Treating Anxiety Disorders with Medicine

An anxiety disorder can make you feel nervous or apprehensive, even without a clear reason. In people age 65 and older, generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders. Many times it occurs with depression. Certain anxiety disorders can cause intense feelings of fear or panic. You may even have physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, sweating, or dizziness. If you have these feelings, you don’t have to suffer anymore. Treatment to help you overcome your fears will likely include therapy (also called counseling). Medicine may also be prescribed to help control your symptoms.

Elderly woman with pill box.

Medicines

Certain medicines may be prescribed to help control your symptoms. So you may feel less anxious. You may also feel able to move forward with therapy. At first, medicines and dosages may need to be adjusted to find what works best for you. Try to be patient. Tell your healthcare provider how a medicine makes you feel. This way, you can work together to find the treatment that’s best for you. Keep in mind that medicines can have side effects. Talk with your provider about any side effects that are bothering you. Changing the dose or type of medicine may help. Don’t stop taking medicine on your own. That can cause symptoms to come back.

  • Anti-anxiety medicine. This medicine eases symptoms and helps you relax. Your healthcare provider will explain when and how to use it. It may be prescribed for use before situations that make you anxious. You may also be told to take medicine on a regular schedule. Anti-anxiety medicine may make you feel a little sleepy or “out of it.” Don’t drive a car or operate machinery while on this medicine, until you know how it affects you.

Caution

Never use alcohol or other drugs with anti-anxiety medicines. This could result in loss of muscular control, sedation, coma, or death. Also, use only the amount of medicine prescribed for you. If you think you may have taken too much, get emergency care right away.

  • Antidepressant medicine. This kind of medicine is often used to treat anxiety, even if you aren’t depressed. An antidepressant helps balance out brain chemicals. This helps keep anxiety under control. This medicine is taken on a schedule. It takes a few weeks to start working. If you don’t notice a change at first, you may just need more time. But if you don’t notice results after the first few weeks, tell your provider.

Keep taking medicines as prescribed

Never change your dosage, share or use another person's medicine, or stop taking your medicines without talking to your healthcare provider first. Keep the following in mind:

  • Some medicines must be taken on a schedule. Make this part of your daily routine. For instance, always take your pill before brushing your teeth. A pillbox can help you remember if you’ve taken your medicine each day.

  • Medicines are often taken for 6 to 12 months. Your healthcare provider will then evaluate whether you need to stay on them. Many people who have also had therapy may no longer need medicine to manage anxiety.

  • You may need to stop taking medicine slowly to give your body time to adjust. When it’s time to stop, your healthcare provider will tell you more. Remember: Never stop taking your medicine without talking to your provider first.

  • If symptoms return, you may need to start taking medicines again. This isn’t your fault. It’s just the nature of your anxiety disorder.

Special concerns

  • Side effects. Medicines may cause side effects. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist what you can expect. They may have ideas for avoiding some side effects.

  • Sexual problems. Some antidepressants can affect your desire for sex or your ability to have an orgasm. A change in dosage or medicine often solves the problem. If you have a sexual side effect that concerns you, tell your healthcare provider.

  • Addiction. If you’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol, you may not have a problem with medicines used to treat anxiety disorders. But always discuss the medicines with your healthcare provider before taking them. If you have a history of addiction, you may not be able to use certain medicines used to treat anxiety disorders.

  • Medicine interactions. Always check with your pharmacist before using any over-the-counter medicines, including herbal supplements.