Anxiety Disorders and the Medications That Treat Them - dummies

Anxiety Disorders and the Medications That Treat Them

By Sarah Densmore

Nearly 40 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. An anxiety disorder is when nervousness and apprehension overtakes a person to the point where fearful feelings interfere with everyday life. There are five general classifications of anxiety disorders, and there are several medications available to treat them.

Types of anxiety disorders

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): People who have GAD are extreme worriers. Even if they aren’t facing any serious problems, they can’t stop being concerned about the state of their health, money, relationships, or job. GAD can range from mild to severe and can be accompanied by headaches, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, or twitching.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): When someone is obsessive-compulsive, his mind is caught in a stream of negative thoughts. In an attempt to control the uneasiness that arises from these thoughts, OCD sufferers perform rituals such as hand washing, locking and unlocking doors, or counting items in a room. People with OCD may try to tame their illness with drugs or alcohol. Often, the disorder is accompanied by another anxiety disorder or depression.

  • Panic disorder: People who have panic attacks are gripped by a terrifying feeling that something very bad is about to happen, even that they are about to die. Someone in the throws of a panic attack can experience a host of symptoms including, chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, dizziness, trembling, and faintness. Like OCD, people with panic disorder can suffer from substance abuse and depression.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Someone who has PTSD has lived through or witnessed a traumatic event and is having difficulty coping with it. There are many types of experiences that can prompt PTSD, including participating in a war, being the victim of rape or child abuse, or living through a natural disaster or car accident.

    People with PTSD can suffer from recurrent nightmares, as well as flashbacks that are so severe they lose touch with reality. Substance abuse, depression, and other anxiety disorders can also accompany PTSD.

  • Social phobia: Sufferers of social phobia, also called social anxiety disorder, are so self-conscious and fearful of embarrassing themselves and being judged by others that they avoid interacting with most people. A social phobic may sweat excessively, have difficulty talking or making eye contact, tremble, shake, or become nauseous. Sufferers may try to eliminate their feelings by using alcohol or drugs. They may also suffer from another anxiety disorder or depression.

Medications can help treat anxiety orders

There are three categories of drugs used to combat anxiety disorders: anti-anxiety, anti-depressants and beta-blockers.

None of these medications is a cure for anxiety disorders, but they can be very effective in helping you control your symptoms so you can lead a more normal life.

  • Anti-anxiety: These medications mostly include a class of sedative drugs called benzodiazepines. The drugs are effective relaxants that begin working immediately. However, they are usually prescribed for short-term use because they have addictive qualities. People can build up a tolerance to them and suffer withdrawals when treatment ends.

    Buspirone is another, newer anti-anxiety medication used to treat GAD. Unlike benzodiazepines, the drug isn’t a sedative. However, it may take two weeks before a GAD sufferer finds relief with buspirone.

  • Anti-depressants: There are a few different types of anti-depressants. Although not originally designed to treat anxiety, doctors believe the drugs work because they alter the brain chemical activity thought to play a role in the disorders.

    Serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, change the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin helps brain cells communicate with one another. There are many different brands of SSRIs on the market. They effectively treat all types of anxiety disorders.

    Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) work in much the same way as SSRIs, but they influence not only serotonin levels but norepinephrine amounts as well. Norepinephrine is another chemical central to brain-cell communication. SNRIs work as well as SSRIs in treating anxiety disorders.

    Tricyclics are older than SSRIs or SNRIs but they are thought to be as effective at relieving most anxiety disorders, with the exception of OCD.

  • Beta blockers: These drugs, which are chiefly used to combat certain heart conditions, are also effective at relieving some of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. Beta blockers work by stopping the stimulating effects of adrenaline, relieving the racing hearts, dizziness, sweating, etc., that are experienced by so many anxiety sufferers.

While medication is a crucial aid in alleviating the suffering caused by anxiety disorders, adding cognitive behavior therapy to your treatment program can provide additional relief. Cognitive behavior therapy can help you change your thinking patterns and behaviors so you have better control over the way you react to your anxieties.