Types of anxiety medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, and more.

People with persistent anxiety may benefit from anxiety medications to help manage symptoms. A doctor can help decide on the most suitable option.

This article discusses the main types of anxiety medication and lists their risks and side effects.

A person is holding a pill box.Share on Pinterest
Maksim Tarasov/Stocksy

Several types of medication can treat the symptoms of anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) notes there are of drugs for anxiety disorders.

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Although SSRIs are a type of antidepressant, doctors can prescribe them to people with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

According to a 2022 article, doctors consider SSRIs to be the first-line drug treatment for general anxiety disorder.

SSRIs work by stopping nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin, which is a chemical that plays a vital role in mood regulation.

Examples of SSRIs for anxiety include:

These medications typically begin to take effect within 2–6 weeks, but they may not work for everyone. People usually take SSRIs for 6–12 months to treat anxiety and then gradually reduce the dosage.

These drugs are not habit-forming, meaning that they do not usually lead to dependence.

People should consult a doctor or physician before they start reducing or stopping their medication.

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are another class of antidepressants that can treat depression and anxiety. Doctors may also prescribe them to treat some chronic pain conditions.

The ADAA notes that medical professionals also consider SNRIs to be the first-line treatment for anxiety. However, they are not as effective in treating OCD.

These medications work by reducing the brain’s reabsorption of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine.

Examples of SNRIs for anxiety are:

As with SSRIs, SNRIs can take several weeks to have an effect.

Learn more about SNRIs.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs are an older class of antidepressant. Although they may be effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety, doctors often prescribe SSRIs instead as they cause fewer adverse side effects.

However, TCAs may be useful for some people, especially if other medications do not provide relief.

These medications work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine. This increases the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain.

Examples of TCAs for anxiety include:

Learn more about TCAs.

4. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a type of sedative that reduces the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as tense muscles. These drugs also encourage relaxation, and their effects take place quickly.

Peak levels in the blood occur 1–2 hours after a person takes their dose. People may feel the effects sooner than this.

Benzodiazepines include:

  • alprazolam (Xanax)
  • chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • diazepam (Valium)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)

Although they can be highly effective for short-term issues, doctors rarely prescribe benzodiazepines because they become less effective over time and can be addictive.

Due to these risks, experts suggest that doctors do not prescribe the continuous use of benzodiazepines for more than 6 months.

Some people may take benzodiazepines to manage short-term anxiety. For example, people with a fear of flying may take them before a flight.

At times, people can take a benzodiazepine alongside an SSRI for 2–4 weeks until the SSRI takes effect.

Learn more about the benefits and risks of benzodiazepines.

Many other medications may help treat anxiety, although doctors usually only prescribe them if SSRIs or similar drugs do not work.


Beta-blockers are a common medication for people with high blood pressure and heart conditions. However, doctors may prescribe them off-label for anxiety in certain situations.

Beta-blockers reduce the effects of norepinephrine, meaning that they can relieve some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. Examples of beta-blockers include atenolol (Tenormin) and propranolol (Inderal).


This anti-anxiety medication may treat short- or long-term anxiety symptoms.

Buspirone (BuSpar) works much more slowly than benzodiazepines and may not treat all types of anxiety disorders, but it causes fewer side effects and has a lower risk of dependency.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs are one of the earliest types of antidepressant. Doctors may prescribe them off-label to treat some types of anxiety, though they can potentially cause serious side effects, so doctors rarely prescribe them.

Types of MAOI include:

  • isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • phenelzine (Nardil)
  • selegiline (Emsam)
  • tranylcypromine (Parnate)

Learn more about MAOIs.

Antidepressants and other drugs for anxiety have the potential to cause side effects in some people.

These often resolve after a few weeks, but it is crucial to contact a doctor if they are severe or do not subside.

Some doctors may recommend taking anxiety medications with food to minimize side effects or taking them before bed if the drug does not interfere with sleep.

The side effects a person experiences may vary depending on the type of medication.


