Anxiety disorders affect nearly a quarter of the American population every year.1 People with anxiety disorders are also two to three times more likely than the general population to experience a substance use disorder at some point in their lives.2
Treatment methods for anxiety are well-researched topics and the first course of action is often cognitive behavioral therapy, which studies have shown to be extremely effective and long-lasting. However, in some cases, a person may suffer from excessive levels of anxiety, which can prevent them from getting the most out of their therapy.
Anti-anxiety medications (most commonly benzodiazepines) are generally safe and effective ways to treat the symptoms of anxiety, like insomnia or panic attacks. However, they are only intended for short-term use. Over time, benzodiazepines become less effective and the user’s risk of addiction increases.3
Due to the risks of physical dependence and addiction, most health experts do not recommend doctors prescribe benzodiazepines for longer than one month at a time.
How Do Anti-Anxiety Medicines Work?
There are several different types of medications that can be used to treat the symptoms of anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are four main classes of drugs used to treat anxiety and each class of drug works differently.4
- Benzodiazepines – These drugs work by reducing muscle tension, promoting relaxation, and decreasing other physical symptoms of anxiety. They are generally used for short-term management of anxiety. Common generic names for benzodiazepines include alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam, and lorazepam.
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – These drugs work by preventing certain nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin. As a result, more serotonin is available, which improves mood and enhances the sending of nerve impulses. SSRI drugs only affect serotonin and not other neurotransmitters. Common generic names for SSRIs include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine, and sertraline.
- Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) – These drugs work by inhibiting the reabsorption of two neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine) to increase levels of both in the brain. Common generic names for SNRIs include venlafaxine and duloxetine.
- Tricyclic antidepressants – These drugs work by inhibiting the reabsorption of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Of the four types of drugs used to treat anxiety, tricyclic antidepressants are less frequently used. Common generic names for tricyclic antidepressants include amitriptyline, imipramine, and nortriptyline.
Can You Get Hooked On Anxiety Medication?
Yes, anxiety medication can be highly addictive. Consistent use of anti-anxiety drugs can quickly cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Many people mistake withdrawal symptoms for a return of their anxiety, leading them to believe that they need to take more of the medication or begin using it again after their prescription has run out. Taking anti-anxiety drugs for long periods or taking more of the drugs than directed is likely to cause addiction.
Top 3 Most Addictive Anxiety Medications
There are many different types of anti-anxiety drugs, but these are some of the most addictive and commonly prescribed (listed in no particular order).
Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines in the United States and it is a Schedule IV drug. It is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, various phobias, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorders. Xanax is a central nervous system depressant that produces feelings of calmness and relaxation. Its effects can be felt almost instantly, which contributes to the high rates of abuse in the U.S. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 5.4 million people were past year misusers of prescription benzodiazepines like Xanax in 2018.5
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
Klonopin is another powerful prescription benzodiazepine that is used to treat panic attacks, anxiety, and seizure disorders. It is a Schedule IV drug that works by inducing feelings of relaxation and calmness. Although it is generally effective for medical treatment, it is highly addictive, even if it is taken for a short period. High doses of Klonopin can produce feelings of euphoria and can even cause hallucinations.6 Klonopin is very similar to Xanax, but its effects last up to two or three times longer. People who abuse Klonopin are at high risk for physical tolerance, addiction, or overdose. Quitting Klonopin without medical assistance can be difficult and dangerous.
According to the DEA, Valium is one of the five most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines in the U.S. and one of the most frequently encountered benzos on the illicit market.7 It is a Schedule IV drug that works by relaxing muscles and preventing convulsions. Its effects typically last 20 to 70 hours and the drug starts to produce a sedative effect that can be felt within 30 to 60 minutes of taking a dose. Valium is both physically and psychologically addictive and when it is abused with other drugs or alcohol, it can be even more dangerous, potentially leading to an overdose.
What Are Signs I Might Be Addicted to My Anxiety Medicine?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, common signs that you might be addicted to your anxiety medication include:8
- Taking your anxiety medicine for longer than intended.
- Taking your anxiety medicine more often or in larger doses than prescribed.
- Spending a considerable amount of time getting your anxiety medicine, using it, and recovering from its side effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after the effects of your anxiety medicine wear off.
- Needing larger doses of your anxiety medicine to achieve the same results.
- Experiencing impaired performance at school, home, or work due to the effects of your anxiety medication.
- Trying to quit or control your use of anxiety medication but failing.
- Experiencing strong cravings for your anxiety medicine.
If you think you might be addicted to your anxiety medication, you should speak with your doctor immediately.
Is There a Non-Addictive Anxiety Medication?
There are a few different types of drugs that are marketed as being non-addictive anti-anxiety medications, but all drugs have potential side effects and risks to consider.
- SSRIs are generally effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety, but it can take four to six weeks of using an SSRI before you start feeling the full effects. Although they are not considered physically addictive, you can still develop a psychological addiction to SSRIs like Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil, and Zoloft, which can cause problems in your daily life. SSRIs can also cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop taking them.9
- SNRIs are also not considered addictive, but they can still cause psychological dependence and may produce uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using them.10
- Buspar (buspirone) is another anxiety medication that is similar to an SSRI. The main difference between Buspar and SSRI drugs is that it only affects one specific area of the brain. As a result, it produces fewer side effects. Buspar is not known to be addictive and it is frequently used to treat people with anxiety and substance use disorders. It does not cause tolerance or withdrawal symptoms and it is not a controlled substance in the U.S. However, you will need a valid prescription to get Buspar.
- Vistaril (hydroxyzine) is often used to treat generalized anxiety disorder. It works by blocking the effects of histamine in your body, which will make you feel very sleepy.10 Although it is a versatile and effective drug for anxiety, hydroxyzine is intended for short-term treatment of anxiety and is not a long-term solution.
What Are Some Natural Remedies for Anxiety?
There are also many different ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety naturally without medication. Although some anxiety may be substance abuse related and require professional addiction treatment and/or medication, here are some alternative options you can discuss with your doctor:
- Stop drinking alcohol and/or smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce your caffeine intake
- Practice meditation
- Practice healthy sleep hygiene
- Eat a healthy and varied diet (limit sugar and processed foods)
- Use deep breathing exercises
- Try supplements like Passionflower, Valerian root, and Rhodiola
- Take your vitamins (omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, probiotics, and L-theanine can all help reduce symptoms of anxiety)
If you are struggling to deal with severe symptoms of anxiety, you should talk to your doctor about the best treatment options. Suffering from addiction and anxiety simultaneously is not uncommon. Fortunately, a multidisciplinary approach that combines medical and clinical care for both disorders can help resolve the issues that are preventing you from living your best life.
If you’d like to learn more about drug and alcohol detox programs and treatment for co-occurring disorders like anxiety, call (888) 857-0557 to speak with a Briarwood Detox Center representative today. We accept most forms of insurance for detox.