NOTE: This page discusses legal prescription meds | There is also a page about anxiety and drugs
Anxiety and Panic Attack Medication
My personal/unprofessional opinion, as a former panic attack sufferer, is that medication is prescribed for this mental health issue far more often than it should be. This may be because:
- Physicians, busy with heavy workloads, may not have enough time to fully educate their patients about other anxiety treatments.
- Medical doctors may simply not be familiar with non-drug therapies. Therefore, it could be up to you to educate yourself, or seek other opinions.
- Many people prefer the quick fix of taking a pill, without realizing that quick fixes involve a variety of physical/mental/emotional side-effects.
With that said, I also must emphasize that I am not a doctor, and am not qualified to provide any sort of medical advice. There are most likely numerous situations where medication MIGHT BE the appropriate option for people experiencing anxiety and panic disorder. The decision to use anti-anxiety medication, or to make changes to your current dosage, should always be discussed with a trusted doctor who is knowledgeable of all options.
Hopefully your doctor will also make you aware of these considerations.
Common anxiety and panic attack medications
BENZODIAZEPINES | These are tranquilizers which slow brain activity.
SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE: Fatigue, impaired thinking/reflexes, confusion/forgetfulness, depression, etc.
- Examples: Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan
ANTIDPRESSANTS | These drugs are intended for depression, but are also used for anxiety.
SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE: Nausea, headaches, stomach aches, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, etc.
- Examples: Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa
BETA BLOCKERS | These block the stress hormone norepinephrine, and are usually intended for specific anxiety inducing situations.
SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE: Fatigue, nausea, light-headedness, etc.
- Examples: Propranolol (Inderal) and Atenolol (Tenormin)
Major side effects
Some of the more extreme side effects of anxiety and panic attack medication that you should be aware of:
- Some people taking anxiety medications experience increased anxiety, depression, hostility/aggression, hallucinations, and even suicidal thoughts. Immediately notify your doctor if you experience such side effects.
- Due to the sedating effect of these medications, as well as impact on physical coordination, they have been associated with a higher frequency of personal, work-related, and traffic-related accidents.
- Prescription medication is often toxic, and therefore subject to overdose, long term organ damage, and/or hangover effects. (A friend of my family committed suicide after learning that her depression medication had caused serious liver damage)
These are just some of the "biggies". Be sure to ask your doctor about ALL the possible side effects associated with the particular medication that you're considering.
Considerations for anxiety / panic medication
Medication is NOT a cure for anxiety and panic attacks, and no doctor will tell you that it is. Anti-anxiety medication is simply a band-aid (a temporary patch that covers up anxiety symptoms).
In addition to the side-effects mentioned above, hopefully your doctor will also make you aware of these considerations:
- Medication may 'cover up' anxiety and other negative emotions, but will probably not remove the underlying cause. Eventually that submerged iceberg of a problem will probably crash through to the surface again, unless you take steps to resolve those issues while you're medicated. Unfortunately, medication can often dull the desire to take such action.
- Are the emotions that you're feeling normal for the situation? Consider a good friend of mine whose husband was diagnosed with terminal illness. This of course caused her significant distress, so her physician prescribed [trademark name drug] to help cope with the feelings. She later revealed to me that as she sat alone in her room, realizing she was losing her companion of 30 years, she could not cry a single tear. Do you really want to numb yourself to the feelings of life? Perhaps what you're feeling is normal for the situation. The self help audio program here is an excellent tool for learning to "manage" such emotions.
- The human brain can build up tolerance to prescription drugs. This means that eventually you may have to increase your medication to higher and higher dosages to maintain the same effect. And if you choose to discontinue your medication at some point in the future, you may then find yourself experiencing the same amount of anxiety, or even more than you were before. This could make it difficult to discontinue use.
- Given the complexity and volume of issues associated with anxiety medication(s), you may want to do some research in addition to the information provided by your doctor. You might start by reading the literature provided with your prescription (maybe in small print), or by doing some Google searches for the name of your medication. As mentioned above, some side effects can be significant - ranging from sleep disturbance, to nausea, to sexual dysfunction.
- Remember that it is very easy for doctors, often burdened by heavy workloads, to write a prescription rather than taking the time to explore lasting cognitive or behavioral therapies for their patients. Resolving an 'invisible' problem like anxiety may require that you take responsibility for educating yourself, or seek input from more than one doctor.
Again, always discuss your options with a qualified and trusted medical professional (I have no such qualifications). And never make changes to your regimen before speaking with a doctor. If you should decide that medication is appropriate for your situation, I strongly suggest that you also make a conscious effort to pursue more permanent behavioral or cognitive solutions while medicated.