Anti-Anxiety Medications Explained
Do you spend sleepless nights consumed by fear or go through life paralysed by distressing thoughts? If so, you would probably do just about anything to make the anxiety go away.
Take a pill? Why not? Anyone suffering from anxiety dreads the deep anguish, pain, fear and endless frustration that anxiety disorders cause not to mention the sometimes horrendous physical sensations that accompany them. It is this desperation that drives anxiety sufferers to go down the dark path of prescription drugs.
We live in a world where there is a pill for every ill. Strangely enough, taking a prescription is considered fashionable by some. When it comes to poorly understood mental illnesses, it’s no surprise that there’s always a cleverly marketed drug at hand to solve the problem. Although anxiety disorders are most effectively treated by cognitive therapies, prescriptions tend to be the default solution when you visit your GP.
Let’s Face It; There is More to Drugs Than Doctors Care to Admit
There is little doubt that prescription drugs affect anxiety. The question is, to what end? Drugs can quickly relieve symptoms in the short run, which makes them popular with doctors. But are doctors really telling us the whole story?
Do drugs provide a lasting solution to anxiety disorders or are they just quick fixes? More importantly, are there adverse side effects and other risks associated with anxiety drugs?
If you are suffering from anxiety, you need real and honest answers to these questions before you decide what option is right for you. The last thing you need is to add to your distress, or for a robust anti-anxiety drug to actually make your anxiety worse!
So, how does a pill alter your mental and psychological state?
As it turns out, it’s all about tinkering with brain chemistry. For example, diazepam, one of the most popular anti-anxiety drugs, works by increasing the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Whatever their mode of action, it’s important to remember that anti-anxiety drugs are NOT A CURE for anxiety. They also come with significant adverse side effects such as addiction or risk of suicide. Anti-Anxiety drugs are used to manage and mask symptoms, but the underlying cause must be addressed by cognitive therapy.
Most Doctors Don’t Understand Anxiety and Find it Easier to Try and Treat it With Drugs!
In the last 5 years, I have treated many doctors for chronic stress and anxiety, and I am continuously shocked at how little they understand about this mental health epidemic.
Most doctors have only about 10 minutes to examine, diagnose and treat their patients when YOU visit THEM.
And what’s the most common treatment for anxiety when you visit a doctor?
And this is where the craziness starts. Here is just a sample of the many popular anti-anxiety medications and their mode of action:
Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative or tranquilliser used to calm the mind and relax your muscles. They act by increasing the efficiency of a neurotransmitter known as GABA. This slows down the nervous system, which can temporarily calm down a person having a panic attack. They are the most prescribed anti-anxiety medications because they act within thirty minutes to an hour. Benzodiazepines include:
Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors or SSRIs are a form of antidepressant commonly taken for anxiety. SSRIs work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. They include drugs such as:
SSRIs are typically used to treat chronic anxiety such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder. SSRIs alter serotonin, a neurotransmitter which affects mood, appetite, sexual desire, memory and sleep. It’s no surprise therefore that taking SSRIs commonly leads to adverse effects such as sexual dysfunction, mania, and aggression.
These are a class of prescription drugs which work similarly to SSRIs. However, they are an older type of medication and therefore come with a long list of side effects such as vomiting, nausea, drowsiness, constipation, blurred vision and weight gain. Tricyclics are potent drugs and are prescribed in low doses and then gradually increased with time. They include Imipramine (Tofranil) and Clomipramine (Anafranil).
Beta Blockers are drugs commonly prescribed for heart disease and high blood pressure. They work by inhibiting the effects of the hormone norepinephrine, which is responsible for the fight or flight response. This makes beta blockers a popular off-label prescription for controlling physical symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, sweating, dizziness, and trembling. However, they do not affect emotional symptoms of anxiety and are therefore are popular in treating phobias and performance anxiety only. Examples of beta blockers are Atenolol (Tenormin) and Propranolol (Inderal).
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
MAOIs work by altering neurotransmitters responsible for mood. They are generally used to treat social anxiety and panic disorder. MAOIs are an old type of medication and (no surprise!) come with many side effects and drug interactions. MAOIs should never be taken with cold and flu medications, some birth control pills, painkillers such as ibuprofen, herbal supplements or antidepressants. They may also react with certain foods such as cheese or red wine to cause dangerously high blood pressure and other potentially fatal side effects. MAOIs include the following:
Also known as BuSpar, it is a new type of anti-anxiety medication that works similarly to SSRIs. It increases serotonin but also decreases dopamine levels in the brain. BuSpar is a mild sedative and has fewer, though significant, side effects than other tranquilizers. BuSpar works to a certain extent on people with Generalised Anxiety Disorder but does not affect other types of anxiety disorders.
Common Negative Side Effects of Anti-anxiety Medications
If you are thinking of taking anti-anxiety medications, take a look at this endless list of side-effects first:
- Sleep problems (insomnia)
- Memory problems
- Poor balance or coordination
- Slurred speech
- Trouble concentrating
- Upset stomach
- Blurred vision
- Appetite or weight changes
- Swelling in your hands or feet
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mouth
- Increased sweating
- Loss of interest in sex
- Skin Irritations
- Stuffy Nose
- Impulsive behaviour
What an incredible list of side-effects!
Most of these are actually symptoms of anxiety that you were trying to avoid in the first place. In addition to this list, most anti-anxiety medications list depression and worsening of your anxiety as other potential side-effects.
And when the side-effects kick in most people are almost always told to wait it out as the side effects decrease with time. And when they don’t the doctors start to tweak their medication, increasing dosages or changing prescriptions.
Consider these research findings from Doctor Kelly Brogan’s book – A Mind of Your Own
There is no validated science that supports a neurochemical explanation for mental illness, including anxiety.
The placebo effect – a complex physiologic process based on our beliefs about treatment – is responsible for what we think is helping about these meds.
Medications acting on these chemical systems force the body to adapt.
These adaptations are likely responsible for the secondary long-term health outcomes of the medicated versus the unmedicated (who presented with the same symptoms).
It’s entirely possible that these drugs fail over time because they induce compensatory adaptations that end up creating the opposite of what the medication originally intended and this worsening of the illness may not be reversible (even after stopping the medication).
Or what about the work of Jürgen Margraf and Silvia Schneider, both well-known psychologists at the University of Bochum in Germany, who claim that psychotropic drugs are no solution to mental health issues in an editorial for the 10 Nov 2016 issue of the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. They argue that the effects of psychiatric drugs for depression, anxiety, and ‘ADHD’ are short-lived and may have negative long-term consequences
What Other Treatment Choices Do You Have?
It is clear that anti-anxiety medications cause far more problems and may even make your anxiety worse. Like many other prescription medications, anti-anxiety drugs are well marketed and pushed by doctors with little time or patience to thoroughly examine, test, and diagnose patients with mental illness.
Here is the good news; there are proven and more beneficial treatments such as cognitive therapies, which are widely accepted as the only long-lasting treatment for all types of anxiety disorders. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, bear in mind that popping a pill only masks the underlying causes of your illness, rather than putting you on the road to recovery.