The Side Effects of Anxiety Medications

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All anxiety medications come with a long list of potential side effects. The side effects of anxiety medications, also called anxiolytics, include sleepiness, fatigue, and a slowing of mental functioning. Depending on their class, these medications may also be habit-forming or even addictive. They can help level out panic attacks and reduce anxiety attacks to a manageable level. Some can produce lasting relief, while others shouldn’t be used for more than a short-term period.

What Are Common Classes of Anxiety Medications?

If you’re exploring how to find the right anxiety medication, it’s important to learn all you can about them. Physicians prescribe fast-acting anxiety medications to reduce either the immediate effects of an anxiety attack or to work over the long term to reduce day to day anxiety that’s uncomfortable but doesn’t rise to the urgency of a panic attack or anxiety attack. Some of the most common medications include Valium and Xanax. 

Four major classes of medications are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. They include benzodiazepines, Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), and Tricyclic Antidepressants. The side effects of anti-anxiety medications vary from class to class. They also differ from medication to medication within each class.

Benzodiazepines. Most people have heard of at least some of the medications in this class. These anxiety medications became common in the 1960s and are still given today. The difference between benzodiazepines and antidepressant medication for anxiety is that benzos work within minutes to hours. Other classes of medications can take days to several weeks to become effective.

Benzodiazepines are used for the short-term treatment of anxiety. They are not antidepressants and work only to produce relaxation, promote sleep and reduce anxiety. Long-term use causes habituation, in which a person requires ever-increasing dosages of the medication to achieve the same results as a lower dose. Benzodiazepines are habit-forming, may cause physical dependence and have the potential to be addictive. They include :

  • Restoril, Normison (temazepam). Temazepam is given to treat insomnia and starts working within 30 minutes. Temazepam is also given for the management of panic attacks.
  • Valium (diazepam). Diazepam is a fast-acting benzodiazepine. Valium is given for sleep and anxiety, and for withdrawal caused by alcohol and other addictive substances. Its effects range from 1 to 3 days.
  • Xanax (alprazolam). Alprazolam is a fast-acting anxiety medication and lasts from 12 to 20 hours. Alprazolam is given for the immediate relief of panic attacks and anxiety attacks that are underway.
  • Klonopin (clonazepam). Clonazepam’s effects begin within an hour and can last from 12 hours to a day.
  • Temesta, Ativan (lorazepam). Ativan begins to work within 1 hour, and lasts as long as 8 hours. It’s given for anxiety disorder and the relief of anxiety symptoms over the short-term. Lorazepam is given for anxiety associated with depression and stress-associated insomnia.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). The SNRI class increases norepinephrine and serotonin, two important neurotransmitters. SNRIs are given for anxiety and depression and may cause side effects. SNRI side effects can include upset stomach, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, headache or a small increase in blood pressure. SNRIs are effective for long-term treatment for anxiety disorders.  SNRI brand names include Effexor (venlafaxine), Effexor XR (extended-release), Pristiq (desvenlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), Savella (milnacipran), and Fetzima (levomilnacipran)

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs help depression and anxiety by allowing serotonin to remain active longer in the brain. Higher serotonin levels improve mood and reduce anxiety by increasing levels of the brain chemical GABA. GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) prompts feelings of well-being and calmness. SSRI brand names include Zoloft (sertraline), fluoxetine (Prozac), Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine) and Luvox (fluvoxamine).

Tricyclic Antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants include amitriptyline, imipramine, and nortriptyline. They’re effective for some anxiety disorders, like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but not others. They can cause serious side effects, including dry mouth, blurry vision, urinary retention, constipation and orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure on rising).

Common Anti-Anxiety Medication Side Effects

All anti-anxiety medications have side effects. Of the classes of anti-anxiety medications, only benzodiazepines are fast-acting. However, benzodiazepines also carry a serious risk for addiction. Benzodiazepines are effective over a short term period, typically less than 4 weeks. All classes of anti-anxiety medications require a doctor’s guidance to stop, as abruptly quitting these medications after taking them for a week or longer can cause severe, even temporarily debilitating side effects.

Benzodiazepine side effects

Restoril (temazepam, Normison) side effects. Temazepam side effects include dry mouth, nausea, muscle weakness, confusion and irritability. Restoril is powerful and has a high potential of abuse.

Valium (diazepam) side effects. Some of the most common side effects after taking diazepam include drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, memory problems, nausea, dry mouth, slurred speech and blurred vision. 

Xanax (alprazolam) side effects. Similarly, taking alprazolam can cause drowsiness, dizziness, insomnia, memory problems, poor balance, difficulty concentrating, and slurred speech among others.  

Klonopin (clonazepam) side effects. Clonazepam’s effects include dizziness, muscle aches, blurred vision, fatigue, depression, nervousness, and confusion. Additionally it can increase suicidal thoughts and behavior. 

Temesta. Temesta’s side-effects include drowsiness, hyperactivity, nausea, fainting and skin rashes. Temesta can cause memory impairment. 

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRI) Side Effects

SNRI side effects can include upset stomach, insomnia, sexual dysfunction, headache or a small increase in blood pressure. SNRIs can take days to weeks to start working, so they are not effective for a panic attack or anxiety attack that is underway. They work to prevent anxiety attacks from happening at all.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) Side Effects

SSRI side effects include nausea, sleep problems, problems having sex, tremors and in some cases nervousness. Like SNRIs, SSRIs do not work instantly. Once they have reached a therapeutic level in a person’s body, they can prevent uncomfortable levels of anxiety arising.

Tricyclic Antidepressant Side Effects

Tricyclic antidepressants may cause serious side effects, including dry mouth, blurry vision, urinary retention, constipation and orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure on rising).

Treating Depression-Related Anxiety With No Side Effects

If you want to beat anxiety that stems from depression and you’re concerned about the many side effects of medication, consider treatment via Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). This is an FDA cleared non-invasive treatment for depression and OCD, as well as any anxiety related to depression. TMS therapy uses targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that affect mood, which helps you get back to your best life quickly and with no side effects. Among the many treatment options out there, TMS therapy is an excellent, pain-free solution that is covered by most major insurance companies. The best part is there are no side effects from TMS therapy, making it an excellent solution for those who fear the side effects of certain medication. 

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer. 

Works Cited

Benzodiazepines: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions & Warnings. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/article/benzodiazepines.html#side-effects

Dellosso, B., Buoli, M., Baldwin, D. S., & Altamura, A. C. (2010). Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) in anxiety disorders: a comprehensive review of their clinical efficacy. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 25(1), 17–29. doi: 10.1002/hup.1074

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What are the real risks of antidepressants? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-are-the-real-risks-of-antidepressants

Papakostas, G. I., Thase, M. E., Fava, M., Nelson, J. C., & Shelton, R. C. (2007, December 1). Are antidepressant drugs that combine serotonergic and noradrenergic mechanisms of action more effective than the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in treating major depressive disorder? A meta-analysis of studies of newer agents. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17588546

Thase, M. E., Entsuah, A. R., & Rudolph, R. L. (2001). Remission rates during treatment with venlafaxine or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. British Journal of Psychiatry, 178(3), 234–241. doi: 10.1192/bjp.178.3.234

The most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. (2019, September 17). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825

What Are the Best Medications for Anxiety. Everyday Health. (2018, January 31). Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety/guide/medications/

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