Written by Ann Pietrangelo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on June 6, 2013

Anxiolytics Overview

Anxiolytics are a type of prescription medication used to treat symptoms of acute anxiety.

These medications tend to work rather quickly. However, they can be habit-forming and are usually prescribed for short-term use. Anxiolytics are not recommended for people with a history of substance abuse.

See your doctor if you think you have an anxiety disorder. He or she will check for underlying medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms.

If you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. Specific medications will be chosen based on your symptoms and overall health.

Side effects from anxiolytic medication may include drowsiness and dizziness. Be sure to follow dosage and usage instructions carefully. Overdose can cause coma or death. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if medication is stopped abruptly.

Your doctor may also refer you to a psychiatrist or other therapist.

Anxiolytics are also called anti-anxiety medications.

Purpose of Anxiolytics

Extreme worry or fear that lasts more than six months is called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Social phobia is one type of anxiety disorder. This is when someone is overly anxious in social situations. Social phobia can even cause physical symptoms like profuse sweating and nausea.

Over time, this type of disorder can be paralyzing and lead to social isolation.

Anxiolytics are used to treat symptoms of a variety of anxiety disorders. They work by targeting key neurotransmitters in the brain and decreasing abnormal excitability.

These medications are often combined with psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Together, they can help improve quality of life for people with anxiety disorders.

Anxiolytics Description

Some anxiolytics come in liquid or dissolvable tablet form. Most of the time, they are dispensed in pill form. A prescription from a doctor or psychiatrist is required.

Some of the more frequently prescribed anxiolytics are benzodiazepines. These include:

  • alprazolam (Niravam, Xanax)
  • chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • diazepam (Valium)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)

Risks and Side Effects

These medications may cause drowsiness or dizziness. Other side effects include lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, and problems with memory. Long-term use can make side effects worse.

These drugs can be habit-forming. People who take them for an extended period can develop a tolerance. This requires dosage increases to achieve the same effectiveness. Tell your doctor if you have a history of substance abuse.

Check with your doctor before you stop taking these drugs. If you stop taking anti-anxiety medications suddenly, you may develop withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. Your doctor can help you taper off slowly and safely.

Anxiety may return when medication is discontinued.

Do not take more than prescribed. Overdose can result in coma or death.

Anti-anxiety medications may interact with other medications. Be sure to tell your doctor about all of your over-the-counter and prescription medication use. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential side effects. Request information about drug interactions and foods or dietary supplements which must be avoided.

Do not share your prescription medications. High doses of benzodiazepines can result in a feeling of euphoria. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), abuse of these drugs (one of the many street names: downers) is sometimes associated with teens and young adults. Heroin and cocaine addicts are also known to abuse these drugs (DEA). 

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