Anxiety is a national epidemic and one of the country’s most common mental health disorders. Although anyone can feel anxious from time to time, millions of Americans struggle with the overwhelming symptoms of anxiety disorders.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that nearly 20% of adults — about 40 million Americans — have an anxiety disorder. Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 31.9% of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 experience anxiety, with more than 8% of them having severe symptoms.
Anxiety is an umbrella term that covers several disorders, including generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although each one has unique causes and differing symptoms, general signs of anxiety include:
- Restlessness, apprehension, and dread
- Feelings of irritability, tension, or jumpiness
- Always expecting the worst outcome
- Racing heart, sweating, twitches
- Shortness of breath
- Headaches, upset stomach
- Sleep disruption, including insomnia
Thankfully, anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but finding the right anxiety medication can be challenging, particularly since some drugs may be addictive. However, once you gain a deeper understanding of available treatments, you feel empowered to find a solution. Non-addictive, safe anxiety medications are available and can help you navigate a path forward to get back to yourself.
Understanding the Conventional Anxiety Medications
Comprehensive treatment that includes psychotherapy yields the best results. Conventional anxiety medications work by influencing your brain’s chemicals to help alter your thought patterns and emotions. Used in combination with psychotherapy, these medications can provide effective relief from symptoms. However, it’s challenging to predict how you will respond to medication. Various medications work differently for each person.
For some people, low-dose anxiety medication combined with therapy and lifestyle changes can be life changing. For others, conventional treatments may not provide relief.
Worse, some anxiety medications may be abused, and others can be addictive.
The Risks of Addiction with Conventional Anxiety Medications
Some conventional anti-anxiety drugs can be habit forming. Benzodiazepines, including Valium and Klonopin, can relieve the symptoms of anxiety but come with a significant risk of addiction. These medications work quickly, typically within 30-45 minutes, because they work on the same receptor site as alcohol, they have a high abuse potential. When taken in combination with alcohol they can also be very dangerous.
Signs of an addiction to anxiety medication include taking more of the medication than the maximum daily dose prescribed, using the medications for an effect other than the intended purpose i.e. “to feel better” and not being honest about how much you are using. The increasing dependence may create negative effects, including withdrawal from social activities and an impact on your work life. Commonly abused anxiety drugs include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin.
Antidepressants as a Non-Addictive Treatment Option for Anxiety
Antidepressants are often doctors’ first choice for prescribing non-addictive anxiety medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are typically the first-line treatment option. Medications like Citalopram, Fluoxetine, Sertraline, and Vilazodone work by changing how brain neurons communicate. They may take up to six weeks or longer to take full effect, but they are typically well tolerated by many patients, with minimal side effects.
Selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Duloxetine and Venlafaxine work similarly to SSRIs. These meds are often used by patients who don’t respond to SSRIs, but they may have energizing side effects that can worsen some anxiety symptoms.
Anti-Anxiety Medications Without Addiction Risks
Addictive anxiety medications may be effective but have risks of abuse, but non-addictive alternatives help relieve symptoms without producing a “high.” For most people, the go-to solution includes beginning with low a dose of a non-narcotic anxiety med, such as:
- Buspirone, which has minimal side effects and no addictive properties
- Beta-blockers, which help reduce rapid heartbeat, jitters, and anxiousness
- Vistaril, an antihistamine that can be used as needed for anxiety
Non-Addictive Alternatives to Conventional Anxiety Medications
Some people may not need medication at all. Anxiety can be relieved with a combination of psychotherapy and alternative treatment options and lifestyle changes. Examples of some effective and often underrated tools to help treat anxiety include:
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness is all about remaining in the moment, while meditation and deep breathing can help calm your parasympathetic nervous system.
- Yoga and Tai Chi: These practices help connect you more deeply with your body and the world around you for improved mental resilience.
- Exercise: Physical activity like walking, running, swimming, and strength training can release “feel good” chemicals in your brain. It can also take your mind off anxiety, increase confidence, and provide a healthy coping mechanism.
- Acceptance: Naming your feelings and understanding where they come from is a start. It’s also helpful to accept that things may not always be in your control, but you’re still doing your best.
Integrating Non-Addictive Medications with Other Anxiety Treatments
Medication alone may not be enough to treat anxiety. For many people, a combination of therapy, medication, and alternative anxiety tools can significantly improve the outcome. People concerned about potential side effects and becoming addicted to anxiety medication often opt for psychotherapy and alternatives such as lifestyle changes to ease their symptoms.
Making an Informed Decision: Selecting the Right Non-Addictive Anxiety Treatment
Anxiety treatments aren’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. You may have a vastly different reaction to medications than others with similar symptoms. To choose the safest anxiety medications and treatments for you, it’s essential to work with your doctor.
Keeping an open mind about the various alternatives can be equally helpful and incredibly empowering, allowing you to find your way back to feeling like yourself. With medications, therapy, and alternative treatments like TMS, you can take charge of your anxiety and get back to the vibrant life you deserve.
Discover your options and reclaim your life. Contact Manuel Astruc, M.D. and Associates, the only psychiatrist in Saratoga Springs, NY, to offer TMS therapy.