Anti-anxiety, or anti-panic, medications include the benzodiazepine class which have the ability to counteract anxiety, prevent racing thoughts and relax muscles. Benzodiazepines, also known as tranquilisers, include medications such as Xanax pills, Ativan pills, Valium tablets and Klonopin. These medications act on the central nervous system to help manage the symptoms of severe anxiety and are often used to treat the following conditions:
Benzodiazepines also make it easier for a person to get a good night's sleep, which is essential for reducing anxiety levels. Research has shown that there is a bidirectional relationship between insomnia and anxiety.
In other words, the one condition can make the other worse, leading to a vicious cycle that usually requires treatment. By inducing a calming effect, these medications reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and they help prevent nighttime awakenings.
Due to their ability to relax the central nervous system, these medications also have other uses. They can be taken as a premedication before a medical procedure like dental work or an endoscopy to help nervous patients stay calm. They can also be taken to treat muscle spasms, seizures and alcohol withdrawal. These tranquilisers are useful in the treatment of various conditions and are the most widely used nerve-calming medications in the world.
Anxiety medication works quickly, usually relieving anxiety within 30-60 minutes, although some patients may experience the effects within as little as 5-10 minutes. These medications are therefore highly effective in the treatment of conditions like panic disorder, which involves sudden and unexpected panic attacks. Benzodiazepines can be taken at regular times each day or as needed to prevent or reduce the intensity of panic attacks.
These medications induce a relaxing effect by binding to GABA receptors, which are large protein systems that are found in certain nerve cells in the body. This is essential, as GABA is the primary inhibitory or nerve-relaxing, neurotransmitter in the brain. Most patients start feeling better within an hour after the first dose; however, it may take one or two weeks of treatment to experience the full benefits.
The best anti-anxiety medication a patient decides to use will usually depend on several factors. Aspects like the anxiety disorder being treated, your age and how well you tolerate the medication can determine the most suitable treatment. For example, diazepam tends to take effect faster than alprazolam and it stays active in the body for longer. However, it is not approved for panic disorder whereas alprazolam is approved for this condition.
People over the age of 65 tend to be more sensitive to the sedating properties of benzodiazepines. For this reason, they may benefit more from benzodiazepines with a short half-life such as alprazolam. This anti-anxiety medication generally does not accumulate in the body and is rapidly eliminated from the system, offering more flexibility with dosing schedules.
The beneficial effects of benzodiazepines are similar to one another, however, they differ slightly in terms of how long stay in the system. The following table consists of some of the most popular benzodiazepine medications available online along with their relevant half-life and primary uses:
|Brand name||Main ingredient||Half-life||Primary uses|
|Xanax||Alprazolam 1 mg||11 to 13 hours||Anxiety and panic disorders|
|Valium||Diazepam 10 mg||30 to 56 hours||Anxiety disorders, insomnia, muscle spasms, epilepsy, procedural anxiety and alcohol withdrawal|
|Ativan||Lorazepam||14 hours||Anxiety disorders, insomnia and procedural anxiety|
|Klonopin||Clonazepam||18 to 60 hours||Epilepsy and panic disorder|
Anti-anxiety medication is beneficial in the treatment of panic disorder, with or without agoraphobia. Panic disorder involves panic attacks that occur repeatedly and this can significantly interfere with a person's general well-being. A panic attack is a sudden period of intense anxiety, even when there is no real or apparent danger.
Agoraphobia is a separate but closely related condition that can develop as a result of panic disorder. A patient with agoraphobia is generally afraid of experiencing a panic attack in circumstances that are difficult or embarrassing to escape.
Medications like benzodiazepines, particularly Xanax and Klonopin, play a crucial part in the treatment of panic disorder. These medications significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety, which helps prevent panic attacks, ultimately restoring a person's ability to function normally.
These medications are also beneficial in the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder. People with this condition tend to worry excessively about everyday circumstances like work, family, health or other similar circumstances.
An uncontrollable worry cycle is common among people with generalised anxiety disorder. Sometimes, just the thought of getting through the day can provoke anxiety and benzodiazepines can be used to restore a patient's functional ability.
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is a condition that involves exaggerated fear in social situations, particularly situations that are unfamiliar. A person with social phobia typically feels as if they are being watched or negatively evaluated by others and this can provoke excessive levels of anxiety.
Social phobia can interfere with a person's daily activities but people with this condition can learn to feel at ease in social settings. Studies have found that the benzodiazepines are a superior treatment for social anxiety disorder.
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Updated: 27th January 2021
Review Due: January 2022
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