Do Antidepressants Work for Anxiety?

Anxiety, while natural and common, can increase in intensity until it is interfering with everyday life. The anxiety sufferer may start with trying to control breathing and thoughts, trying meditation and exercise. But when symptoms continue or increase until they dominate every activity, people often look for a pharmacological solution.

Some researchers believe that anxiety and depression are not only related, but the same problem with different manifestations. Nearly 70% of people with depression also suffer from anxiety at least some of the time. At present practitioners are finding good success using antidepressants to treat anxiety.

Traditional Antianxiety Drugs

There are some drugs designed specifically for anxiety. In the 1960s, Valium (diazepam), a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, was the drug of choice. This sedative is still prescribed for a variety of conditions, but not usually for long-term consumption. It masks the symptoms of anxiety instead of addressing the cause and can have side effects such as tiredness and foggy thinking. It also has addictive potential, which most antidepressants do not. On the positive side, however, sedatives work very quickly, whereas some antidepressants may take a while before any positive effects are felt.

Other commercial preparations in this family are Ativan (lorazipam), and Xanax for anxiety and Ambien for sleeplessness. These are basically tranquilizers affecting the central nervous system.

Antidepressants for Anxiety

Antidepressants were found to be useful for anxiety. With research it was found that antidepressants had fewer side effects than sedatives or other substances tried. Most antidepressants work by affecting the serotonin system. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter. It is implicated in the regulation of mood. There are a variety of antidepressants used today.

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI): Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil are some of the commercial names for this preparation. This is the most popular antidepressant on the market today.
  • Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRI): These have been introduced more recently. You might have seen commercials for Effexor and Cymbalta, which are sometimes prescribed in addition to an SSRI.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: older type of antidepressant. These were discovered in the 1950’s most popular in the early 1980s, sold under the name Amitriptyline and others.
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOI). This type of antidepressant has fallen from popularity because of adverse reactions with food and other substances.
  • Wellbutrin, another clinical type of antidepressant. It does not affect the serotonin system.

Most drugs take several weeks of continual absorption before a change is noticeable. The specific medication is chosen to match the person’s medical profile, taking into account which drugs the person is already taking, what other conditions the person has, and what side effects they can likely tolerate. The doses are started at a low level and raised as needed. It’s possible that one type of antidepressant won’t work, and thus the patient will be switched to another. Psychoactive drugs are monitored closely in the first weeks of consumption.

Alternative Herbal Antidepressants

For milder anxiety it is worth trying an herbal preparation. The herbal preparations have less dramatic effects and have fewer side effects.

  • SAMe- S-adenosylmethionine is a methyl group donor, which contributes to building proteins, which help build neurotransmitters
  • St. John’s Wort- derived from a plant of the genus hypericum
  • Kava Kava- derived from a root
  • Inositol – an alcohol that can occur naturally
  • Vitamin B – helps attach methyl groups to build proteins

Whether taking a medical prescription or herbal preparation, if the person begins to feel better, he or she should not go off the preparation, as it could be evidence that the substance is working. Always consult a doctor when taking medication, both prescription and herbal. Cutting back or stopping medication and herbal preparations should also be done under the monitoring of a health professional, as withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Taking drugs alone is not the recommended course for dealing with anxiety. Along with a regime of healthy diet and exercise, psychotherapy is also recommended for maximum benefit and for potential cure.

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