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Anxiety Medications: What to know

January 22, 2018

Do you often find yourself worrying about things for no reason? Do you find it difficult to place yourself in social situations or leave your home?  These can be signs of anxiety disorder.


Many aging adults begin struggling with the condition of anxiety each year. Signs of anxiety include:

  • Sudden overwhelming fear

  • Palpitations

  • Sweating

  • Trembling

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sense of choking

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • A feeling of being detached from the world

  • Fear of dying

  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs or entire body

  • Chills or hot flushes

When visiting with your doctor concerning your anxiety, they may prescribe you anxiety medication. The commonly prescribed medications for anxiety are in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. The brand names for these drugs you may be more familiar with are Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, or Valium.


Benzodiazepines work widely throughout the brain and affect coordination, muscle tone, control of consciousness, memory, thinking, and emotional reactions. These drugs enhance the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain, which is the inhibitory neurotransmitter, whose function is to slow or calm things down. Benzodiazepines increase its efficiency, thereby slowing and calming things down even more.


If your doctor prescribes these to you, make sure to have a serious conversation with your doctor on how you should be taking these medications (find out questions you should ask your doctor about any new prescription here). This class of drugs has a high tendency to create dependence.


Your doctor should only be prescribing these types of drugs for the short-term while you learn to cope with your anxiety (usually no more than 4 weeks) because of their dependence forming nature.  The dependence usually forms when the patient begins to experience withdrawal symptoms after cessation. Patients especially at risk for dependence include those who have a history of addiction, chronic physical illness (especially associated with pain), personality disorders, and chronic sleep disorders.


Withdrawal symptoms are characterized by:

  • Anxiety/nervousness

  • Irritability

  • Depressed mood

  • Insomnia

  • Fatigue or lethargy

  • Restlessness and agitation

  • Tremors

  • Dizziness

  • Headaches, muscle aches or stiffness

  • Weakness

  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering

Again, speak with your doctor about your treatment plan, and be thorough. Find out what medication you are being prescribed, the side effects, dosage, and how long you should be taking the medications. Advise your doctor if you have a history of addiction personally or in your family, what other medications your are taking (prescription and over the counter), and if you have any other dependencies such as alcohol dependency.


If you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you should also consider therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Learning other methods of self-calming can be helpful as well such as muscle relaxation techniques, autogenic training, or yoga.


Source: WebMD,, National Institute of Health

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