One way to help reduce anxiety is by using anti-anxiety medications, or benzodiazepines. These medications are quick-acting (usually 30 to 60 minutes) and can help lower symptoms of anxiety in a relatively short period of time, making them good at stopping panic or anxiety attacks or reducing your anxiety symptoms to allow you to participate in activities. But there are some drawbacks to using these medications. The following are 10 things you should know about these medications before you start taking them.
1. Everyone reacts differently to anxiety medications
Although it would seem that a medication will work the same for everyone that takes it, that is not the case. Because each person metabolizes medication differently or because medication can react with certain foods and drinks, two different people can take the same medication with different results. For some, anxiety medications work well. For others the anxiety symptoms are reduced but still there. And there are some people for which anxiety medications actually make them more anxious. Sometimes, it is a matter of trial and error to find the right medication and the right dosage for you.
2. Medication is a good short-term solution
Anxiety medications are not meant to be used indefinitely. They are meant to be short-term solutions. Behavioral strategies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, have been found to work better for long-term help from anxiety. This type of therapy, however, may take months or longer to provide relief from anxiety symptoms. Sometimes doctors will recommend anxiety medications to help you get the most from your therapy. As you are able to reduce symptoms based on your therapy, you can talk with your doctor about lowering your medication dose or weaning yourself off the medication.
3. There are many different medications available
There is not just one medication for anxiety. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Klonopin (clonazepam). Each of these work differently. One may work for you better than another one. All of these work by regulating brain overstimulation and therefore make you feel calmer.
4. Anxiety medications may limit your other activities
Benzodiazepines can cause drowsiness, lack of energy, confusion, impaired thinking and judgment, and blurred vision. These side effects may stop you from participating in other activities. You should not drive until you know how the medication will affect you. You may have problems at work or at school. You may feel sleepy or foggy.
5. Anxiety medications may build up in your system
This type of medication metabolizes slowly. If you are taking benzodiazepines on a daily basis, the amount of medication in your system can build up. This can cause you to be overmedicated. If this happens, you may feel as if you are drunk and others may believe you are drunk.
6. Anxiety medications can have the opposite effect
Although it does not happen often, some people find that anxiety medications have the opposite effect, making them more nervous or anxious. They may become irritable. Some people may become aggressive or hostile, have hallucinations, or experience periods of mania.
7. There are dangerous drug interactions with some other medications or substances
Benzodiazepines, when used alone, are considered safe for short-term use. However, when these medications are combined with alcohol, prescription painkillers, antihistamines or sleeping pills, they can be dangerous. If you must take one of these medications, speak with your doctor before combining your anxiety medications with another medication, even over-the-counter medication.
8. Anxiety medications should not be taken if you are pregnant
These types of medication can cross the placenta and reach the growing fetus. The baby can become dependent on these medications and can experience withdrawal symptoms after birth. Because of this, anxiety medications should be avoided when pregnant.
9. You can become addicted to benzodiazepines
Anxiety medications work well as a short-term solution to anxiety or panic attacks or if you must go into a situation that will cause you to be anxious, such as flying. When taken on a regular basis, you can become physically dependent on these types of medications and will need to wean off the medication under the supervision of your doctor to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
10. You may need more of the medication to get relief from anxiety
The American Academy of Family Physicians states that anxiety medications lose their therapeutic value after four to six months. Even before that, however, you may need to increase your dosage in order to feel the same relief from anxiety symptoms. It is important that you speak with your doctor before taking more medication than has been prescribed.
"Anxiety Medication," Reviewed 2010, August, Melinda Smith M.A., Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Helpguide.org
"What Medications are Used to Treat Anxiety Disorders?" Reviewed 2011, May 20, Staff Writer, National Institute of Mental Health