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About Anxiolytics

Anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety drugs, are a category of drugs used to prevent anxiety and treat anxiety related to several anxiety disorders. These drugs tend to work rather quickly and can be habit-forming. Because of this, they’re usually only prescribed for short-term use. They aren’t recommended for people with a history of substance misuse or addiction.

How they work

Anxiolytics work by targeting key chemical messengers in the brain. This is thought to help decrease abnormal excitability. Some of the more frequently prescribed anxiolytics are benzodiazepines. These include:


Primarily, anxiolytics are used to treat symptoms of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and social phobia. Some are also used as sedatives before anesthesia for medical procedures.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include extreme worry or fear that lasts more than six months. Social phobia is the deep fear of social situations, such as meeting new people or speaking and performing in public. Social phobia can cause physical symptoms like profuse sweating and nausea. Over time, this disorder can be paralyzing and lead to social isolation.

Anxiolytics are often combined with psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. Together, they can help improve quality of life for people with anxiety disorders. For more information, read about talking to a doctor about your anxiety.

Side effects

Anxiolytics may cause drowsiness or dizziness. Other side effects include lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, and problems with memory. Long-term use can make side effects worse.


You should use anxiolytics exactly as instructed. Misusing these drugs can lead to severe effects.


Some anxiolytics can be habit-forming. You can develop cravings for some of these drugs, especially if you take them for too long. Taking anxiolytics for an extended period can also lead to drug tolerance. This means that after using the drug for a long time, you need more of it to get the same effect.


Check with your doctor before you stop taking these drugs. If you stop taking anxiolytics suddenly, you may develop withdrawal symptoms. These can include seizures. If you talk to your doctor, though, they can help you taper off the drug slowly and safely.


Don’t take more than you’ve been prescribed. An overdose of an anxiolytic drug can result in coma or death.

Talk to your doctor

Many types of anxiolytics help prevent anxiety and treat conditions related to anxiety. These drugs are primarily for short-term use. Long-term use can be associated with severe effects. Some anxiolytics can be addictive. Tell your doctor if you have a history of substance abuse. They may prescribe another treatment. If you’re interested in other options, read these tips for anxiety prevention.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Nov 07, 2016: Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, MS, FASCP

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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