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Anti Anxiety Medications

Also called: Anxiolytics

- Summary
- About anti-anxiety medications
- Conditions treated
- Conditions of concern
- Potential side effects
- Drug or other interactions
- Lifestyle considerations
- Symptoms of overdose
- Pregnancy use issues
- Elderly use issues
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Steven A. King, M.D.


Anti-anxiety medications are drugs most often used to relieve symptoms of fear and anxiety experienced by some people. They are highly effective in treating most types of anxiety disorders, regardless of the underlying cause, and some may begin to work in as little as 30 minutes.

The most commonly used anti-anxiety medications include benzodiazepines and buspirone, which is slower-acting than benzodiazepines but has fewer side effects. A number of medications that were first introduced as antidepressants are also commonly used to treat many types of anxiety disorders.

Anti-anxiety medications are available in a variety of formulations, including tablets, capsules, oral solutions, suppositories and injections.

In addition to treating anxiety, these medications are sometimes used for other purposes, such as treating transient insomnia and helping patients more comfortably withdraw from other medications.

Despite the effectiveness of these drugs, some (benzodiazepines) have been shown to be potentially habit-forming or to cause withdrawal symptoms in patients who discontinue them too suddenly. For these reasons, patients must closely follow their physician’s recommendations about how to properly take anti-anxiety medications.

Patients who have certain health problems – such as kidney or liver conditions, narrow-angle glaucoma or a history of substance abuse – may not be good candidates for some anti-anxiety medications.

Patients who take anti-anxiety drugs should avoid activities that require alertness or good psychomotor function until the effect of the drug on the patient’s nervous system response has become clear. Smoking should be avoided and patients should refrain from drinking alcohol, which can have a potentially lethal interaction with the medications. Certain medications (including other central nervous system [CNS] depressants) may increase sedation when taken with anti-anxiety medications.

Signs of overdose with anti-anxiety medications may be similar to – but more severe than – side effects associated with these drugs. These may include significant increases or decreases in blood pressure and heart rate, severe dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea and vomiting.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly should either not take these drugs, or only take them with great caution and under close supervision of a physician.

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Review Date: 04-18-2007

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