Benzodiazepines are a class of pharmaceutical drugs that are commonly prescribed to people suffering from anxiety. Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax (Alprazolam), Valium (Diazepam), Klonopin (Clonazepam), and Ativan (Lorazepam).
Benzodiazepines are most appropriate when prescribed for short periods to help people cope with acute anxiety rather than chronic anxiety. For example, benzodiazepines are helpful immediately after someone has been involved in a major car accident or when a loved one has just died.
I counsel my clients that have been prescribed benzodiazepines that this class of medications should be used with caution because the potential for addiction is very high. Some people are tempted to use benzodiazepines on a daily basis to manage the symptoms of panic attacks or stress over the longer-term, but this use is inappropriate.
I encourage my clients to ask their family doctor about the risks and benefits of taking benzodiazepines, especially so that they will understand the potential for life-threatening seizures and the struggle to taper off the medication after medium-term to long-term use.
Because the symptoms of depression and anxiety are highly correlated (meaning if someone has depression, there is a high probability that they also have anxiety), it makes sense that a number of antidepressants can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. I encourage my clients to ask their family doctor whether they might benefit from taking a specific antidepressant to help them manage the symptoms of anxiety over the medium-term.
A safe, long-term approach for people that suffer from anxiety would be to seek counselling to develop improved coping skills to better manage the symptoms of anxiety without medication.
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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta