Currently there are four main types:-
Tranquilizers (anti-anxiety drugs) work by reducing brain activity and slowing down the central nervous system. Taking tranquilizers
for anxiety reduces anxiety by reducing thoughts and feelings in general. This reduction of anxious thoughts and 'numbing' of
feelings can be very calming but tranquilizers can be physically and psychologically addictive and long-term use should be
Benzodiazepines are the most common class of tranquilizers prescribed.
2. Antidepressants (Depression medication)
Now that a link between anxiety and depression has been established certain antidepressants are becoming more widely used to alleviate anxiety. These medications
can take up to 4-6 weeks to take effect and require long-term usage.
There are 4 main types of antidepressant used to treat anxiety:
i) Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI's)
These work by reducing the depletion of the neurotransmitter Serotonin (thought to be connected to mood) in the brain. They include:-
SSRI's are often used to treat: Panic Disorder, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
ii) Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)
These medications work by reducing the brain's reabsorption of not only the chemical serotonin (related to mood) but also norepinephrine,
which is related to the way our mind and body use the stress-related hormone adrenaline. SNRIs include:-
Effexor XR (venlafaxine XR)
As with SSRIs, SNRIs can take several weeks to have an effect and they also produce similar side effects such as: dizziness, drowsiness or
fatigue, dry mouth, weight gain, insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite plus the additional, potentially serious effect of high blood
iii) Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA's)
Thought to be less habit-forming than the cyclics (eg. Benzodiazepines). Largely replaced by SSRI's. they are still used for some problems eg. Panic Disorder. Unlike
Benzodiazepines, Tricyclics usually require only a daily single dose. TCA's include:-
One major disadvantage of the tricyclics is that they sometimes produce cardiac effects (such as dizziness and palpitations) -- some of the very symptoms they are
used to alleviate.
iv) Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI's)
eg. Nardil (phenelzine)
One of the oldest classes of antidepressants, often used when others have not been effective.
Possibly effective in relieving panic disorder and social phobia MAOI's can have very serious side effects (sudden increase in blood pressure) and people taking
them often have to have a restrictive diet to protect from this.
A newer treatment, there is only one medication available:
Buspirone is a milder tranquilizer that works by increasing Serotonin levels and decreasing Dopamine levels in the brain.
Slower acting than the traditional anti-anxiety drugs, this medication has the advantage of not being as sedating or addictive as the older types of tranquilizer and
having less withdrawal effects.
4. Beta Blockers
Originally developed to treat heart problems (by reducing stress on the heart) this class of drugs work by blocking the adrenaline (produced when anxious) from
acting on various organs in the body. Common beta blockers prescribed are:-
Cardicor, Emcor (bisoprolol)
Note that these drugs don't actually stop anxiety or adrenaline but dampen some of the effects of the adrenaline. For example,
they may prevent the heart from beating faster or reduce trembling.
Anxiety medication can play an important role in symptom relief but it is important to realise that it
is not a cure. Taking prescription drugs doesn't deal with the underlying cause of the anxiety and once medication is stopped
the symptoms usually return.
Also, it's important to realise that many anxiety medications produce bad side effects and in some cases long-term usage can lead to
addiction and withdrawal problems.