Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Medications You Can Safely Take for Your Anxiety Disorders

I have recently discovered two medications you can safely take to give you some relief from anxiety symptoms and to calm down your anxious reactions. When I say "safely" what I mean is, they're not benzos, they're not addictive and you don't have to worry about serious withdrawals if and when you stop taking them. They also won't take over your mind or your moods or make you numb to the world. Does that sound like something you'd like to know about? I thought so.

Let me give you a little background before I tell you about these meds. I work in a residential drug and alcohol treatment center and part of my job is supervising the patients when they take both over-the-counter meds and prescriptions. So I see what they're taking and often we get into conversations about their prescription medications, what they're for and how well they're working.

I realize the average person wouldn't be aware of how many people in treatment centers experience anxiety symptoms, but suffice it to say, it's a healthy percentage. They come in three varieties:
  1. People who (like me) were abusing drugs or alcohol to self-medicate anxiety and/or panic disorders and became seriously addicted to one or the other, or both.
  2. People who develop anxiety symptoms (or symptoms that are nearly identical) as part of their withdrawal process.
  3. People who are addicted to anti-anxiety medicines prescribed to them by a doctor or doctors for anxiety and panic disorders.
Consequently, I'm exposed to a lot of people with anxiety disorder or symptoms and many of them are taking medications for them. Keep in mind, we don't allow patients to continue taking any addictive drugs, like benzos - even Xanax - so they, with the help of our nursing staff, have to find alternatives. And those are what I want to talk about here.

Vistaril or Atarax- Generic Name: hydroxyzine hydrochloride

Vistaril is actually an antihistamine that's particularly effective at calming the nervous system. It's even sometimes used before and after general anesthesia to keep a surgery patient calm. Side effects are similar to other antihistamines such as benadryl: dry mouth and possible drowsiness. You'd want to find out how you react to it before driving a car, etc.

Vistaril is the most common anxiety control prescription taken where I work and most of the patients I've talked to who take it are satisfied with the results. Some have found it does make them drowsy (just like benadryl) and simply take it at night before going to bed.

Neurontin - Generic Name: gabapentin

Neurontin was first used as an anticonvulsant for controlling epileptic seizures. It's also commonly used to treat neuropathic pain such as damaged nerves, phantom limb syndrome and restless leg syndrome. I've seen a lot of diabetics taking it for neuropathy that's common with their condition.

Using gabapentin for anxiety or panic disorder is actually "off-label" which means it hasn't actually been approved by the FDA for that purpose. But more and more doctors are prescribing it and patients are reporting good results. I've personally only talked to one patient whose psychiatrist prescribed Neurontin for his anxiety so was surprised to hear about it and then to learn how common this use is.

Side effects of gabapentin are generally mild and it's rare that a patient will find them disruptive to their life, enough to discontinue using it. Quitting gabapentin suddenly could cause some mild withdrawals, however. You'd want to taper off it according to your doctor's directions.

These two prescription medications are probably the most common in the med cabinets at the treatment center. Although most who are taking gabapentin aren't taking it for anxiety.

A Third Safe Anxiety Medication: Beta Blockers

When I first developed sudden and severe anxiety symptoms, including hand tremors, my doctor prescribed Metoprolol, a beta blocker usually prescribed for lowering blood pressure. Beta blockers work by blocking the release of adrenaline, the nasty stuff that causes anxiety symptoms. It worked for me, for a while, and I was able to continue my work as a hairstylist. It also brought my normally healthy blood pressure back down to where it had always been.

Notice I said, "for a while". I'm not quite sure why the Metoprolol didn't continue to keep my symptoms calmed down, but remember, I was going through severe anxiety at the time; it may be that it just wasn't enough once my body got used to it. And to be honest, that was so many years ago I don't remember all the details. But I suspect a person with generalized anxiety might just find that a beta blocker will keep their symptoms under some semblance of control.

I've also read that a beta blocker is often prescribed for a person with social anxiety - especially fear of public speaking or performing onstage - to be taken before an anxiety-causing event.

Are These Meds the Answer?

As is true with any medication taken for anxiety or panic disorders, they will only treat the symptoms, they will never cure your disorder. And there is absolutely no reason why you should have to continue to suffer from anxiety disorder or take medications or powerful, mind-numbing, energy-sapping psychotropic drugs the rest of your life. Not when the meds discussed in this post can prudently be used to help keep the symptoms under control, while freeing you to work on a real cure.

Yes, I said CURE. There is a way out, and it's right there in your brain, the same place where the problem is. You just need to re-train it! And a great way to do that is with the Easy Calm Video Coaching Series - check it out!

To Your Recovery,