Reader's Digest (Canada)



Many people avoid taking, or even looking into, medication for anxiety because of the stigmas associated with psychiatri­c drugs. They may worry about dangerous side effects, that they’ll become dependent on them or that loved ones will see them as weak or flawed.

But the fact is, modern pharmacolo­gical treatments for anxiety disorders are safer and produce fewer side effects than they did 30 years ago. At the same time, attitudes toward mental illnesses are improving: a 2019 survey by the American Psychologi­cal Associatio­n found that 87 per cent of adults agreed that having a mental-health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re ready to explore medication, Dr. Debra Kissen, CEO of Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center, suggests talking to a primary care doctor, who can prescribe the medication­s most commonly taken for anxiety.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered a good starting medication for many forms of anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotrans­mitter that plays a role in feelings of well-being and happiness, as well as thinking, memory, sleep, digestion and circulatio­n. SSRIs increase levels of serotonin in the brain and are considered non-addictive and safe for long-term use.

Another choice is benzodiaze­pines, or “benzos,” which strengthen the effect of the neurotrans­mitter GABA—the primary inhibitory (“turn off”) signaller in the brain. Benzos are fast-acting and don’t stay in your system for long, but they are considered unsafe for continuous use and are potentiall­y addictive.

Kissen believes therapy is still crucial because the gains are hardwired into your brain. For moderate to severe anxiety, combining therapy with medication is generally the most impactful. “It’s a one-two punch where the medication is setting up the environmen­t of your brain to make the most rapid gains as you’re doing the work of learning new ways of looking at situations,” says Kissen.

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