The first time your anxiety disorder fully reveals itself can be a terrifying and confusing experience. There you are, going through your everyday routine, when all of a sudden, without any rational reason or warning your anxiety levels go off the scale.
You’ve just had the first of what turns out to be a series of episodes, scary thoughts run through your mind, maybe there’s something seriously wrong with you, maybe you have a problem with your heart, maybe this is a serious threat to your health!
You start to feel more and more anxiety about everyday things, afraid to go out, irrational fears stalking your every waking moment. You’re scared and you feel like you’re struggling to cope, so you book an appointment to see your local doctor for advice.
Your doctor listens to your story, asks a few questions, and conducts a physical examination to see if he can find any physical cause for the symptoms you are describing. Depending on your doctor’s knowledge at this point he may recommend you to a specialist for further testing, or he may realize that there is nothing physically wrong with you.
Either way, the end result is often the same, you are reassured that everything is alright, but recognising how stressed and anxious you appear to be, the doctor makes out a prescription for some medication to help you relax.
The drugs that are given to you can sometimes help in the short term to relieve some of the symptoms that you are experiencing, but the relief you feel from this treatment can only be considered temporary.
It is not a way of curing your problem and giving you back your life to enjoy again. As soon as you stop taking the medication your problems will usually resurface and torment you.
Even more worrying is the fact that many of the drugs you are offered have harmful side effects and can be very addictive.
There are a number of different drugs that are used when dealing with anxiety disorders. Probably the most common are the benzodiazepines. This class of drugs includes the well known Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and Librium.
Benzodiazepines act fairly quickly, and produce a sedative effect. It can temporarily reduce the feeling of anxiety, but can also lead to side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, confusion and impaired thinking. Because it builds up in the body these side effects can become even more pronounced with prolonged use.
But the worst problem with the use of benzodiazepines, comes because of the need to continue using it in the long term to manage your condition. With symptoms returning upon stopping taking the drug, the risk is that your use may continue beyond the point at which you become addicted.
The withdrawal from bezodiazepines can be a harrowing experience, with insomnia, tremors, muscle spasms, gastric problems, depression and anxiety all common symptoms. Sometimes the effects can be worse, with depersonalization, derealization, hallucinations and psychosis. This experience can last for months.
Added to this will usually be the return of your anxiety condition, as the root cause of your problem has still not been identified and dealt with. The combination of withdrawal and full exposure to your anxiety disorder can be very difficult to cope with.
Long term use of benzodiazepines often leads to depression, and the escalating dosage required to overcome the effects of the tolerance that you develop to the drug can increase the risk of experiencing depressive symptoms which can also lead to suicidal thoughts and feelings.
A different type of medication often prescribed are anti-depressants. Commonly these are Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), of which the best known is Prozac. These have less harmful side effects than the benzodiazepines, but are also more limited in their effectiveness to treat anxiety disorders, and usually take over a month to start having an effect.
However the side effects do still exist, and use of SSRIs can mean having to live with fatigue, nausea, tremors, headaches, weight gain, decreased sex drive, insomnia, anxiety and diarrhea.
There is also the danger that, in some people, long term use of anti-depressants can actually cause an increase in depression and anxiety and consequently an increased risk of suicide.
While they are not as addictive as benzodiazepines, withdrawal from anti-depressants can be very tough. It is common for it to cause depression, and can also result in tremors, insomnia and nightmares, and of course the resumption of your anxiety disorder in full force.
Beta blockers are another type of medication that are sometimes used to help anxiety. These are more frequently used to treat people with heart and blood pressure problems. They are not FDA approved for use with anxiety disorders but can be prescribed because there are scientific reports that support their use.
While they can help to keep some of the physical symptoms under control, like trembling and sweating, they are not useful for dealing with the psychological aspects of anxiety disorders.
Consequently they are of very limited use, and mainly seem to offer help to those with social phobia and performance anxiety in dealing with specific situations, such as giving a speech or performing in a public venue.
They also have a number of adverse reactions associated with them, including nausea, hallucinations, diarrhoea, dizziness and fatigue. Commonly prescribed beta blockers include Inderal and Tenormin.
Medication can be of help to people with severe symptoms who are desperate for immediate relief, but it should only ever be viewed as a very short term aid. Ultimately you need to cure yourself of this condition if you want to live a happy and satisfying life in the future, and the drugs you are prescribed are unlikely to do that for you.
If you are currently taking drugs to deal with your anxiety problem, strongly consider speaking to your doctor about slowly withdrawing from them, and start looking for a permanent solution.
You don’t have to continue to suffer, or accept a future in which you have to manage your condition. You can beat your anxiety disorder, but you will need to utilize a different treatment method because relying on medication may end up doing you a lot more harm in the long run than it does good.