What Are Some Medications for Anxiety?

Major Classes of Medications Used for Anxiety and Some Alternatives

Young woman in bed with medicine bottle and pills. Credit: Seb Oliver / Getty Images

There are four major classes of medications used to treat anxiety and anxiety disorders, as well as some alternative medications that may be helpful. 

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs work by stopping the neurotransmitter serotonin from being absorbed into certain areas of the brain, which boosts mood. Common SSRIs are Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine) and Lexapro (escitalopram).

Side effects may include dry mouth, insomnia, drowsiness, nausea, sexual issues, weight changes, headache, diarrhea or vomiting.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIS) 

SNRIs work similarly to SSRIs, only they affect both serotonin and norepinephrine. Common SNRIs include Effexor (venlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine). Side effects may include sweating more than usual, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, insomnia, dry mouth, headache, appetite loss, sexual problems, feeling tired or constipation.


This class of anti-anxiety medication is what we probably think of most when we think about anxiety relief. It includes medications like Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam). These medications work to ease muscle tension and promote relaxation. Because they tend to have a sedative effect, they are usually taken before bed.

Benzodiazepines are normally only used for short-term treatment because they can become addictive as your tolerance to them increases.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are not prescribed as often as SSRIs because they are older antidepressants and tend to have more, and more serious, side effects.

However, they can be a helpful part of treatment for people who don't do well with other medications. Common TCAs include amitriptyline, Pamelor (nortriptyline), Tofranil (imipramine), Vivactil (protriptyline) and Norpramin (desipramine). Side effects may include your blood pressure dropping when you stand up, blurry vision, dry mouth, constipation, tremor, irregular heart rate and drowsiness. 

BuSpar (Buspirone)

Chemically unrelated to any other anti-anxiety medications, BuSpar (buspirone) is classified as an anti-anxiety medication, approved to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and is also often used for short-term anxiety relief. It does not have the dependence potential that some benzodiazepines may. Alcohol should be avoided while on this medication as it can make side effects worse.

Common side effects of BuSpar include dizziness, dream changes, headache and nausea. Rare side effects may include blood pressure changes, spasms or cramps in your muscles, red or itchy eyes, fainting or weight and/or appetite changes.

Neurontin (Gabapentin)

Neurontin (gabapentin) is a medication that is primarily used to treat seizures. It has been found useful for treating some mood and anxiety disorders, as well as neuropathic pain, and is sometimes prescribed for these ailments as well.

Common side effects of Neurontin include clumsiness, constipation, nausea, mood swings, drowsiness, tremor, dizziness, rash, vision changes, constipation and fatigue.

Beta Blockers

Beta-adrenergic blocking agents, known as beta blockers, are used primarily for heart conditions such as high blood pressure. They are sometimes helpful for stage-fright or other anxiety conditions that include palpitations or rapid heart rate. Examples of beta blockers are Inderal (propranolol), Sectral (acebutolol), Tenormin (atenolol), Zebeta (bisoprolol), Corgard (nadolol) and Lopressor (metoprolol).

Common side effects of beta blockers include tiredness, constipation, upset stomach, dizziness, headache, cold hands, diarrhea or constipation. Less common side effects are difficulty sleeping, loss of libido, depression and shortness of breath.


"Medication." Anxiety and Depression Association of America (2016).

"Buspirone (BuSpar)." National Alliance on Mental Illness (2013).

"Gabapentin. Brand Name: Neurontin."  Stanford Medicine (2016).

"High blood pressure." Mayo Clinic (2014).

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