Anxiety can be extremely uncomfortable and distressing, and it can cause severe dysfunction in the lives of those who live with it day in and day out. The symptoms are so debilitating for some people that they will do almost anything to get relief. Some might turn to use medication such as benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, using these medications can lead to abuse and addiction. Thankfully there are other pharmacological and nonpharmacological options available for managing anxiety.
Anxiety Disorders and Who They Affect
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent psychiatric disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anxiety is highest among those aged 18–29 and decreases with age, and it is more common in women than men.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are used to treat seizures, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, and anxiety. They are also used for sedation and in combination with other medications like Haldol to calm agitated patients. Benzos act by slowing down the central nervous system (CNS), raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, and causing relaxed mood and sleepiness.
Benzodiazepines are safe and effective when taken as prescribed. However, there is a risk of abuse and addiction. Although there is a low risk of addiction in the general population, people with a personal or family history of a substance use disorder are at higher risk of addiction. They can also be extremely dangerous when taken with other CNS depressants such as alcohol or opioids.
Are There Other Medications Available to Treat Anxiety?
If you need medications to treat your anxiety, there are several classes of medications you and your prescriber can choose from:
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are antidepressants, but they are also first-line treatments for anxiety disorders. This class consists of medications like Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa.
- Buspar: Buspar is used as a second-line treatment for anxiety after the SSRIs.
- Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are antidepressants, but like SSRIs, they are also used to treat anxiety. Effexor and Cymbalta are some familiar medications in this class.
- Beta-Blockers: Beta-blockers block the action of substances such as adrenaline on nerve cells allowing blood vessels to dilate. This allows more blood to flow through the vessel. Beta-blockers are often used to treat cardiovascular conditions. However, they are also used to treat anxiety.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines are typically used to treat allergies. However, Benadryl and Vistaril are also used in the treatment of anxiety.
- Neurontin: Neurontin is an anticonvulsant used in the treatment of seizures. However, it is frequently used to treat anxiety. While Neurontin is increasingly being used to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), little is known about its effectiveness on GAD symptoms.
When using pharmacological alternatives to benzodiazepines, it is important to talk openly and honestly with your prescriber so the benefits and risks of each option can be weighed and discussed.
What Nonpharmacological Methods Are Effective in the Management of Anxiety?
If you prefer to manage anxiety without medication or use nonpharmacological methods in addition to medication, there are options available. Some options you might want to try include:
- Seeing a therapist. These licensed professionals do not prescribe medications. Instead, they use talk therapy to help clients build effective coping skills, process emotions, and cope with life’s challenges. A therapist can help you learn to manage your anxiety more effectively.
- Ground yourself. When you feel anxiety spiral out of control, shift your focus to your physical senses. Pay attention to the different sounds around you and try to name them. Pick something to focus your vision on. For example, try to locate all the blue objects in your environment. Doing so can help ease symptoms related to anxiety.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can have a calming effect and, over time, can help stabilize your mood and help you manage your anxiety better. Yoga, walking, swimming, and lifting weights are good exercises.
- Breathwork. There are numerous breathwork exercises that can help calm you when you are starting to feel anxious. Breathwork can help you focus, regulate your heartbeat, and calm your central nervous system.
- Aromatherapy. the scent of Lavender, has been known to have a relaxing effect on some people. If Lavender does not work for you, try other scents until you find one that is calming.
- Engaging in a hobby, you enjoy. You might try painting, reading, woodworking, or coloring. Whatever hobby you love, do it often to help you stay calm and increase your joy.
If you have an anxiety disorder, there is hope. Effective treatment is available for anxiety that does not involve benzos.
Anxiety can make even mundane, day-to-day activities more challenging than they have to be. It can even be debilitating for some people. Benzodiazepines have been used for years to help patients manage anxiety, but unfortunately, they can be highly addictive. If you or a loved one are dealing with anxiety and benzodiazepine dependence, medical detox may be the safest first step. After you have completed detox, Sober Life has a range of outpatient treatment options that offer effective, evidence-based treatment with the flexibility of not having to stay in a treatment facility. Receiving care in a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP) allows you to get treatment while easing back into your daily life. It is also more inexpensive than inpatient levels of care. If you are ready to learn more about the accessible, flexible outpatient programs Sober Life offers, call us at (619) 542-9542.