Anxiety Medications: Side Effect Pros and Cons

If you have a condition called an anxiety disorder, you may receive some sort of anti-anxiety medication (also known as an anxiolytic) as part of your treatment. These medications are often quite effective at easing signs of anxiety such as extreme worry or fear. However, they also carry risks for certain side effects. Doctors typically weigh the pros and cons of treatment benefits and side effects when making their prescriptions.

Common Anxiety Medications

There are several commonly used types of anxiety medication. Most people receive sedative/tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, especially if they have a condition called generalized anxiety disorder. Individuals with a social anxiety disorder diagnosis or a panic disorder diagnosis may receive antidepressant medications called SSRIs as a first-line treatment. If you have chronic anxiety, you may receive ongoing doses of a medication called buspirone. People with phobia disorders may receive medications called beta-blockers to deal with physical signs of anxiety such as excessive sweating, muscle tremors and an elevated heart rate.

Side Effect Risks vs. Benefits

All anxiety medications have common, relatively harmless side effects that probably won’t alter the course of treatment. However, each medication has more serious side effects or contraindications that will lead to the discontinuation of treatment or the choice of another treatment option. Common side effects of benzodiazepines include:

  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Bad dreams
  • Unusual fatigue
  • A confused mental state

Benzodiazepine side effects that require your doctor’s attention when they linger or occur in severe form include:

  • Loss of body balance
  • Aching joints or muscles
  • Thought or memory disruptions
  • Increased urine output

Side effects of these medications that constitute an emergency include:

  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Jaundice
  • Breathing problems
  • A swollen, face, mouth or throat
  • Suicidal thinking

Potential SSRI side effects include:

  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Blurry vision
  • Sleeplessness
  • Lightheadedness
  • An agitated, restless or nervous mental state
  • Sexual dysfunction

Your doctor may discontinue medication use if any of these effects linger or occur in severe form. Common buspirone side effects include:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, and
  • A nervous or excited mental state

Buspirone side effects that call for immediate doctor’s assistance include:

  • A depressed or confused mental state
  • Pain in your chest
  • Weak muscles
  • Leg or arm stiffness
  • An elevated heart rate
  • Painful, tingling, weak or numb feet or hands

Beta-blocker side effects commonly include:

  • Wooziness or lightheadedness
  • Energy loss
  • General weakness
  • Unusually cold hands

As a rule, your doctor won’t prescribe beta-blockers if you have diabetes or asthma. That’s true because medications in this category can intensify the symptoms of each of these conditions and damage your health.   Sources: National Institute of Mental Health: Mental Health Medications Mayo Clinic: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Mayo Clinic: Buspirone (Oral Route) – Side Effects Mayo Clinic: Uses for Beta Blockers

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