects of SNRIs include:
High blood pressure
In many cases, symptoms will subside as you get used to a medication.
However, you should always talk to a healthcare professional about any symptoms you experience. That way, they can monitor them.
If they are too severe or don’t get better, your healthcare provider may adjust your dosage or switch you to another medication.
If you’re going to take medication for anxiety, you want it to work as quickly as possible — that way, your mental health issues can hopefully stop impacting your daily life to such a big degree.
Here’s the truth: some work quickly, while others take a bit more time.
Antidepressants like SSRIs and SNRIs take a bit longer. They can take several weeks before your symptoms improve.
Medication is a great option to treat symptoms of anxiety. But there are also other effective treatments. For example, talk therapy has been found to be very helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
In fact, research suggests that the combination of anxiety medication and therapy for anxiety disorders could be even more helpful than doing just one of these things.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the go-to form of therapy for people with anxiety disorders like GAD. In CBT, you work with a mental health professional to recognize behaviors that boost your anxiety. From there, you come up with ways to alter those behaviors.
Another form of therapy that can be helpful for GAD is exposure therapy. With this, you’ll work with a professional to directly confront the things that give you anxiety in a safe environment and in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you.
There are a number of different anxiety disorders — from obsessive-compulsive disorder to separation anxiety disorder to and social anxiety disorder. But one of the most common anxiety disorder in adults is generalized anxiety disorder.
GAD has both emotional symptoms (like nervousness and irritability) and physical symptoms (like a rapid heartbeat and muscle tension). These adverse effects can make life difficult and prevent you from wanting to participate in daily activities.
Thankfully, you can do something about it. One of the more effective treatments for GAD is medication. While they won’t cure your anxiety, they will address anxiety symptoms.
The most common anxiety medications are beta-blockers and benzodiazepines. Antidepressant medication, which can also be used to treat major depression, may be helpful. Specifically, SSRIs and SNRIs can be used to treat anxiety symptoms — in fact, they are often a first-line treatment.
The first two medications mentioned tend to work quickly, while antidepressants may need a few weeks of treatment before you notice a difference.
Of course, all of these medications have potential adverse effects — even if they are considered to be a first-line treatment. Side effects may include nausea, dizziness and more. If you are engaging in pharmacological treatment and notice adverse effects, it’s best to let your healthcare provider know so they can keep an eye on them.
When it comes to choosing the correct medication for the treatment of anxiety disorders, a healthcare professional can assess your symptoms, take into consideration whether you have another medical condition or not and determine what anxiety medication may be best for you.
You can use hers to start an online consultation with a healthcare provider that’ll make getting the process started easy.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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