How to Know If You Need Medication for Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders can significantly disrupt daily life. They come in various forms and degrees of severity. Sometimes, despite a person’s best efforts with therapy, lifestyle changes, and self-care, anxiety may persist or even escalate. At such times, medication may provide the necessary relief. In this article, we provide insights and guidance on when it might be appropriate to consider medication, common signs you need anxiety medication, the different types of medicines available, and the potential risks and benefits involved.

Anxiety Disorders: Basic Overview

Anxiety disorders represent a category of various mental health conditions mostly characterized by enduring feelings of fear and anxiety. These emotions are persistent and often disrupt everyday tasks. They can also induce physical manifestations, such as trembling, sweating, or an increased heart rate in specific situations. The conditions under this category include but are not limited to generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and a variety of phobias.

Since anxiety disorders encompass a broad spectrum of conditions, symptoms may differ depending on the specific type of disorder. Some common signs that may represent anxiety include the following:

  • Increased worrying and uneasiness.
  • Irrational fears and panic.
  • Restlessness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Sleep issues.
  • Weakness, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Tense muscles.

Only a healthcare professional can diagnose a specific anxiety disorder after a thorough assessment. The diagnosis and a treatment plan are made based on not only symptoms but their severity, frequency, causes, impact on different areas of life, and other criteria.

When Anti-Anxiety Medication Is Necessary

Anxiety treatment typically involves a holistic strategy that combines cognitive-behavioral therapy, lifestyle adjustments, and mindfulness techniques. They often lead to substantial improvement. However, there might be situations where these measures fall short, necessitating the integration of pharmacological treatment, specifically anti-anxiety medication into the therapeutic regimen as a complementary component to psychotherapy. But how to know if you need anxiety medication?

The necessity for anti-anxiety medication is defined only by a medical practitioner. It can typically be assessed based on the following factors:

  • Severity of symptoms. The intensity and frequency of anxiety symptoms can play a pivotal role in answering the question “Should I take anxiety medication?”.  When anxiety disorders lead to significant impairment, medication can help manage the symptoms, making it easier for the individual to function more effectively in their daily life.
  • Lack of response to non-pharmacological therapies. If one has tried non-pharmacological approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, stress management techniques, and lifestyle changes with limited or no success, it may be necessary to consider getting an anti-anxiety medication based on the doctor’s advice. 
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions. Anxiety disorders can sometimes occur alongside other mental health conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder. In such cases, medication can often be an effective way to manage them. 
  • Acute crisis situations. In acute crisis situations where there's a risk to the individual's safety due to extreme anxiety or panic, medication might be necessary to provide immediate relief. 

Choosing the Best-suited Anxiety Medication

There are several types of anti-anxiety medications available, including benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs: Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs: Cymbalta, Effexor).

Choosing the appropriate anti-anxiety medication frequently requires patience because sometimes the first prescribed drug may not be as effective as expected. It may take several attempts and the process takes some time initially for the medication to reach its full effect. It's influenced by:

  • Type of anxiety disorder.
  • Medical history.
  • Overall physical health.
  • Any other simultaneous mental or physical conditions.
  • Reaction to medications.

Here are several steps that can guide you toward finding the anti-anxiety medication most fitting to your situation:

  1. Consult with a qualified healthcare professional.
  2. Explain your symptoms honestly and openly so you can get an accurate diagnosis.
  3. Evaluation of your overall health condition to ensure the most appropriate and safe anti-anxiety medication for you. 
  4. Understanding the potential side effects and asking any queries you may have to make a well-informed decision. 
  5. Your healthcare professional may devise a comprehensive treatment plan with a combination of medication and therapy if required.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Anti-anxiety medications, while often successful in alleviating anxiety symptoms, also carry some potential risks and side effects. So it's important to discuss these factors, along with the potential benefits, to make an informed decision about which medication may be the most suitable. Here is a breakdown of frequently prescribed anti-anxiety medications, outlining their possible risks and side effects:

  • Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines such as Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, and Valium can cause both physical and psychological dependence. They may also cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly after regular use. Some potential side effects can include drowsiness, confusion, dizziness, and impaired coordination. There's also an increased risk of falls and accidents, particularly in older adults because of the impairments in balance, judgment, and coordination that these medications can cause.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Potential side effects include nausea, diarrhea, nervousness, insomnia, sexual problems, and dry mouth. These medications can increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, adolescents, and young adults.

To Sum Up

The landscape of anxiety treatment is vast and diverse, and a healthcare provider will help you find the most suitable approach. Your treatment plan may include psychotherapy, medications, or their combination. With the right regimen, it is possible to manage anxiety effectively and reduce its impact on daily life.


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I'm Alice and I live with a dizzying assortment of invisible disabilities, including ADHD and fibromyalgia. I write to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental and chronic illnesses of all kinds. 

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