Anxiety Drugs Side Effects vs. Alternative Methods.

Acupuncture Treatment for AnxietyThe conventional way to treat anxiety disorders is with the use of medications and psychotherapy. Before dispensing treatment, the doctor should perform a thorough diagnostic test to see if the symptoms of a patient are due to an anxiety problem or from a certain physical issue.  Then if the diagnosis is an anxiety condition, the doctor must determine if other seemingly related conditions exist in the patient such as substance abuse or depression.  These coexisting problems need to be addressed first and better managed by the patient before the anxiety problem itself is addressed.


Drugs (medications) do not really treat an anxiety disorder and are usually used to keep the anxiety at a manageable level while the patient undergoes psychotherapy. These drugs are prescribed by psychiatrists or physicians most of the time. Psychotherapy can be done by a psychiatrist alone or by a team of counselors, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.  The main types of drugs utilized for anxiety disorder include beta-blockers, anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants to address a lot of the physical symptoms.

Beta-blockers – One common beta-blocker used for anxiety disorder is Inderal or propranolol.  This is used to prevent feeling of phobia.

Anti-Anxiety Drugs – Some of these drugs include benzodiazepines like Klonopin or clonazepam (used for generalized anxiety disorder or GAD); Ativan or lorazepam (used for panic disorder) and Xanax or alprazolam (used for GAD and panic disorder). Benzodiazepines have side effects like sleep problems, lethargy, irritability, dizziness, headaches, nausea, emotional clouding, employment difficulties, social deterioration, depression, personality changes, aggression and memory impairment. They tend to be often abused by alcohol or substance abusers and so are prescribed only for short amounts of time. However, patients with panic disorder can take this drug type for up to a year. Withdrawal symptoms and the return of the anxiety come to patients who abruptly cease taking benzodiazepines.


As the name implies antidepressants are basically used to address depression; however, it has also been found effective to treat anxiety disorders. These types of drugs take effect on the brain immediately but it may take a month to 1.5 months to see some marked changes to the symptoms. Their side effects include cognitive disorders, paresthesia, photosensitivity, suicidal thoughts, akathisia, tremors, mania, sexual dysfunction, weak bones, weight changes, diarrhea, insomnia, appetite loss, mydriasis, dizziness, bruxism, headaches, drowsiness, vomiting and nausea among others. Antidepressants include:

  • SSRIs– Some of the drug types of sel ctive serotonin reuptake inhibitors include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine) and Celexa (citalopram).  These drugs are used for social phobia, PTSD, OCD and panic disorder. They are also selected when depression, social phobia as well as OCD are diagnosed along with panic disorder. Effexor (venlafaxine) is an SSRI-like drug used to address GAD. All these drugs are initially given in low doses gradually increased until a positive effect is seen.
  • Tricyclics – These include Tofranil (imipramine) used for GAD and panic disorder, Anafranil (clomipramine), the tricyclic antidepressant that can treat OCD.
  • MAOIs– These include Nardil (phenelzine), Parnate (tranylcypromine) and Marplan (isocarboxazid).  They are all beneficial in addressing social phobia and panic disorder. The downside to monoamine oxidase inhibitors is that they can cause “serotonin syndrome,” a disorder that is associated with changes in heart rhythm and blood pressure, seizures, muscle stiffness, sweating and other serious symptoms.


Psychotherapy is a counseling procedure wherein the patient talks with a qualified mental health person like a counselor, social worker, psychologist or a psychiatrist in order to know the cause of the patient’s anxiety problem and how its symptoms can be treated.  Some of the types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT – This type of therapy assists people in changing their perception towards people, things and events. This therapy modifies people’s thoughts in order for them to react much better to things and events that provoke anxiety. Some examples of how this therapy works is assuring the patient who’s suffering from a panic attack that his attack is not a heart attack or teach patients who have social phobia to get over the thinking that there are people who constantly watch and judge them. These therapists also instruct deep breathing and certain kinds of exercises to treat anxiety and promote relaxation. CBT is often customized to specifically address the patient’s anxiety. The best thing about this kind of treatment is that the patient does not suffer from side effects other than the initial but transient feeling of increased anxiety.
  • Exposure Based Behavioral Therapy – This type of therapy is effective in treating several kinds of phobias. The therapist makes the patient slowly face the latter’s feared situation or object usually initially with situation’s/ object’s tapes or pictures then progress slowly until the patient encounters them in actuality. In order to give guidance and support the therapist accompanies the patient to his feared situation or object.

CBT or Exposure-Based Behavioral Therapy typically goes for around 3 months. The therapy can involve a group or individual therapy. Therapy by groups is quite ideal for sufferers of social phobia. The therapist often gives assignments to the patient to be submitted on the next session. People who have tried medication therapy and psychotherapy attest that the latter has benefits that are more enduring especially of the anxiety disorder is social phobia, PTSD or OCD. If the disorder comes back later on, the patient can again avail of psychotherapy with the same effective results.

Some therapists will include medications with the psychotherapy for patients with specific anxiety problems.

Acupuncture and Other Alternative Treatments

Acupuncture, along with a wide range of alternative therapies are available for the treatment of anxiety disorder. These methods work well and don’t carry the dangerous side effects of prescription drugs. They are natural, effective, safe and of course, drug-free. These include:

Cognitive feedback procedures – These procedures consist of biofeedback, hypnosis, self-help groups, imagery and relaxation techniques.

Physical manipulation – These are very good anxiety treatment alternatives and they include chiropractic, acupuncture, massage and yoga.

Supplements – They include vitamin, naturopathic, homeopathic and herbal supplements.

Other lifestyle-centered therapies – They include energy healing, spiritual healing, weight loss, aromatherapy, exercise, restrictions and special diets among others.

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Alida van Heerden, L.Ac.
Manhattan Acupuncture Clinic
900 Broadway, Suite 404
New York, NY 10003
(between 19th and 20th Street)


Manhattan Acupuncture Clinic
80 E 11th St #411, New York, NY 10003
Phone: 917-968-6456
Fax: 212-737-1027


Serving New York.

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