Deciding whether or not to use an anxiety medication
is a tough decision for many individuals.
On the one hand, most folks don't like the idea of taking medication, especially for an "emotional" problem. On the other hand, most folks want their anxiety symptoms to stop NOW.
Well, the right anxiety medication can be effective in controlling anxiety, but is it right for you? It's important to talk to your therapist and your doctor to educate yourself about the treatment options available to make the best decision.
Here are a few of the most common reasons I hear from my clients for not wanting to include anxiety medications
in their anxiety treatment, as well as my rebuttals:
- "I should be able to control this by myself." Hmmmm. It's true that with the right therapy you can learn to control your anxiety symptoms and panic attacks but there's no should about it. If you had the ability to control your symptoms, would you be reading this? The reality is that you have not yet learned to control these symptoms, and even more importantly, having an anxiety disorder is not a measure of character, personal fortitude, or intelligence.
"Should's" are rarely a good reason for almost anything. The question to ask yourself is this--are you able to attend to treatment well enough right now to gain the learning and understanding you need to in able to address your symptoms? Sometimes the situation is just too acute or painful to even approach a learning mode, and being able to gain the control to participate in therapy is probably the best reason to consider an anxiety medication.
- "I don't want to get addicted." Ok, this is a better argument, but not a great one. It is true that certain anxiety medications, such as the benzodiazepine family of drugs (or the minor tranquilizers) that include trade names like Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, or Valium, have the potential for dependence and/or tolerance, the two ingrediants for addiction, if they are misused or taken regularly over long periods of time. However, it is unlikely that anxiety medication will cause an addiction problem if taken correctly under the care of a physician.
It is important to understand that the minor tranquilizers are a band-aid, however, not a cure. The most important factor in not coming to rely on this type of anxiety medication and risk addiction is to concurrently seek treatment with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in anxiety treatment, so you can learn where your anxiety comes from and how to control those nasty anxiety symptoms and keep them at bay.
Other medications sometimes prescribed for anxiety fall under the category of SSRI's or SNRI's, types of antidepressants. These types of medications can be very effective in treating anxiety, do not create dependence or tolerance and are therefore not addictive. It is important to note, however, that these medications should never be discontinued abruptly, as they can cause uncomfortable symptoms that can be avoided by gradually reducing the dosage under the guidance of your doctor.
- "I don't want to take anxiety medication forever." As you can see from the above paragraph on the potential of addiction, the minor tranquilizers used as anxiety medications are not intended to be taken "forever" and indeed are most often indicated for short term use by individuals whose daily activities have become significantly impaired because of their anxiety symptoms. these anxiety medications are a short-term "band-aid" so that an individual can gain the wherewithal to concentrate on therapy to gain the insight and learn the behavioral tools necessary so that they can participate in treatment effectively. It's pretty hard to concentrate on therapy when you're having a panic attack!
Other common medications that a physician might recommend to address anxiety fall under a different category of drugs known SSRI's or SNRI's (selective serotnin or norepinephron reuptake inhibitors, respectively), otherwise known as antidepressants with trade names like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, or Cymbalta to name a few. These medications are indeed taken on a longer term trial, usually 3 to 6 months, to relieve anxiety, and are especially indicated for anxiety that manifests because of an underlying depression.
Most individuals will gain relief within the trial period and find that they can discontinue the medication without relapsing into anxiety symptoms that require medical intervention if they have undertaken appropriate therapy to help them learn to understand and control their anxiety symptoms. Again, these types of medications may be an important tool if used in conjunction with counseling to allow an individual enough relief from their symptoms to participate in anxiety treatment effectively so that drugs are no longer needed in the future.
- "I'm afraid of the side effects". Don't be afraid, be educated. Your prescribing physician will tell you which side effects are "normal" and which should cause concern. Most often the type of side effects most commonly experienced are mild, and in the case of the SSRI's or SNRI's often disappear entirely after a couple of weeks.
- "I don't like taking medications." I don't either! However it's important to remember that your anxiety has unwanted "side effects" as well, such as keeping you from living the life you want. It is always important to weigh the risks and benefits of any anxiety medication with your doctor before beginning any regimen.
Can you stop your anxiety without taking medication? Yes!
Whether you decide to approach your anxiety symptoms with or without medication, you can learn the tools you need to relieve your anxiety and start creating the life you really want. Are you ready to end your anxiety today?
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