The side effects of SSRIs can include:


The side effects of SNRIs are similar to those of SSRIs, and can include:

  • constipation
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness or fatigue
  • dry mouth
  • headaches
  • increased blood pressure
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • sexual problems or erectile dysfunction
  • sleep problems
  • sweating more than usual
  • stomach aches


Side effects vary among TCAs as they work in different ways. Possible side effects include:


Benzodiazepines can cause several side effects, such as:

  • blurry vision
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness or fatigue
  • headaches
  • loss of memory or concentration
  • issues with balance, coordination, or speech
  • an upset stomach

Benzodiazepines also carry certain risks. For example, they can cause physical dependence, even after a short period of use. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines may lead to:

  • anxiety and restlessness
  • depression
  • sleep problems
  • sweating
  • seizures

More severe risks of benzodiazepines may include:


Possible side effects of beta-blockers include:

People with asthma should avoid beta-blockers. Individuals with diabetes should take them with caution and speak with a doctor about the possible risks.


The side effects of buspirone may include:

  • blurry vision
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • muscle pains
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • restlessness or nervousness
  • sleep problems
  • sweating
  • weakness


Some common side effects of MAOIs include:

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • dry mouth
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • lightheadedness
  • insomnia

These medications also interact with several other drugs, as well as some foods and drinks. Anyone taking MAOIs should ask their doctor for a complete list of the medications, foods, and drinks they need to avoid.

In 2004, the FDA required all antidepressants to carry a black-boxed warning relating to the risk of suicide in children and young adults.

People under 25 years of age may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts and behaviors while taking antidepressants.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

Was this helpful?

A person may wish to try the following remedies to help treat anxiety:

Some people may experience relief from anxiety through hobbies, such as painting or playing music.

There is also evidence to suggest that spending time with pets may be beneficial to people with a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety.

Learn more about how to treat anxiety.

A common type of therapy for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This helps people to change their thoughts and behaviors by analyzing what may be causing them anxiety. CBT appears to be an effective form of therapy for treating anxiety disorders.

There are many other approaches to therapy, and what is right for one person may not work for someone else. People may wish to try a variety until they find what works for them.

Learn more about the different types of therapy.

There are many resources for people experiencing anxiety.

The first point of contact for people not in crisis should be their primary care doctor. If someone is in crisis, they should seek immediate help, such as contacting 911.

People may wish to contact the following organizations:

Learn more about available mental health resources.

It is best for anyone experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder to contact a doctor. They may recommend therapy, medications, or a combination of both.

To diagnose an anxiety disorder, doctors will typically carry out a physical examination to check for any underlying conditions and ask a person about their symptoms.

They may also perform a psychological evaluation and compare the person’s symptoms to the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for anxiety disorders.

If a doctor thinks anxiety medication might be suitable, they can discuss whether they recommend short-term or long-term medication. Once a person starts taking prescription medication for anxiety, their doctor will recommend regular follow-up appointments, typically every 2–4 weeks to begin with, to monitor how well the medication is working.

Everybody will respond differently to anxiety medication. What works for one person may not be suitable for somebody else. If a person starts taking anxiety medication and finds they are not experiencing an improvement in symptoms after several weeks or months, the doctor may recommend a different medication.

It is essential never to stop taking medication without medical supervision, as doing so may cause withdrawal symptoms.

Here are some common questions about anxiety medication.

What is the most used drug for anxiety?

The most common anti-anxiety medications are benzodiazepines. However, doctors do not consider benzodiazepines to be first-line treatment due to their side effects. Instead, SSRIs and SNRIs are first-line treatment medications for anxiety.

What is the best drug to relieve anxiety?

There is no individual anxiety medication that works best for everybody, as each person’s symptoms will respond differently. However, the four major classes of drugs that a doctor may recommend for anxiety include SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, and benzodiazepines.

What is the best anxiety medication with the fewest side effects?

As with any medication, a person may experience side effects with any anxiety medication. Side effects may also be different for each person. However, SSRIs typically cause fewer adverse side effects than TCAs. Buspirone causes fewer side effects than benzodiazepines.

How do I know if I need anxiety medication?

A person may require anxiety medication if they frequently experience symptoms of anxiety, such as restlessness, feeling on edge, racing thoughts, and difficulty concentrating. Before medication, A doctor may recommend other treatments, such as CBT or breathing exercises.

Several types of medication can treat anxiety. The major classes of drugs for anxiety include SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs, and benzodiazepines.

Other medications that may help include beta-blockers, buspirone, and MAOIs.

A person’s doctor can help them find the right treatment plan for their needs. If a person notices any side effects from their medication, they should contact their doctor as soon as possible.

To alleviate side effects, a doctor may adjust the dosage slowly or recommend another medication or form of therapy. The doctor may also recommend a different drug or altering the dosage if symptoms of anxiety do not improve.