When you have an ailment like a hangover-induced headache or a bad case of nightly nausea (those 2 a.m. cheese fries always seem like a good idea at the time), you probably don’t think twice about opening up your bathroom’s medicine cabinet and popping an over-the-counter pill to make you feel better.
Easy enough, right? But when it comes to getting help for a mental health condition — like anxiety, depression or panic attacks — accessing the treatment you need can be more difficult.
But it doesn’t have to be. Nearly 60 million U.S. adults have a mental illness, and if an anxiety disorder puts you among them, anxiety medications can be a great option. It may feel intimidating to think about starting medication — Which kind? How much should you take? — but a healthcare provider can help walk you through the process and choose the best one for you.
In the meantime, consider this your guide to how to get medication for anxiety, as well as other important information you should know as you navigate this new territory. Let’s dive in.
First things first: How do you get anxiety medication prescribed?
If you need an anxiety medication for an anxiety disorder, it must be prescribed by a healthcare provider. You can do this a few different ways:
Your primary care provider (PCP) can prescribe anti-anxiety medication. A PCP can be an excellent place to start if you already have an existing relationship with one and they know your medical history.
You can also seek help from the comfort of your home by connecting with a qualified psychiatric provider online. Telehealth psychiatry can help you get anxiety medication online as well –– no doctor’s trip necessary.
The above healthcare providers might also recommend additional forms of treatment, like psychotherapy or group therapy (there’s even anonymous support groups, if you’d prefer. You’ll probably also need some follow-up appointments to evaluate how your medication is working.
Stuck on what to say during your initial appointment? Our guide on how to ask your doctor for anxiety medication can give you some pointers.
Nope! Only a doctor can prescribe anxiety medication.
However, if seeing a doctor isn’t convenient or a possibility for you right now, there are other online mental health services available that can help ease some of your symptoms of anxiety.
Which anxiety medication is right for you? To answer that, it’s helpful to have a better understanding of how different anxiety medications work. The following medications are all considered to be effective treatments and have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat anxiety:
You might think that antidepressants only treat, well, depression, but they are also a popular treatment for anxiety and other mental health disorders. They work by targeting certain neurotransmitters in your brain to help regulate your mood and how you respond to stress.
There are two main types of antidepressants used for anxiety: SSRIs and SNRIs. Both are effective for treating anxiety, so it really depends which works better for you.
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, help increase your serotonin levels. Many healthcare professionals consider them to be “first-line” treatment for anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder.
Some of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs can be prescribed in their generic or brand-name form, and include:
Like most medications, SSRIs can cause side effects, although most are mild and don’t last for very long. Potential side effects include headaches, insomnia or sleeping too much, dizziness, changes in appetite and dry mouth, among others.
SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, also work to increase serotonin levels. However, they step up their game by also targeting another neurotransmitter, called norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine does a lot: It helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, helps stimulate your cardiovascular system and is involved in your body’s fight or flight response, among other things. Low levels of norepinephrine are tied to symptoms like lethargy and poor concentration.
Additionally, norepinephrine is involved in stimulating your cardiovascular system, which helps you maintain a proper blood pressure and a healthy heart rate. It increases blood sugar and breaks down fat to create energy for your body to use.
Two commonly prescribed SNRIs are:
Like SSRIs, these medications can cause side effects. Common potential side effects of SNRIs include nausea, sweating, loss of appetite, tiredness and more.
It’s also important to note that these medications don’t work instantly and may take some time to fully kick into gear before you feel any changes. Our full antidepressants list goes over additional medications to consider, as well as more in-depth information on how they work.
Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety and panic disorders by providing fast-acting relief, like when you’re sitting on an airplane sweating with panic. They work by increasing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of calmness and can counteract anxiety symptoms.
Common types of benzodiazepines include:
The pros: These types of medications work faster.
The potential cons: This also means you can build a tolerance for them more quickly, so you’ll ultimately need more of the drug to get the same effects. This means that they can become addictive, so healthcare providers usually prescribe them for a shorter period of time.
If antidepressants and benzodiazepines aren’t the right fit for you, buspirone (BuSpar®) can be an alternative. While it doesn’t work for everyone and may take a few weeks to reach its maximum effectiveness, it can be used as long-term treatment.
BuSpar is similar to Xanax in that they both provide anxiety relief, but a major difference is their side effects. For instance, 77 percent of people who use Xanax reported side effects of drowsiness, whereas one of the most common adverse side effects of BuSpar is dizziness. Another key difference is that people who use Xanax have a higher risk of developing dependence and abuse.
If you think you might have a substance abuse problem of any kind, reach out to someone, be it a friend or a medical professional.
Beta blockers are a kind of cardiac medication. They do their job by slowing down your heart rate, which results in lower stress levels.
Most of the time, beta blockers are prescribed for those with cardiovascular health problems (like people with hypertension). Although they aren’t officially approved by the FDA for treating anxiety disorders, some providers might recommend beta blockers off-label to treat physical symptoms of certain anxiety disorderers, such as social anxiety disorder or performance anxiety.
Common beta blockers used off-label include propranolol (Inderal®) and atenolol (Tenormin®). Ultimately, beta blockers won’t affect your brain in the way that benzodiazepines or SSRIs do, so you won’t feel emotionally different after using them.
Now that you have an overview of the most common types of anxiety medication, you might wonder how much they will wind up costing you.
That all depends on factors like your insurance, the type of mental health medication you’re being prescribed and the supply you get per prescription. For instance, if you have health insurance through your employment, your co-pay may make you cough up $10 to $20 for a month’s supply of medication.
It’s also worth noting that generic anxiety medications tend to be pretty affordable. Talk to your healthcare provider about your different options so you don’t have to drain your bank account.
If you don’t have health insurance, don’t panic just yet –– there are ways to access affordable antidepressants without insurance.
Sure, getting anxiety medication isn’t as simple as calling in a large cheese pie and picking it up from the local pizzeria 15 minutes later, but it’s also a whole lot less complicated than you might think.
Here’s what’s important to remember:
The first step is talking to a healthcare provider. In addition to making sure you get the best anti-anxiety medication for you, they may also recommend different types of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Another option is online therapy, which doesn’t even require you to change out of your pajama bottoms.
There are many different types of anxiety medications. Some work similarly and others work differently. What might work for your friend who swears by Zoloft might not work for you — and that’s perfectly fine. Results aren’t necessarily instantaneous, either. It might take a few weeks to experience the maximum effects of your medication, which is normal. Just make sure you’re checking in with your healthcare provider so you can reevaluate if need be.
Anxiety medication doesn’t have to bankrupt you. Once you have a prescription, you can head to a pharmacy to pick up your medication or have it delivered directly to your doorstep. And while costs vary depending on different factors, generic versions of mental health medication can make the cost easier on your wallet.
Still have questions? Our online mental health services can give you additional tools and strategies as you take steps towards getting the help you deserve.
Dr. Beth Pausic is a clinical psychologist and oversees the therapy platform at Hims & Hers.
Prior to Hims & Hers, Beth worked in senior roles at several behavioral healthcare startups focused on the digital delivery of emotional support and treatment through both conventional and innovative approaches.
Her experience prior to working in telebehavioral health includes over 15 years as a Clinical Administrator and provider in diverse clinical settings. In her clinical work, she primarily focused on anxiety, depression and relationships.
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