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Anxiety

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Are Anxiety Meds Addictive?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Dec 28, 2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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If you’ve been struggling with anxiety and believe in prescription medication as an effective method for treatment, it’s important to recognize their potential for addiction and only use them as prescribed by a healthcare professional. Following the correct dosage of anxiety medication can relieve the symptoms that you’ve been experiencing, but it’s important to approach treatment with awareness and care.

If you’re concerned about the risks of addiction and wish to explore your treatment options including non-addictive anxiety medications, find a provider on Klarity today.

The Potential Side-Effects of Taking Anxiety Meds

Although they offer relief for your symptoms, anxiety medications come with a spectrum of potential side effects. These effects vary depending on the type of medication and individual responses. 

Common mild side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Possible weight changes or gastrointestinal issues

More severe side effects, though less common, can be concerning. These include:

  • Increased anxiety, 
  • Severe mood swings
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

An additional side effect of anxiety medication that has severely impacted the lives of millions is dependency. Due to the addictive properties in many medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety and other mental health disorders, they can be dangerous if abused.

Controlled substances are meant to be used solely under the careful supervision of a healthcare provider and used only as prescribed. Misuse, such as exceeding recommended doses, using the medication more frequently than directed, or using someone else’s medication, can result in serious health complications.

These complications can include physical dependence, cardiac-related problems, psychological disorders, and in extreme instances, even death. Effective and safe treatment involves adhering to healthcare professionals’ prescriptions precisely and maintaining regular communication regarding any side effects or concerns.

Why Some Anxiety Meds Are More Addictive Than Others

Several factors influence the addictive potential of anxiety medications. The chemical structure of the drug is a primary element. Some medications act directly on the brain’s reward system — a network of interconnected systems responsible for feelings of enjoyment, drive, and reward-based learning — which can lead to a higher potential for misuse and addiction. 

Medications that produce a rapid onset of effects are often associated with a higher risk of addiction. This is because they can create a cycle of dependency where the individual becomes accustomed to the immediate relief they provide. 

The duration of the medication’s effects also plays a role. Short-acting medications like Xanax or Lorazepam may lead to a cycle of repeated use to maintain that sense of relief, increasing the risk of addiction. In contrast, longer-acting medications such as Zoloft or Effexor XR provide more sustained relief without the need for frequent dosing, potentially reducing the risk of dependency. Understanding these factors is important in choosing the right medication and using it safely under the supervision of a licensed medical provider to avoid potential dependency.

Licensed providers on Klarity provide personalized treatment. Find a provider that matches your needs and preferences.

Which Anxiety Meds are Most Addictive?

While numerous anxiety medications provide significant relief, some are more prone to leading to dependency and addiction. Gaining clarity on which drugs carry these risks and understanding the underlying reasons are essential steps in forming a safe and effective anxiety management strategy. It’s a vital aspect to consider for anyone facing anxiety and looking toward medication for assistance, as well as the prescribing doctor or therapist. Be sure to ask your provider about non-addictive anxiety medications.

Benzodiazepines and the Risk of Dependence

Benzodiazepines, often prescribed for anxiety disorders, are notorious for their potential for dependence and addiction. This class of medications includes well-known drugs like Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). They are highly effective in providing quick relief from acute anxiety symptoms due to their sedative effects on the brain. This rapid action, while beneficial in short-term anxiety management, is a double-edged sword.

The fast-acting nature of benzodiazepines leads to their effects wearing off quickly, which can create a cycle where the body and mind begin to rely on these drugs for normal functioning. Over time this can lead to building tolerance, where higher doses are needed to achieve the same effect. It can also result in physical dependence, where the body requires the drug to function normally. This dependency risk is heightened with long-term use, improper dosing, or when used without strict medical supervision.

Given these risks, benzodiazepines are typically recommended for short-term use or as a last resort when other anxiety medications have not been effective. It’s crucial for individuals using these medications to do so under the close guidance of a healthcare provider, who can monitor for signs of dependency and help manage dosage and duration of use appropriately.

Non-Addictive Anxiety Medication

Although a provider on Klarity may recommend taking medication with addictive properties to manage your anxiety effectively, it’s heartening to know that there are also several non-addictive medication options available. These alternatives offer relief from symptoms of anxiety disorders without the heightened risk of dependency that comes with some other medications. 

From selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to Beta-Blockers and more, we’ll discuss non-addictive anxiety medications that provide effective anxiety relief while minimizing the risk of addiction. Understanding these options can empower individuals and their healthcare providers to make informed decisions in selecting the right anxiety medication for you.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

SSRIs such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Lexapro (escitalopram) are among the most commonly prescribed medications for long-term anxiety management. They work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating your mood. 

Unlike benzodiazepines, SSRIs don’t offer immediate relief. Instead, they require several weeks to build up their effect, which contributes to their lower risk of addiction. SSRIs are generally considered safer for long-term use, but they may still cause mild and manageable side effects like nausea, headaches, and sleep disturbances.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors

SNRIs, including medications like Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine), work by increasing the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation. This approach makes SNRIs effective in treating anxiety, with a similar low risk of addiction as SSRIs.

SNRIs are often chosen when an individual is not effectively responding to SSRIs. SNRIs can have side effects like nausea, dizziness, and dry mouth, but these are typically mild and manageable with medical guidance.

Beta-Blockers

Beta-blockers, such as Propranolol and Atenolol, are primarily used to treat cardiovascular conditions but have been found effective in managing the physical symptoms of anxiety, like rapid heartbeat and tremors. They work by blocking the effects of the stress hormone adrenaline, thus reducing physical symptoms of anxiety. Since beta-blockers don’t have direct effects on the brain’s mood centers, they have a low risk of dependency as a non-addictive anxiety medication. They are often used for situational anxiety, like performance anxiety, and have side effects like fatigue and cold hands or feet.

Vistaril

The antihistamine Vistaril is another medication option for managing anxiety. It has sedative properties and is less likely to cause dependence compared to benzodiazepines. Vistaril is often used for short-term management of anxiety symptoms and can be especially helpful in reducing nervousness before surgery. Side effects may include drowsiness, dry mouth, and dizziness, but it generally has a low risk of serious side effects.

Buspar

Buspar is a medication specifically designed for treating anxiety. Unlike benzodiazepines, Buspar does not have sedative properties and is not a CNS depressant, reducing the risk of addiction. It’s particularly useful for generalized anxiety disorder and takes several weeks to take effect fully. Common side effects are dizziness, nausea, and headache, but it’s well-tolerated by most people.

Signs of Anxiety Medication Addiction

Detecting early warning signs of addiction to anxiety medication is of the utmost importance in maintaining one’s well-being and involves being vigilant for several key indicators:

  1. Individuals may develop an increased tolerance to the medication over time, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms can manifest when attempts are made to reduce or discontinue the medication, and these symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
  1. An individual who is struggling with anxiety medication addiction may exhibit a preoccupation with obtaining and using the medication, often prioritizing it over other aspects of their life.
  2. Recognizing these signs early on is crucial to address the issue effectively.

How to Avoid Medication Misuse

Efforts to prevent the misuse of anxiety medication center around several fundamental strategies. First and foremost, individuals must adhere to the specific instructions their healthcare provider provides when taking the medication. This includes the prescribed dosage, frequency, and duration of use. 

Understanding the medication’s potential side effects is equally important, as it empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their treatment. Regular check-ins with your healthcare provider are essential for monitoring progress and addressing any concerns or adjustments needed in the treatment plan. By diligently following these steps, one can significantly reduce the risk of medication misuse.

Find the Right Anxiety Medication For You

Selecting the right anxiety medication for you is a unique and personalized journey for each individual who visits Klarity for an online consultation. During this meeting, your chosen medical provider on Klarity will conduct a comprehensive assessment, taking into account various factors such as the patient’s medical history, the specific nature of their anxiety symptoms, and any potential interactions with other medications. They may recommend taking non-addictive anxiety medications for your treatment.

By collaborating with a healthcare professional, patients can make well-informed decisions and embark on a treatment plan that best addresses their anxiety while minimizing potential risks and side effects.

Find a provider on Klarity today to learn more about anxiety treatment for mental disorders and which anxiety medications are addictive.

SOURCES

Washburn House. “5 Non-Addictive Anxiety Medications.”

https://www.washburnhouse.com/addiction-recovery-blog/non-addictive-anxiety-medication/

Safai, Yalda. “Popular anti-anxiety medications may be highly addictive, FDA says. But is the warning too late?” ABC News.

https://abcnews.go.com/Health/popular-anti-anxiety-medications-highly-addictive-fda-warning/story?id=73295488

Von Molke, Lisa. “Medication dependence and anxiety.” Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Tufts University School of Medicine.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181633/

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