Risks and Benefits of Anti-Anxiety Medications
Anti-anxiety medications are a class of drugs called benzodiazepines.
The most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Klonopin (clonazepan), and Valium (diazepam).
The benefits of anti-anxiety medication
1. The number one benefit of anti-anxiety medication is the obvious. They very effectively stop anxiety and put the mind and body in a relaxed state of peace and calm.
2. Anti-anxiety medications block the cycle of anxiety. The cycle feeds on itself and builds anxiety as follows. Feel anxious, try to relax, unable to relax, feel more anxious, fear you can’t relax, more anxiety accompanied by a feeling of being out of control, more anxiety, more loss of control, etc.
3. Stopping the cycle of anxiety has many physiological benefits. Most importantly reducing the release of adrenaline thus lowering the risk of adrenal fatigue. It also lowers cortisol and other stress reactions in the body. When your body is calm you can think clearer, digest food better, and the strain on all of your organs and physiological processes is reduced.
4. By being in a more relaxed state you can achieve better and deeper sleep. While the medical community use to think that the brain needed to rest during sleep. The latest research shows that the brain preforms very important functions, critical to our well being, that can only be accomplished during sleep.
5. Medications not only help to relieve anxiety. They also relieve the powerlessness that results when you can’t stop the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and panic. Medications provide hope. They avoid the build up of anxiety, misery and frustration that results from being unable to control the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and panic.
6. By simply knowing relief is available, many people can avoid anxiety without even taking the medication. They find comfort just in knowing it’s there.
Risks of Anti-anxiety medication
1. Benzodiazepines “may be habit forming“. This means your body can develop a physical dependency / addiction to this type of medicine. Mostly intended for short term use, the longer the usage the greater the risk for addiction. Addiction, once developed, has no known cure. However, it can be arrested with treatment or 12 step programs. Addiction remains for life and creates a susceptiblity to other forms of addiction such as food, alcohol, shopping, gambling, pain killers, etc.
2. Due to the risk of addiction, physical withdrawal symptoms can occur upon cessation of anti-anxiety medicine (talk with your MD before reducing or stopping anti-anxiety medications). These withdrawal symptoms can include:
- anxiety, restlessness and irritability, shaking
- headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, seizures
- confusion, hallucinations
- tiredness, dizziness, numbness or tingling
- rapid heart beat
3. Anti-anxiety medicines should not be mixed with alcohol due to a synergistic reaction. This means that the effect of both drugs are increased when taken together. A 1 + 1 = 4 effect. Taking these medicines with alcohol regularly increases the risk of addiction.
4. Anti-anxiety medication may cause serious side effects.
Serious side effects can include:
- depressed mood, suicidal thoughts and an increased risk of self harm or suicide
- agitation, hostility, hyperactivity
- feeling light-headed
Less serious side effects can include:
- drowsiness, dizziness, tiredness
- blurred vision
- lack of balance or coordination
- amnesia, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating
- nausea, vomiting, appetite changes
- skin rash.
*List is not all inclusive.
5. Anti-anxiety medication can interact with other drugs including cold and allergy medicines. (talk with your MD or Pharmacy about possible interactions)
6. Psychological dependency is an emotional reliance on the medication to the exclusion of natural coping skills and abilities. When this happens a lack of confidence and a fear of being without the medicine increases a person’s reliance on the drug.
Anti-anxiety medications are intended for brief short term use. If you feel you need medication. Then psychotherapy is a must to develop other coping skills and treat the underlying root causes of your anxiety. Not just mask the symptoms.