4 Things to Know When Deciding Whether to Take Medication for Anxiety
Deciding whether to take medication to help control and manage anxiety symptoms is a personal decision. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. It is best to talk this decision over with your doctor, voicing your concern and understanding what to expect - both in reducing your anxiety and the side effects of the medication. The more you know, the better you can make an informed decision.
Anxiety Medication is Not Right for Everyone
While there are many different medications that are effective in treating anxiety, not everyone is comfortable with taking medications and others either can’t tolerate the side effects or the drugs interfere with medications they are taking for other conditions. Talk to your doctor about both the pros and the cons of the different types of anxiety medications. Some of the questions to ask your doctor include:
- Why do you think medication will help? How will it help?
- What are the non-drug treatments that are available? How effective are they?
- What are some self-help strategies I can use to control my anxiety?
- Would you recommend medication over the non-drug treatments? Why or why not?
- What types of side-effects should I expect? Typically, how severe are side effects and how long do they last?
- How long do you expect me to be taking this medication? Do I take it everyday or only when feeling anxious?
- Are there concerns about becoming addicted to the medication?
- What are the benefits of taking the medication?
- What other strategies/treatments should I use in addition to the medication?
Once you have discussed using medication for anxiety in depth with your doctor, you should have a better idea of whether it is right for you.
Medication Doesn’t Cure Anxiety
Medications are a tool for managing and controlling your anxiety. But medications do not cure anxiety and work only while you are taking the medication. Some medications, such as antidepressants, need to be taken every day, but once you stop taking the medication, your anxiety usually returns. Others, such as benzodiazepines are short-acting and are taken only when feeling anxious. They work only for a few hours.
Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and lifestyle changes, such as adopting stress-relieving strategies, also help. These methods, however, don’t work overnight and require time and commitment. Some people find it helpful to take medications while learning CBT and other strategies. Once they feel comfortable integrating these techniques in everyday life, they slowly reduce their use of anxiety medications.
Medications Don’t Work Instantly
Many people expect to take a medication and instantly feel better. While benzodiazepines do work quickly, their effect also wears off quickly. Other medications, such as antidepressants may take weeks for you to feel the effects. Some people find they need to have their dosage adjusted a few times before finding the right dosage. Your doctor will work with you in the beginning to find what works best for you. It is helpful to keep a medication diary, where you keep track of the dosage and how you are feeling when first starting medication. This helps your doctor better understand how the medication is working and whether your dosage should be adjusted.
In order to know if the medication is working, however, it is important to take it as directed for several weeks. Don’t stop because you don’t think it is doing anything to relieve your anxiety.
Medications Help Many People
You might be concerned about the adverse effects of medication. Or, you might think taking medication for anxiety makes you weak. You might avoid taking medication altogether. But, in many cases, medication is effective and can help you get more from other types of therapy. For example, you might find that with a lowered level of anxiety you are able to learn and benefit from the strategies taught in CBT.
If your anxiety is at a level where you are not able to function or enjoy life, then it might be time to talk to your doctor about how medication can help. Anxiety medications are not only meant to lower your anxiety, they are meant to help you achieve a better quality of life. Some people continue to take these medications for years without any problems because it is better than living with the debilitating effects of anxiety.