Anxiety Medications


Anxiety Medications, Anxiety Pharmacologic Management, Anxiety Management, Anxiolytic

  • Precautions
  1. Anxiety Non-pharmacologic Management is a cornerstone to Anxiety Management
    1. Medications should be adjunctive to non-medication therapy
  2. Benzodiazepines are best limited to short-term Anxiety Management
    1. Consider in severe anxiety while bridging to longterm strategies (e.g. SNRI and CBT)
    2. Longterm use risks dependency and abuse
  • Management
  • First-Line Agents
  1. Indicated as primary agents for anxiety as well as for concurrent depression
    1. Start at low dose and titrate to effective dose (warn patients of delayed effect over 2-4 weeks)
    2. Switch medications or add adjunctive agents if not effective after 4-6 weeks at optimal dose
    3. Continue medications for at least 12 months before tapering dose
  2. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
    1. Venlafaxine (Effexor ER)
      1. Excellent first-line agent with good efficacy, and generally well tolerated in Anxiety Disorder
      2. Starting dose: 37.5 mg/day (of extended release)
    2. Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
      1. Has not been evaluated for use in Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  3. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs
    1. Paroxetine (Paxil)
    2. Escitalopram (Lexapro) or Citalopram (Celexa)
    3. Sertraline (Zoloft)
  1. Precautions
    1. Use short-term for severe anxiety until SSRI or SNRI reaches effectiveness
    2. Consider longer-term only with caution and Consultation if severe anxiety refractory to non-Benzodiazepines
  2. Short-acting Benzodiazepines
    1. Lorazepam (Ativan)
      1. Indicated when a Benzodiazepine cannot be avoided in the elderly or with decreased Creatinine Clearance
    2. Avoid Alprazolam
      1. Higher risk of abuse and withdrawal (rapid onset, short half-life)
  3. Long Acting Benzodiazepines
    1. Clonazepam (Klonopin)
      1. Less abused than the shorter acting agents (but still, abuse is common)
  • Management
  • Adjunctive Pharmacotherapy - Second Line
  1. Buspirone (Buspar)
    1. Start at 7.5 mg orally twice daily (and may titrate to 30 mg twice daily)
    2. Use on scheduled basis (too long of delayed onset to be used as needed)
    3. More effective than Placebo in Generalized Anxiety Disorder
    4. Not effective in Panic Disorder
  2. Hydroxyzine (Atarax, Vistaril)
    1. Sedating Antihistamine with rapid onset that may be used as needed
  3. Atypical Antipsychotics
    1. Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  4. Tricyclic Antidepressants (may be useful in transitioning off Benzodiazepines)
    1. Imipramine (Tofranil)
    2. Desipramine (Norpramin)
  5. Pregabalin (Lyrica)
    1. Relieves Anxiety Symptoms with similar efficacy to SSRIs and Benzodiazepines
    2. Minimum threshold effective dose is 200 mg per day
    3. Adverse effects include drowsiness, Dizziness and weight gain
    4. Risks for misuse and abuse (as with Gabapentin)
    5. Bech (2007) Pharmacopsychiatry 40(4): 163-8 [PubMed]
  6. Gabapentin (Neurontin)
    1. Has also been used instead of Pregabalin (Lyrica)
  • Management
  • Adjunctive Pharmacotherapy - Third Line
  1. MAO inhibitors
    1. Indicated for concurrent phobia
    2. Phenelzine (Nardil)
    3. Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
  2. Cardiovascular agents (excessive autonomic symptoms)
    1. Clonidine (Catapres)
    2. Beta Blockers
      1. Indicated for excessive autonomic symptoms
      2. Propranolol (Inderal)
      3. Atenolol (Tenormin)
  • Management
  • Children
  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (most important single intervention)
  2. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)
    1. SSRIs combined with CBT are 80% effective in pediatric anxiety
    2. Fluoxetine (Prozac)
    3. Citalopram (Celexa)
    4. Sertraline (Zoloft)
    5. Avoid Paroxetine (Paxil) due to withdrawal risk
  3. Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRI)
    1. Venlafaxine (Effexor)
  4. Other agents with specific indications
    1. Clomipramine indications
      1. Inadequate effect with CBT and SSRI or SNRI
      2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
    2. Benzodiazepine indications
      1. Short-term as needed use for severe anxiety and panic while initiating other therapy
  5. Precautions
    1. Avoid Tricyclic Antidepressants due to low efficacy in pediatric anxiety
  6. References
    1. (2013) Presc Lett 20(5): 29
    2. Todd (2012) Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am 21(4):789-806 [PubMed]
  • Complications
  • Medications in the Elderly
  1. Ataxia with risk of falls and secondary Fracture
  2. Decreased cognition
  • References
  1. (2014) Presc Lett 21(10): 60
  2. Greenberger (1995) Mind over Mood, Guilford Press
  3. Bourne (1997) Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, Fine Comm.
  4. Kavan (2009) Am Fam Physician 79(9): 785-91 [PubMed]
  5. Locke (2015) Am Fam Physician 91(9): 617-24 [PubMed]
  6. Wittchen (2002) J Clin Psychiatry 63:24-34 [PubMed]