Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a relatively common form of diagnosable anxiety that triggers outsized or unwarranted worry about a variety of everyday events or situations. Doctors commonly use medications as part of the treatment for this condition. Some of these medications are specifically approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for GAD treatment. However, your doctor may also prescribe other effective medications not approved by the FDA for this particular purpose.
What Is FDA Approval?
The FDA is responsible for approving all prescription medications sold in the U.S. Each medication under review must be intended to treat at least one specific condition. Before granting approval, the FDA will analyze the evidence for and against the effectiveness of a given medication, as well as the evidence for and against the medication’s safety. This process is designed to ensure that the treatments your doctor prescribes will have a positive effect without presenting an undue risk to your health.
Approved Generalized Anxiety Disorder Medications
Some of the FDA-approved GAD medications are classified as benzodiazepine sedative/tranquilizers. Medications in this category produce an anti-anxiety effect by slowing down your central nervous system. Specific approved benzodiazepines include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
Antidepressants also frequently play a role in GAD treatment. Medications approved for this purpose fall into one of two categories: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Approved SSRIs include:
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
Approved SNRIs include:
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Another medication approved for people with generalized anxiety disorder is buspirone (BuSpar). This medication belongs to a group of anti-anxiety and anti-psychosis treatments called azapirones. Buspirone produces its benefits by increasing the actions of a mood-controlling chemical in your body and brain called serotonin.
Doctors sometimes discover that medications approved for one purpose also provide a treatment benefit when used for other purposes. Use of a medication for an unapproved reason is known as off-label use. The practice is widespread for the treatment of mental health conditions. Off-label GAD medications include:
- A group of antidepressants called tricyclic antidepressants
- Certain benzodiazepines
- Antihistamines that contain a substance called hydroxyzine
Sources: Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Generalized Anxiety Disorder Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Medications Columbia University Medical Center – Columbia Psychiatry: Ask the Experts U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Development & Approval Process (Drugs)