There are several types of anxiety medications to consider, but selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for teens.
Many would agree that the teen years are some of the most challenging in life. During this time, you’re faced with significant emotional, social, and academic pressure, all while your brain is still developing in areas of decision-making and emotional regulation.
It may be no surprise then that
Psychotherapy is the first-line treatment for teens with anxiety, but if symptoms remain, there are several anti-anxiety medications that may help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Teens with severe and persistent anxiety may be prescribed the following medications:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- other medications
Research shows that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the medications of choice for children and teens with anxiety disorders.
SSRIs block the absorption (reuptake) of serotonin, which essentially increases the amount of serotonin available in the brain. This can help regulate mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Some of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs for teens with anxiety include:
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
Side effects of SSRIs in young people may include:
- gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- dry mouth
- alteration in mood
- dysphoria (state of unease)
Studies have found that two SNRIs in particular — venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and duloxetine (Cymbalta) — may help reduce anxiety symptoms in some children and teens.
Similarly, another study looking at duloxetine for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) among young people found that it’s more effective than a placebo but less effective than a typical SSRI. There’s still insufficient data for desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).
SNRIs also show significantly higher behavioral and cardiovascular adverse effects compared to placebo.
The side effects of SNRIs may include:
- dry mouth
- reduced appetite
- increase in hyperactivity
Buspirone (Buspar) is a type of azapirone, a class of medications used to treat anxiety disorders.
Buspirone works by binding to certain serotonin receptors in the brain, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms. It doesn’t have sedative effects, so it’s a particularly useful option for teens who need to remain alert and focused during the day.
It can take 1–2 weeks to feel the effects of buspirone. It can be taken short-term or long-term.
Common side effects of buspirone include:
- blurred vision
Hydroxyzine (Vistaril) is a type of antihistamine that has anti-anxiety effects. It’s generally considered safe and is commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, including GAD, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
While it’s not fully understood exactly how hydroxyzine works in the body, it’s believed to affect histamine and serotonin. It may benefit teens with sleeping problems because of its sedative effects.
Hydroxyzine is typically prescribed short-term, along with another longer-term anxiety medication like buspirone or an antidepressant that’s taken every day.
Side effects of hydroxyzine may include:
- dry mouth
Propranolol (Inderal) is a beta-blocker medication sometimes used off-label for treating anxiety disorders in adults. However, its use for teen anxiety is less common, and its safety and effectiveness for this age group are not well established.
While propranolol may help to alleviate some of the physical symptoms of anxiety (such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and trembling), it doesn’t treat the underlying psychological causes of anxiety. Therefore, it’s generally not considered a first-line treatment for anxiety in teenagers.
Research shows that other types of medications, including tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and benzodiazepines, are rarely used for children and adolescents with anxiety disorders.
While benzodiazepines are highly effective at reducing anxiety, they have a significantly high risk for overuse and dependence. In some cases, benzos may be used for short-term treatment of severe anxiety. For instance, they may be used to help reduce anxiety before a medical procedure.
Overall, there’s not enough evidence to support their use in the treatment of anxiety disorders in children and teens.
It’s important you seek help if your anxiety becomes overwhelming, persistent, and interferes with daily activities such as school, socializing, and hobbies.
Some signs that you may be experiencing problematic anxiety include:
- excessive worry or fear about everyday activities or events
- physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, sweating, and trembling
- avoidance of social situations, school, or other activities
- difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- irritability, restlessness, or fatigue
Research shows that SSRIs are the medication of choice among teens with anxiety disorders.
Still, what works for one person may not work for another. It’s possible the proper treatment for you might be one that’s less common.
The most important step is seeking treatment so that you and your doctor can decide what’s best for you.
SSRIs are the most well-researched medications for the treatment of anxiety in adolescents. They’ve been extensively studied in numerous clinical trials and are generally considered safe and effective.
In general, a combined approach to treatment — psychotherapy, family education, and medication (if needed) — has been found to be the most effective.
If your anxiety is significantly disrupting your life, it’s important to seek help. While psychotherapy is typically the first-line treatment for anxiety, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication if your symptoms are severe.
Finding the right treatment can reduce your symptoms and make a big difference in your overall well-being.