Reader's Digest (Canada)
THERE’S NO SHAME IN TAKING MEDICATION
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.