Acute Anxiety Treatment

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment and Drugs: SSRIs, Benzodiazepines, and Anti-Anxiety Medication

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder may require a combination of talk therapy and anti-anxiety medication. Medication for GAD reduces symptoms and improves daily functioning, which in turn improves the outcome of GAD psychotherapy and anxiety management techniques. Depending on individual needs anti-anxiety medication can be long term or designed to treat acute anxiety attacks.

Benzodiazepines and Acute Anxiety Treatment

Benzodiazepines have been used to treat acute anxiety for decades. Benzodiazepines have a sedating effect, reducing muscle tension and anxiety symptoms. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • alprazolam
  • clonazepam
  • diazepam
  • lorazepam.

While effective anti-anxiety medication for acute anxiety attacks, benzodiazepine medication is unsuited for long-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. The sedating effect of benzodiazepine medication affects response times, making driving or operating machinery dangerous.

Long-term use of benzodiazepines results in a tolerance to the medication’s effects. Over time patients require higher doses of the drug to achieve the same benefits. The risk of drug dependence increases with long-term use and drug tolerance.

SSRIs and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment


Antidepressants that affect the brain’s neurotransmitter levels are, at present, the first choice for anti-anxiety medication. Neurotransmitters are chemical compounds vital for proper communication between brain cells. Low levels of two neurotransmitters – serotonin and norepinephrine – have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders.

SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, block the re-absorption of serotonin, increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. SNRIs, or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, affect both types of neurotransmitter.

While generally well-tolerated treatments for generalized anxiety disorder, SSRIs and SNRIs can cause unwanted side effects, including:

  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • sexual dysfunction
  • sleepiness
  • stomach problems
  • weight gain.

In addition, SNRI can cause mild increase in blood pressure.

Both SSRI and SNRI anti-anxiety medications take time before providing symptom relief. For this reason the antidepressants are sometimes combined with an initial dose of benzodiazepines to treat acute anxiety. Once the antidepressant begins to work, benzodiazepine does are tapered off.

Tricyclic Antidepressants and GAD Treatment

Tricyclic antidepressants were an alternative to benzodiazepines prior to the use of SSRIs and SNRIS as anti-anxiety treatment. Tricyclic antidepressants are still occasionally used to manage anxiety, but as tricyclics can produce serious side effects other medication choices are tried first.

Buspirone and Anxiety

Buspirone, a non-benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication, is another option for generalized anxiety disorder treatment. Buspirone lacks the sedative and addictive qualities of benzodiazepines, making it suitable for long-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. Buspirone does, however, take up to two weeks to begin relieving symptoms.

Anti-Anxiety Medication and Treatment Outcomes

Anti-anxiety treatment works best in combination with GAD psychotherapy treatments. By reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety medication provides an opportunity to learn the skills offered by cognitive behavioral therapy and anxiety management techniques.