Antidepressants Versus Anti-Anxiety Medications for Panic Disorder

Different Medications for Panic Symptoms

Panic disorder is a mental health condition that can be treated through professional help. Some of the most common treatment options include prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Many panic sufferers chose to take medications that can assist in reducing the severity of symptoms while going to therapy to learn ways to better manage these symptoms in the long run.

There are two main types of medications that are frequently prescribed for panic disorder sufferers: antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.

There are some potential pros and cons to each of these medications. Whether you are prescribed antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or both will depend on your particular needs, your medical history, and the recommendations made by your doctor.

Searching for information on medications for panic disorder? Read ahead to learn about the potential benefits and risks of taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for panic disorder.

Treating Panic Disorder Symptoms

As you may have already guessed by the name, antidepressants were initially used to effectively treat the symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. It was later discovered that these medications could also be used to successfully reduce anxiety-related symptoms. There are different classes of antidepressants, the most common include:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s):

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs):

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs):

  • Elavil (amitriptyline)
  • Asendin (amoxapine)
  • Norpramin (desipramine)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs):

  • Nardil (phenelzine)
  • Parnate (tranylcypromine)
  • Marplan (isocarboxazid)

Each of these types of antidepressants works to impact different neurotransmitters. These naturally occurring chemicals are located in the brain and are responsible for different bodily functions. Antidepressants can help bring balance to various neurotransmitters, which can positively impact one’s mood, feelings of anxiety, and energy levels. Antidepressants may help lower anxiety and decrease the frequency and severity of panic attacks.

Anti-anxiety medications work in a similar way, impacting the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter system in the brain. These medications work quickly to lower anxiety and are fast acting in reducing the symptoms of panic attacks. Anti-anxiety medications can bring about a sense of serenity and relaxation.

Anti-anxiety medications are currently used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), phobias, social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic disorder.

They have also been found to be helpful in treating anxiety associated with depression and bipolar disorder, alcohol withdrawal, sleep disturbances, seizures, and muscle pain and spasms.

The most common type of anti-anxiety medications, benzodiazepines, are also known as sedatives or tranquilizers due to their calming effect. Some frequently prescribed benzodiazepines include Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam).

Potential Concerns and Risk Factors

Although both antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications have been found to be a safe and effective way to treat panic disorder, there are some potential risk factors that you need to be aware of before taking these drugs. Your doctor may review some of these issues with you before you begin your prescription.

Both medications have the potential for certain side effects. Weight gain, sleep disturbances, nervousness, nausea, and changes in sex drive are some of the common side effects associated with antidepressants. The side effects of anti-anxiety medications may include dry mouth, lightheadedness, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating. These side effects should decrease over time as your body adjusts to the medication. However, you should always consult your doctor if side effects persist, worsen, or become unmanageable.

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) labeled antidepressants with what is known of as a “black box warning.” According to the FDA’s warning, research has determined a connection between the use of antidepressants and risk for suicide, especially for children, adolescents, and young adults prescribed this type of medication. These populations should be carefully monitored for suicidal thoughts and behaviors when first starting out with an antidepressant.

Anti-anxiety medications have been associated with dependency and addiction. If you have any apprehension about taking a medication with such warnings, express your concerns to your doctor. She will help you determine if these medications are right for you.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC: Author.

Batelaan, N. M., Van BalkomStein, A. J., and Stein, D. (2012). Evidence-based Pharmacotherapy of Panic Disorder: An Update. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 15, 403-415.

Preston, John D., O'Neal, John H., Talaga, Mary C. (2010). Handbook of Clinical Psychopharmacology for Therapist, 6th ed. 2010 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Silverman, Harold M. (2012). The Pill Book. 15th ed. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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