Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Addicted to Anxiety Medication: The Dependency Risks of Benzodiazepine Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

anxiety medicineGeneralized Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common psychological ailments, affecting 3.1% of the population nationwide. This condition is characterized by irrational feelings of overwhelming worry and fear, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal discomfort, trembling, sweating, and shortness of breath. Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Northport generally includes prescription medications, often in combination with psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Anxiety disorders are often treated with SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medications, such as Zoloft or Prozac. However, benzodiazepines are also frequently prescribed in as treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. Benzodiazepines are often effective in providing short-term relief from anxiety symptoms; however, they do carry some risk for dependency and addiction, which physicians must take into account when prescribing these medications.

Benzodiazepines as Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Benzodiazepine medications are commonly prescribed in Northport as part of treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. In fact, four common benzodiazepines— alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan) — are among the top 100 most prescribed medications. Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid), which lends the drugs their sleep-inducing and anxiety-reducing effects. The most commonly used benzodiazepine in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder is alprazolam (Xanax). Although benzodiazepines are often efficacious for managing anxiety symptoms in Northport, they are not without risk. According to current estimates, as many as 23% of people who take prescription benzodiazepines may be dependent on them. The risk of dependency on benzodiazepines is most strongly associated with long-term use.

The Dangers of Benzodiazepine Dependence

Benzodiazepines tend to be federally scheduled due to risk of misuse. Although it is not unheard of for people in Northport to seek out benzodiazepines like Xanax illicitly for recreational purposes, many people who become dependent on these drugs were originally prescribed them for therapeutic purposes— often as treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. Although not everyone who takes a medicine like alprazolam is necessarily going to become dependent on it, physicians in Northport generally take these risks into account when prescribing them. Most physicians feel that benzodiazepines are suitable only for short-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.

Part of the reason that dependency to benzodiazepines can arise is that a person will develop a tolerance to the substances over time. Although tolerance to the sleep-inducing effects of benzodiazepines develops quickly, it takes longer for a tolerance to their anxiety-reducing effects to arise. Tolerance to benzodiazepines is associated with changes that occur in the number and sensitivity of GABA receptors, along with effects on other neurotransmitter symptoms and changes in genetic transcription and coding that arise as a result of long-term benzodiazepine use. When a person becomes physically dependent on a benzodiazepine, they cannot necessarily just stop taking the drug, because if they do, withdrawal symptoms may occur.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome

If a person who is taking benzodiazepines for long-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder develops a physical dependency, abrupt discontinuation of the drug can result in a benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. An estimated 15-44% of long-term benzodiazepines users will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug. Withdrawal symptoms vary in severity, but in extreme cases they can include life-threatening effects like seizures. 

Symptoms of a benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome may include:

  • Increased anxiety and panic attacks
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Muscle aches
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Headache
  • Hypertension
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired concentration
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Paranoia
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tinnitus
  • Visual disturbances
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Irritability

Long-term benzodiazepine use affects GABA receptors in the brain, and may even cause changes in genetic processes. This results in the development of a tolerance, and even of physical dependence on the substances. Although benzodiazepines such as Xanax are relatively safe for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms, they are not suitable for long-term treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. Better treatment options for anxiety in Northport include safer drugs that do not result in dependency, such as SSRIs; psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavior therapy; and neurofeedback therapy, an exciting treatment modality recently available in Northport that uses EEG biofeedback to identify and change brainwave dysregulation that underlies brain-based disorders such as generalized anxiety disorders.

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