Anxiety Medication for Dummies: Zoloft, Benzodiazepines and Opioids

No, you’re not an idiot! Understanding medication for any illness can be a difficult task, especially when it comes to anxiety medication such as Zoloft, benzodiazepines, and opioids. If you’ve spoken to your doctor or psychologist about medications that could help you to overcome your anxiety, then you may have become confused with the different options that are available. A large part of knowing how to treat anxiety will be understanding how medication interacts with your condition and the results that you can expect from any particular drug. This guide will provide you with an understanding of the most common anxiety pills used today.

What is Happening When Anxiety Starts?

Anxiety is triggered when past events, phobias, or other negative situations send your amygdala function into overdrive. The amygdala is made up of small clusters of nuclei in your brain. These nuclei set off other body functions in response to stress, all of which are considered part of the condition of anxiety. Blood sugar changes, adrenaline production, increased heart rate, and increased rate of breathing are just some of the changes that occur when your anxiety is triggered.

Some of the available medications work directly on amygdala function to fight anxiety. An example can be found in a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology (2008), which found that antidepressant medications can normalize amygdala functions in patients.

Zoloft as a Treatment for Anxiety

The drug known as Zoloft (sertraline chloride) is one of the more commonly prescribed anxiety medications. Anxiety is closely linked and often caused by depression, and the drug Zoloft is primarily an antidepressant. Not only is it used for general anxiety, but it can also treat social anxiety, PTSD, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Zoloft is a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), which means that it changes the brain chemistry to balance serotonin levels. This can help to balance mood, eliminate clinical depression, and treat anxiety.

Zoloft treats anxiety for longer courses, and is not used to counter episodes of anxiety or panic, for that, doctors will sometimes prescribe benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines for Short Term Anxiety Relief

Xanax and Valium are two drugs that can be prescribed to fight anxiety in symptoms as they happen. These drugs work as relaxants that temporarily slow the nervous system. They can work in a short period of time, sometimes within half an hour of taking a dose, or up to one hour in some situations. Although considered to be generally effective, there can be complications when taking benzodiazepines as anxiety pills.

Some patients will suffer from an atypical response to benzodiazepines, causing increased nervous system response and heightened anxiety. Sufferers who also suffer from depression are at risk of worsening their condition, and some patients may develop numbed emotional responses after use of benzodiazepines. A medical professional will be able to look at the medical history and symptoms of any patient, to determine of drugs like Xanax and Valium are suitable anxiety medications.

Opioids for Anxiety

Opioids are most commonly used to treat pain and are only recently gaining medical acceptance as effective anxiety treatments. Various opioids can be used to treat general anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even depression. Although some studies are promising (like this NCBI example) the risk of using opioids is still significant, considering they are highly addictive and can lead to the development of new mental health problems.

Is Medication Your Only Option?

No qualified psychologist or medical doctor would recommend medication as the only treatment for your condition. Anxiety medication should be used in conjunction with other proven treatment methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, or even self-help. With a full diagnosis and a comprehensive depression and anxiety test, your mental healthcare provider will be able to recommend the most suitable anxiety pills and psychological treatment plan.

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Latest update: November 15, 2016
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