When does anxiety need medication?

Despite the pros of Prozac and other anti-anxiety meds, there’s a time and place to take them


Anxiety is a normal part of life and, in the right moments, can be critical for our survival by warning us of a clear and present danger. In many ways, anxiety can be compared to a guardian angel that gives us the heads up when something is awry, but for those whose anxiety is severe and sustained, it can be the very devil.

To put things into perspective, anxiety can have a person making mountains out of molehills with just about anything, to the point where it is near enough impossible to carry on with daily life as normal. Seemingly simple tasks like leaving the house, driving a car, socializing with friends, and even getting a good night’s sleep can prove to be a task too tall for an anxiety sufferer.

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For some people, the overwhelming feeling of anxiety can be just as tormenting as any physical pain, and because it often doesn’t carry any outward, obvious symptoms, many subjects are left to suffer in silence.  However, it’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone (no matter how much it may feel otherwise) as anxiety affects around 40 million adults in the United States alone.

As the first line of defence, many sufferers often turn to medication to put those feelings of fear and fretfulness to bed. And while this approach may feel nothing short of a godsend at first, it can only be used for so long. Pills can be great for short-term relief from symptoms but unfortunately, they aren’t a sustainable option, and taking them over a long period of time is sure to leave you with more problems than when you began.


How bad should anxiety be before it requires medication?

As a rule of thumb, if your anxiety is so intense, excessive, and persistent that it’s preventing you from functioning normally and going about your daily life as usual, then you may want to consider talking to your doctor about taking some sort of medication for it.

Here are the tell-tale signs that your anxiety may be getting out of hand:

  • You’ve exhausted all other worthwhile, drug-free treatment options with no luck
  • You’re finding it difficult or unable to carry on with your daily activities, such as going to school or work, seeing friends, parenting, etc.
  • You’re having trouble sleeping
  • You have difficulty concentrating on a task
  • You’re unable to control your anger
  • You feel isolated from family and friends because of your feelings and behaviour
  • You cannot leave the house out of chronic fear, worry, and stress
  • You’re displaying suicidal thoughts or behaviours
  • You have physical symptoms of anxiety such as shakiness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and hot and cold flashes

The earlier you catch these symptoms creeping up on you, the easier it is to deal with them. But despite pills being a great way of calming an episode of anxiety, that doesn’t mean they’re free from any risks or side-effects. Always speak with your doctor; together you can explore your options and decide on the best treatment course for you.


Why should anti-anxiety medication be used as a last resort?

In the moments leading up to a dreadful panic attack, popping pills can seem like the only useful option for someone who is desperate to relieve their suffering, and before you know it, what was intended as a short-term, occasional treatment, soon becomes your go-to remedy for alleviating your feelings of apprehension.

In actuality, taking a pill for your anxiety is like putting a Band-Aid on a deep gash – it may temporarily stop the symptoms, but it does not address the root cause of your anxiety.

There are a whole host of anti-anxiety medications to treat the disorder, including benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), beta-blockers, and pregabalin. Yet such medications are all too often overprescribed, leaving users to deal with the added problem of addiction on top of their anxiety, not to mention the sneaky side-effects. 

Here are some reasons why drugs may not always be the best solution:

  • They are used as a first-line treatment for even mild symptoms of anxiety such as worry, stress, and stomach butterflies, which can cause users to become dependent or addicted to the drug.
  • Much research has questioned the effectiveness of such drugs in the long-term, citing that some anti-anxiety medications have been overestimated and can lose their effect after 4 to 6 months of consistent use.
  • Stopping the medication once you’ve been taking it for some time can induce undesired withdrawal symptoms that are often worse than the original problem, such as rebound anxiety, depression, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, irritability, shaking, stomach pains, nausea, and much more.
  • The side-effects are certainly no walk in the park, either. Common undesired outcomes of the most widely-prescribed anti-anxiety medications include:
  • Dizziness,
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Sexual dysfunction


How can medication be helpful in relieving anxiety?

On the flip side, anti-anxiety medications do have their perks, just as long as you know that there are a time and a place for them.

Despite the very valid disadvantages of these drugs, if you genuinely feel that you need to take them to feel better, then there’s no shame in your game. In fact, when taken safely and correctly alongside other forms of drug-free therapy and leading a healthy lifestyle, the pros can far outweigh the cons.

So if you feel like you’ve reached your wits’ end, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor to add a suitable medication to your treatment plan to have you feeling your normal self ASAP.

Here are some benefits of taking anti-anxiety drugs:

  • Benzodiazepines are a popular prescription drug for anxiety due to their ability to bring relief from an episode of anxiety within 30 minutes to an hour. They work by slowing down the nervous system, helping you to relax both physically and mentally.
  • SSRIs are usually indicated for depression but because they work by increasing the levels of the chemical serotonin (the feel-good factor) in the brain, they are also a good option for treating anxiety. These drugs also have a much lower risk of dependency and abuse than benzodiazepines, but they do take up to 4 to 6 weeks to take effect so they can’t be taken as and when needed.
  • Beta-blockers are typically used to treat high blood pressure and heart problems, but because they block stress hormones in the brain, they can also help keep the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, shaking, sweating, and dizziness, in check.
  • The anti-seizure drug, pregabalin, is another viable option as it stops the brain from releasing chemicals that make you feel anxious, worried, and stressed. 


What other options are there for anxiety relief?

As much as we wish they were, anti-anxiety medications aren’t magic pills that instantly solve all of life’s pressures and problems.  Did you know that the calming effects of anxiety medication can also be achieved through other means, such as therapy, exercise, and other self-help strategies – minus the scary side-effects?

What’s more, some of these methods can also help you identify and address the underlying triggers of your anxiety, proving to be a much more effective solution in the long run. Let’s take a closer look at what these options are:

  • Talk it out: You’ll be surprised at how much a simple conversation with someone you know and trusts, such as a family member or close friend, can do in relieving whatever anxieties or fears you may be harbouring inside of you.
  • Keep active: Regular exercise is proven to decrease overall levels of tension and stress, as well as boost your mood and confidence, and help you sleep better.
  • Seek therapy: Techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) help to clarify anxiety-provoking thought patterns, teaching you how to stop such thoughts in their tracks and reduce the likelihood of a future anxiety attack.  
  • Do some yoga: Different yoga postures can prompt a relaxation response in the mind and body, helping to alleviate the physical discomfort caused by anxiety and promote a sense of calmness and ease.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness calms anxious feelings by helping you learn to observe your mental state in the present moment and develop adaptive and effective reactions to deal with such difficult thoughts and situations.
  • Observe good sleep hygiene: The golden hour before your bedtime is crucial; use this precious time to shut off from the outside world – that’s right, step away from your phone, turn off your TV, and instead, do something that will help you unwind, like reading a book or meditating. Try and aim for at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep at the same time each night in a dark room to have you well on your way to a good night’s rest and an even better morning.

As much as anxiety can feel like a monster consuming you from the inside out, having a treatment weapon of choice at your disposal will help you slay it.

To begin with, a drug-free method is often the best approach; altering your lifestyle and state of mind has often proven to be the most effective in the long-run for relieving anxious thoughts and fears.

If your symptoms don’t get better, then you can try medications as a complementary way to make you feel better – just remember not to keep this as your first or only treatment option.

At the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to battling anxiety; speak with your doctor and together you can decide on which options are best for you.



  1. Mayo clinic 2018, Anxiety disorders, viewed 28th July 2020,
  2. Mind 2017, Anxiety and panic attacks, viewed 28th July 2020,
  3. NHS 2018, Generalized anxiety disorder in adults, Crown publishers, viewed 27th July 2020,

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