PTSD symptoms aren’t insurmountable. Many medications can help improve your quality of life, each with its own pros and cons.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects millions of people in the United States every year. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Even mild PTSD symptoms can significantly affect your ability to function and quality of life.

Treatment for PTSD typically includes therapy and medication. Therapy is the gold-standard treatment approach.

However, several antidepressant medications can help reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms.

Ahead, we explore the different medication options for PTSD, including what you need to know about potential side effects and how to discuss these treatments with a doctor.

Several treatment options exist for PTSD. The two most effective approaches are therapy and medication:

According to a 2020 review of research, therapy is generally more effective at treating PTSD in the long run. However, certain medications can also help reduce the severity of PTSD symptoms.

In one large review from 2021, researchers analyzed 115 studies on the effectiveness of different medication approaches for PTSD.

Researchers found the following medications were all effective at reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms:

  • fluoxetine
  • paroxetine
  • sertraline
  • venlafaxine
  • quetiapine

However, the effect of these medications was small.

In addition, prazosin and risperidone also produced small but positive effects on PTSD symptoms when used with other medications.

Another 2022 review explored the effects of medication on adults living with PTSD. Researchers found SSRIs were the most effective medication for PTSD: SSRIs improved symptoms in roughly 58% of participants included in the review.

According to the American Psychological Association, four medications are currently recommended to treat PTSD:

Sertraline, paroxetine, and fluoxetine are SSRIs. They work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

Venlafaxine is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). It works by increasing both serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain.

Other medications, including quetiapine and risperidone, may also have some effects on PTSD symptoms. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved these medications to treat PTSD. This means they are prescribed “off-label” for this condition.

Alternative medications

Researchers have also been exploring the effectiveness of psychedelic drug approaches for treating mental health conditions, including PTSD.

In one 2020 analysis, researchers examined the long-term effects of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in six phase 2 trials. Phase 2 trials are clinical trials that test a specific treatment on a small- to medium-size group of individuals with a condition.

According to the study results, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy improved PTSD symptoms in as little as 1–2 months.

For many participants, symptoms continued to improve for at least 12 months after treatment, with upward of 67% of participants no longer meeting PTSD criteria after follow-up.

A 2021 study also analyzed the effectiveness of MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD. Results of this phase 3 trial found that MDMA was able to significantly improve PTSD symptom severity and decrease disability in participants.

Other potential treatment approaches, including cannabinoids and traditional Chinese medicine, have been explored for mental health conditions like PTSD.

However, the research on these options is limited, and many studies have shown conflicting results.

All the medications used to treat PTSD can potentially cause side effects. Many of these side effects vary depending on the type of medication, but when it comes to SSRIs and SNRIs, a lot of the side effects are similar.

Some of the common side effects of SSRIs may include:

Some of the common side effects of SNRIs may include:

If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. These medications generally aren’t recommended during pregnancy.

SSRIs and SNRIs can also interact with other medications that affect serotonin levels, resulting in a condition called serotonin syndrome.

Possible interactions

Some SSRIs and SNRIs also interact with certain foods and drinks, including:

Some can also be reactive to extreme heat or prolonged sun exposure.

Each medication may interact differently, though, so it’s always important to discuss potential interactions with your doctor before you start taking a new medication.

Getting involved in research

Clinical trials are always looking for participants to help test the safety and effectiveness of developing treatments. If you’ve been exploring treatment options for your PTSD, you may be eligible to participate in new medication trials.

If you’re interested in learning more about these clinical trials, your local hospital or university may have more information on opportunities in your area.

However, here are some additional resources you can check out for more trials and studies near you:

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Antidepressants are the most common class of medications doctors use to treat PTSD.

Several options are effective for treating PTSD symptoms. These options include three SSRIs — sertraline, paroxetine, and fluoxetine — and one SNRI, venlafaxine.

If you live with PTSD and have been considering medication for your symptoms, consider reaching out to a doctor or therapist to discuss your options.