Better Me

How to Evaluate the Pros and Cons of 6 Top Anxiety Medications

It’s normal to be anxious sometime. Situations that can trigger anxiety include speaking in front of a crowd, taking an airplane flight, or going on a job interview. But for a lot of people, anxiety isn’t just a once-in-a-while case of the jitters. It’s a mental health problem that affects how they function.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the U.S., or more than 18% of the population, have anxiety disorders every year. Saurabh Jauhari, MD, a psychiatrist at Banner Health Center in Sun City West, AZ, said that for many people, fear of anxiety is more troublesome than actual anxiety. For example, your apprehension about a job interview can be worse than the anxiety you experience during the interview.

Fortunately, anxiety responds well to treatment. A doctor may recommend a prescription medication for people with anxiety disorders—here’s what to know about six of the most commonly prescribed types of medication to treat anxiety.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SSRIs and SNRIs are often the first-line treatment for anxiety and major depressive disorder. Common SSRI brands are Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft. Common SNRI brands are Pristiq, Cymbalta, and Effexor XR.

  • Pros: SSRIs work for a lot of people who suffer from symptoms of anxiety and they have a solid safety profile.
  • Cons: They can take four to six weeks to build up in your system. They could cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhea and could lead to low sodium levels. For a small number of people, they cause sexual side effects.


Vistaril is an antihistamine that can treat itching from allergies as well as anxiety.

  • Pro: You can take Vistaril as needed, for short-term anxiety relief such as before surgery.
  • Cons: It can cause dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision or constipation.


Buspar increases your levels of the feel-good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

  • Pros: Along with relieving anxiety it can improve your sense of well-being and help you think more clearly and worry less.
  • Cons: It can lead to dizziness and drowsiness with nausea.

Abilify and Seroquel

Abilify and Seroquel are typical antipsychotics that can treat a range of mental health and mood disorders, including depression episodes and bipolar 1 disorder, by helping to balance certain brain chemicals. 

  • Pros: They work quickly, so you can get relief within a few days.
  • Cons: They can make you drowsy, though that can be a benefit if you’re having trouble sleeping. They can cause muscle stiffness, spasms, dry mouth and involuntary body movements. Rare but serious side effects, like neuroleptic malignant syndrome, can occur and require immediate medical attention.


Benzodiazepines are tranquilizers—common types are diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan).

Beta blockers

The beta blocker Propranolol is approved for social anxiety.

  • Pros: You can take it to reduce anxiety before stage performances or public speaking. It doesn’t make you sleepy.
  • Cons: It can increase the risk of low blood pressure or dizziness.

With all these options, how can you choose?

Your doctor can recommend the best medication to help control your anxiety. There are different types of anxiety disorders, so different medications may be better choices for your type. Your doctor will also consider your other health conditions and medications, and whether you have a family history of responding better to a certain medication. It's essential to consider potential allergic reactions, especially for individuals with known allergies to certain medications, to ensure safe and effective treatment for anxiety. Since you might be taking medication long-term, you may want to factor in affordability.

What other treatments can help manage anxiety?

Medications for anxiety are safe and effective and are good options for many people. But some people want to avoid medication, and some want to combine medication with other treatments. You can try:

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a first-line treatment for anxiety, and phobias can respond to biofeedback and exposure therapy.
  • Stress management techniques. You can learn breathing techniques and progressive muscle relaxation to reduce anxiety.
  • Lifestyle modifications. Getting enough quality sleep, exercising, and avoiding alcohol, illicit drugs and excessive caffeine can help reduce anxiety.
  • Support groups. Connecting with people who share your experiences can be valuable.

The bottom line

“Anxiety can be debilitating but it is treatable,” Dr. Jauhari said. With the right therapies, lifestyle changes, and medication, you can control your anxiety and you’ll be able to function well, be productive and live your life.

For a referral to a Banner Health mental health professional who can help treat your anxiety, visit

If you experience severe symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or text "TALK" to 741741 for help.

To learn more about anxiety and mental health issues, check out:

Anxiety Behavioral Health