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Anxiety is one of the most common diagnoses across the world. While this psychiatric condition can be extremely debilitating, managing it is possible with the help of professional treatment. Anxiolytics remain a cornerstone of treatment for all types of anxiety order, with different types of drugs currently available and many more under research. However, despite offering numerous benefits, many people still question if using them for a long time can lead to anxiety medication addiction.
Are anxiety meds addictive? The answer varies depending on the type of medication in question. With many anxiolytics carry a high potential to make a person addicted, others may be relatively safer. Knowing which anxiety medications can trigger addiction and which ones to prefer can, therefore, help people keep their anxious feelings in control without putting themselves at risk of addiction.
Can You Get Addicted to Anxiety Meds? Top Three Anxiolytics To Avoid
While there are many different types of anxiolytics, the following are the most commonly prescribed with a very high risk of abuse and addiction.
Commonly known as Xanax, alprazolam is one of the most commonly used benzodiazepine drugs across the United States.  Currently categorized as a Schedule IV drug, it can help manage generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and panic disorder. Alprazolam is a depressant of the central nervous system, which means it works by triggering feelings of relaxation and calmness. The medication leads to almost instant effects, due to which its rate of abuse is constantly going up in the U.S.
Also known as Klonopin, this medication is another powerful type of benzodiazepine that helps manage seizure disorder, anxiety, and panic attacks. As a Schedule IV drug, clonazepam works by triggering feelings of calmness and relaxation. Despite being highly effective for treatment, clonazepam carries a high addiction potential, even in users who take it for a shorter time.
In high doses, clonazepam is capable of triggering euphoric feelings in addition to hallucinations. The medication works in a similar way as Xanax but leads to many prolonged effects, typically lasting up to three times longer than alprazolam. Consequently, people abusing Klonopin are naturally at a higher risk for physical tolerance, addiction, and overdose.
According to the DEA, diazepam or valium is among the top five most commonly prescribed benzos for anxiety across the United States.  Moreover, it is also one of the most easily available anxiolytics in the illicit market. This schedule IV drug works by triggering muscle relaxation and preventing convulsions. The effects of diazepam kick in within 30 to 60 minutes following its dose and may last between 20 to 70 hours. Being psychologically and physically addictive, diazepam can become much more dangerous when abused alongside alcohol or other drugs.
Can You Get Addicted to Anti-Anxiety Medication? Symptoms To Spot
According to experts, the long-term use of anti-anxiety medications can change the structure of the brain. With time, this causes an increased tolerance, ultimately leading to addiction. In a person abusing these medications, the following symptoms may appear:
- Taking a higher amount of anti-anxiety medication than prescribed
- Inability to control how much of the medication one takes
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon missing a dose
- Trying to get more medication through unsanctioned methods, such as from a dealer or by visiting multiple doctors
- Feeling low or “off” until the regular dose is taken
- Facing negative effects on personal, professional, and social life due to dependency on anxiety medication
Remember that the exact signs of anxiety medication addiction may vary from one person to another. Some people may develop the problem much sooner and experience more intense symptoms, while others may take a longer time or only exhibit milder issues.
Is Taking Anxiety Medication Bad? Exploring the Safer Alternatives
So far, a few drugs on the market are being advertised as non-addictive alternatives to regular anxiety medications. While these alternatives may be safer, remember that all drugs have potential risks and side effects to consider.
Also known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs are extremely effective at managing the symptoms of anxiety. However, it usually takes up to six weeks for these medications to start producing the full spectrum of effects. While SSRIs may not cause physical addiction, some people may end up becoming psychologically dependent on them. Some examples of SSRIs include Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and Celexa.
Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs, are not usually addictive but may cause psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms if a user suddenly stops consuming them.
Commonly available in the market as Buspar, buspirone is another anxious-anxiety medication that works similarly to an SSRI. What makes it different from the latter is its effects on one specific area of the brain, due to which it generally causes fewer side effects. Experts believe that Buspar does not cause any side effects and carries no addiction potential. Many people use it as a part of their substance use disorder treatment. While Buspar is not categorized as a controlled substance, a valid prescription is needed to get it.
Also known as Vistaril, this medication helps manage generalized anxiety disorder by blocking how histamine affects the body. Despite being a versatile and highly effective drug to manage anxiety, hydroxyzine must only be used in the short run and must never be considered a long-term solution.
Treatment for Anxiety Medication Addiction
While anxiolytics can be a great way to keep anxiety symptoms under control, many of these medications are highly addictive. The effects of such addiction may easily spread to different aspects of life, negatively affecting a person’s performance at work and home. If you or someone you know is addicted to anxiety medication, the best way to stop this cycle of abuse is by seeking professional help.
Most professional rehabilitation centers offer medical detoxification programs to support people experiencing anxiety medication addiction while providing round-the-clock treatment for withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, these programs also include clinical treatment from licensed counselors to manage the psychological effects of drug withdrawal.
When able, a person with anxiety medication addiction can start attending therapy meetings at a rehab center. These sessions provide them with additional support and guidance to people as they process their feelings and emotions related to achieving sobriety. Seeking professional help for breaking anxiety medication addiction not only ensures physical safety and health but also helps patients maintain sobriety even through the most difficult times of withdrawal.
Beating Anxiety Without Medication: Is There a Way?
While medications remain an important cornerstone of anxiety management, there are plenty of other ways to reduce anxiety symptoms naturally. Following are some tips to keep in mind in this regard:
- Quit drinking alcohol and smoking
- Limit your caffeine intake
- Exercise regularly
- Use deep breathing exercises to calm down the mind
- Practice meditation
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with limited processed foods and sugar content
- Take appropriate vitamins after consulting with a doctor to help with anxiety symptoms (such as B vitamins, probiotics, or L-theanine)
- Try supplements, such as Rhodiola, valerian root, and omega-3 fatty acids, after consulting with a doctor regarding their safety
Remember that none of the tips mentioned above are an alternative to professional treatment. People experiencing severe symptoms of anxiety must talk to their doctor at once to explore the best treatment option according to their circumstances. Anxiety and anxiety medication addiction are very common issues in today’s world, but fortunately, both remain highly treatable. A multidisciplinary approach that includes both clinical and medical care is the best way to resolve the issues at hand and start living the best life.
How do anxiety medications work?
The mechanism of action for anxiety medications may vary depending on the type you choose to take. Benzodiazepines, for instance, are the most commonly used medications that work by slowing down the brain and making a person feel more relaxed and calmer. These effects are achieved as a benzodiazepine stimulates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that blocks activity levels between different nerve cells. SSRIs, another category of anxiety medications, work by increasing the levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, to regulate the user’s overall mood. SNRIs, on the other hand, raise both serotonin and norepinephrine to regulate a person’s reaction to stress positively.
How do anxiety meds make you feel?
In general, anxiety medications make a person feel calmer and less anxious while relieving the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as nausea and stomach pain. In some people, these medications also support sleep, which may be otherwise affected by anxiety. However, in case these medications cause side effects, the treatment progress can take a massive negative hit. Some studies show that the side effects of anti-anxiety medications can have an equally negative impact on a person’s working life as their anxiety symptoms.
1 Ait-Daoud N, Hamby AS, Sharma S, Blevins D. A review of alprazolam use, misuse, and withdrawal. Journal of addiction medicine. 2018 Jan;12(1):4.
2 Dhaliwal JS, Rosani A, Saadabadi A. Diazepam.