Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/21/2022
We all experience anxiety. But if you deal with symptoms every day, like excessive worry, a racing heart or persistent feelings of dread, you might be among the 40 million people who have an anxiety disorder.
When dealing with psychiatric disorders like anxiety, finding the right treatment can help you manage your symptoms while improving your well-being, mental health and overall quality of life.
Fortunately, there are several treatments for anxiety disorders, with medication being a common option. In fact, over 13 percent of adults used antidepressant medications — one treatment for anxiety — between 2015 and 2018.
But as with any medication, some people experience adverse effects — one of the most concerning being addiction. While everyone reacts to anti-anxiety medication differently, there’s always the risk of developing a dependence.
So, what’s the best non-addictive anti-anxiety medication? We’ll go over non-addictive anxiety medication options for anyone looking for relief from anxiety symptoms.
Before we get into non-addictive anxiety medication, let’s discuss what anxiety is and why anxiety treatments are important.
Anxiety disorders are a common group of mental health disorders that affect how you feel, think and act.
While we all experience occasional anxiousness in stressful situations, these psychiatric disorders negatively impact a person’s quality of life and can worsen in the long run.
Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD). Generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) cause excessive or persistent feelings of anxiousness or worry. People with this type of anxiety disorder may worry excessively about their health, job and social life, among other things.
Social anxiety disorder.Social anxiety disorder can cause intense fear or nervousness about being viewed negatively or rejected in social situations. Sweating, trembling, a racing heart, trouble making eye contact and feeling self-conscious are common signs of social anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder.Panic disorders can cause people to experience sudden and frequent panic attacks, an unexpected feeling of being out of control, a rapid heartbeat, trembling and chest pain. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).Obsessive-compulsive disorder is when someone has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts and behaviors (obsessions and compulsions). People with OCD may repeatedly check certain things, wash their hands more than necessary, frantically clean their homes or perform other repetitive “rituals” to find relief from obsessive thoughts.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs after someone goes through a scary or dangerous event. Individuals with PTSD continue to experience trauma symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of stress long after the traumatic experience.
Anxiety symptoms vary based on the type of anxiety disorder someone has. That said, some common symptoms of anxiety include:
Difficulty concentrating on anything other than current worries or concerns
Feeling nervous and restless
Tiredness or feeling weak
Gastrointestinal issues (stomachaches, cramps or constipation)
Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
Sweating or clammy palms
Avoiding people, objects or situations that trigger anxiety
A healthcare provider or mental health professional can help determine whether your anxiety is simply run-of-the-mill nervousness or a more severe condition impacting your daily life.
Anti-anxiety medications are among the most common treatments for anxiety, as they can provide effective relief for many people. One of the most prescribed anti-anxiety medications is benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines, however, are typically used as a short-term treatment. Long-term use significantly increases the potential for tolerance, dependence and abuse. One study found a 40 percent withdrawal rate in those using benzodiazepines for six months or longer.
So, what non-addictive anxiety medication options are available? And what is the best non-addictive anti-anxiety medication?
It should be noted that no anxiety medications are without risk of adverse effects, including the potential for your anxiety to come back worse than before. Consult with your healthcare provider about any side effects you experience while taking medication as well as how your anxiety symptoms are doing.
Below are non-addictive anxiety medications that can help with managing symptoms of anxiety.
Antidepressants that target the chemicals responsible for feelings of anxiousness and stress are used to manage anxiety. This is generally a long-term treatment, as antidepressants can take several weeks to start improving symptoms.
A review of research on antidepressant addiction has not found antidepressants to be addictive. Still, there is a risk of physical dependence on these drugs resulting in withdrawal symptoms, as well as the potential for anxiety to come back.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are among the most common types of antidepressants prescribed to treat anxiety. They work by increasing the “feel-good” chemical serotonin in your brain and body.
SSRIs used for anxiety include:
While Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are tolerated well by most people, they can still produce side effects. Some common side effects of SSRIs include dry mouth, nausea, muscle weakness, drowsiness, dizziness and lowered sex drive.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another effective type of antidepressant for anxiety. They work similarly to SSRIs, although they target multiple brain chemicals, including norepinephrine and serotonin.
SNRIs commonly prescribed to treat anxiety include venlafaxine (Effexor®) and duloxetine (Cymbalta®).
The side effects of SNRIs are similar to those of SSRIs. Some may also cause increases in blood pressure, headaches and sweating.
While beta-blockers are commonly used to manage heart conditions, they’re sometimes prescribed “off-label” to treat physical symptoms of anxiety. This type of medication can be particularly helpful for performance anxiety, such as during public speaking or presentations, as they provide short-term results.
These drugs work by blocking adrenaline, a hormone responsible for your fight-or-flight response, which slows your heartbeat and improves blood flow throughout the body.
Unlike antidepressants, beta-blockers aren’t prescribed as a long-term, ongoing anxiety treatment.
Buspirone is an anxiolytic medication often used to treat generalized anxiety disorders. It relieves anxiety by increasing serotonin in the brain — similar to SSRIs — and decreasing dopamine.
Compared to benzodiazepines, buspirone is not as sedating. Also, it doesn’t impair memory or coordination and has minimal withdrawal effects.
Buspirone has a low risk of dependence and no serious known drug interactions. It can be effective for generalized anxiety disorder but not for other types of anxiety disorders.
Common side effects of buspirone use include nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, weight gain, constipation and dry mouth.
There’s no one-size-fits-all “best” anxiety medication for everyone. Your healthcare provider will look at your symptoms, their severity and a range of other factors before selecting a medication that suits your unique needs.
If you have severe anxiety, medication may be helpful — especially as a short-term treatment. But while non-addictive anxiety medication may be an appealing option due to the relief it can provide for symptoms, there are other treatments to consider.
Therapy is a common treatment for anxiety, from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to exposure therapy used to treat anxiety disorders. CBT can be an especially effective long-term treatment for anxiety.
Other effective ways to reduce anxiety symptoms include:
Exercise. Physical activity lowers anxiety, reduces stress, improves mood and provides sustained health benefits. Regular movement can also distract you from things that cause you to feel anxious. Exercise doesn’t have to be super intense, but you should try to achieve the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) recommended 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week.
Meditation. Meditation is another way to relax and reduce stress, with a long history of increasing calmness, improving psychological balance and enhancing overall health and well-being. In a 2013 study, researchers found that mindfulness meditation may have a beneficial effect on people with generalized anxiety disorder. If you’re new to meditation, this guide on how to meditate can help you get started.
Identifying anxiety triggers. Recognizing the specific things that make you anxious, such as crowded rooms or public performances, can help you avoid known triggers or develop strategies for coping in situations that make you feel anxious. Some types of therapy can also teach you how to identify anxiety triggers.
There are many ways to treat anxiety with non-addictive anxiety medication. Non-medication options are also anxiety treatments to consider.
Our full guide on medications for anxiety can give you more information about anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. You can also consult with a psychiatrist through our online mental health services to discuss your symptoms and learn more about anxiety medication.
Interested in therapy? Start a consultation with a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of your couch with our online therapy offerings.