Zoloft For Anxiety: Is it Effective?

Katelyn Hagerty

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 09/30/2022

Updated 10/01/2022

If you struggle with feelings of intense fear or excessive worry, you’re not alone. You may be one of over 40 million U.S. adults who have anxiety disorders.

You may be looking for a way to cope with your anxiety symptoms and wonder if Zoloft® for anxiety is a solution.

You may have also wondered if the time of day can affect how well certain medications work, and whether Zoloft is one of them.

We’ll answer whether Zoloft is effective for anxiety and when the best time of day to take Zoloft for anxiety is.

Anxiety disorders are a common group of mental disorders that can affect how you feel, think and act.

While occasional anxiety in stressful situations — such as nervousness before a job interview or worrying about money — is normal, anxiety disorders involve fear that persists and can worsen in the long run.

Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause excessive or persistent feelings of anxiety or worry. People with generalized anxiety disorder may worry excessively about their health, work and social life among other things.

  • Social anxiety disorder. Also known as social phobia, social anxiety disorder can cause intense fear or anxiety of being viewed negatively or rejected in social situations. Sweating, trembling, racing heart, trouble making eye contact or feeling self-conscious are common signs of social anxiety disorder.

  • Panic disorder.Panic disorder can cause people to experience sudden and frequent panic attacks, either after being exposed to a trigger or at random. Panic attacks involve a rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, feeling out of control 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 check certain things, wash their hands, clean their home or perform other “rituals” repetitively to provide relief from obsessive thoughts. Like other anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder can interfere with a person’s social or professional life and affect their relationships.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Posttraumatic stress disorder occurs in someone who goes through a scary or dangerous event and continues to experience trauma symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks and feelings of stress long after the event. Like other anxiety disorders, women are more likely to be affected by PTSD than men.

Anxiety symptoms vary based on the type of anxiety disorder someone has. However, some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Difficulty concentrating on anything other than current worries or concerns

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Feeling nervous and restless

  • Tiredness or feeling weak

  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as stomachaches, cramps, diarrhea and/or constipation

  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)

  • Sweating

  • Avoiding people, objects or situations that may cause anxiety

There’s also a high rate of people who experience depressive symptoms at the same time as anxiety.

A health care provider or mental health professional can help identify if your anxiety is simply run-of-the-mill nervousness or if it could be an anxiety disorder impacting your daily life. 

If you are diagnosed with one of the anxiety disorders above, an anxiety medication like Zoloft may be prescribed to help manage your mental health.

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The brand name for sertraline, Zoloft is an antidepressant medication.

Zoloft falls under the antidepressant medication class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

This particular medication is used to treat depression as well as certain anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.

Zoloft can also be used for premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a condition that causes anxiety or depression and is similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) with more severe symptoms.

While depression is a part of bipolar disorder, taking Zoloft can increase the risk of switching from depression to mania, an elevated or irritable mood.

Sertraline works by increasing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood among other bodily functions like energy level, sex drive and mental focus.

Zoloft and the generic sertraline come as either an oral tablet or liquid concentrate usually taken once a day.

The common starting dose of Zoloft is 50mg a day, with the maximum being 200mg per day. The effects of Zoloft can take a few weeks to notice.

Zoloft could start working as soon as one to two weeks with noticeable improvements in sleep, appetite or energy levels.

Like any medication, Zoloft can cause side effects. Common side effects of Zoloft can be:

  • Nausea

  • Dry mouth

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Decreased appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Tremor

  • Drowsiness

  • Dizziness

  • Insomnia

  • Sexual side effects such as decreased libido

While rare, more serious side effects are possible and include:

  • Unusual bleeding

  • Seizures

  • Fast-beating heart

  • Swelling

  • Trouble breathing

  • Hallucinations

  • Confusion or memory problems

If you experience any of these severe side effects, you should contact your health care provider immediately. It’s also important to let them know about any other medications you’re taking as there can be adverse effects or drug interactions.

There’s also the risk of experiencing a withdrawal symptom if you abruptly stop using Zoloft. These can include irritability, vomiting, nightmares, tingling sensation on the skin or headache.

Additionally, you should let your healthcare provider know about any new or persisting side effects while taking Zoloft.

You may be wondering how effective sertraline or Zoloft for anxiety is.

The answer can depend on the individual but studies have found Zoloft to be effective for different anxiety disorders.

While typically used as a first-line treatment for a depressive disorder, a large study from The Lancet Psychiatry found that sertraline improved anxiety symptoms sooner than depressive symptoms.

The study found that while depressive symptoms weren’t reduced until 12 weeks of treatment, anxiety symptoms of restlessness and worry improved and better mental health was reported after six weeks.

Multiple studies have found certain antidepressant medications like SSRIs to be effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder.

One 12-week study found that patients with generalized anxiety disorder taking a range of Zoloft dosages showed greater improvement after four weeks than those taking a placebo (an inactive drug).

Another study on 52 elderly patients (60 years and older) found that while the combination of sertraline and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was most effective for anxiety, worry and depressive symptoms, the medication alone showed the most improvement in worry symptoms.

However, sertraline is not approved by the FDA to treat generalized anxiety disorder and is more often prescribed “off-label”

Zoloft has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of social phobia.

A 20-week double-blind, controlled study found sertraline to be effective and well-tolerated amongst over 200 patients.

Another study involving over 200 people with severe social anxiety disorder also found sertraline to be more effective compared to a placebo.

Zoloft has also proved to be an effective short-term treatment for panic disorder.

A study involving over 175 people diagnosed with panic disorder found that those treated with sertraline experienced fewer panic attacks after 10 weeks of treatment.

Over a third of those treated with sertraline were also considered to be in remission from their panic disorder after short-term treatment.

You may also be wondering though what the Zoloft dosage for anxiety is.

The optimal dose of sertraline for treating depression is 50mg a day and may be increased if symptoms aren’t improving.

However, the Zoloft dosage for anxiety can vary depending on the individual and their mental health condition.

The typical starting Zoloft dosage for social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder is 25mg a day and may be increased by 25 to 50mg weekly if the condition doesn’t improve.

Of course, whether or not Zoloft for anxiety is effective depends on a variety of factors, from the severity of the anxiety disorder and symptoms to health conditions and more.

But is there a best time of day to take Zoloft for anxiety?

The best time of day to take Zoloft for anxiety is when it’s convenient for you and may also depend on how the medication affects you.

Zoloft is safe to take at any time of day, with or without food. If you experience nausea or other side effects, you may choose to take it at night to avoid these adverse effects.

Since sertraline can also cause insomnia in some people, you may take the medication in the morning instead.

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If you have an anxiety disorder like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety disorder, medication like Zoloft may help improve your quality of life. 

An online psychiatrist can help you figure out what medication or other types of treatments could work for you.

It’s important to use Zoloft as your healthcare provider has prescribed it to you and to let them know about any adverse or new side effects you experience.

18 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.

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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.

Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.

She received her undergraduate degree in nursing from the University of Delaware and her master's degree from Thomas Jefferson University. You can find Katelyn on Doximity for more information.

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