Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are medications and psychotherapy. You may even benefit more from a combination of the two. It may take some trial and error to discover exactly what treatments work best for you.


Several different types of medications are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Antidepressants. These medications influence the activity of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) thought to play a role in anxiety disorders. Examples of antidepressants used to treat generalized anxiety disorder include Paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor).
  • Buspirone. This anti-anxiety medication may be used on an ongoing basis. As with most antidepressants, it typically takes up to several weeks to become fully effective. A common side effect of buspirone is a feeling of lightheadedness shortly after taking it. Less common side effects include headaches, nausea, nervousness and insomnia.
  • Benzodiazepines. In limited circumstances your doctor may prescribe one of these sedatives for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms. Examples include lorazepam (Ativan), diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and alprazolam (Xanax). Benzodiazepines are generally only used for relieving acute anxiety on a short-term basis. They can be habit forming and can cause a number of side effects, including drowsiness, reduced muscle coordination, and problems with balance and memory.

In some cases, medications not specifically approved for generalized anxiety disorder may be tried. Off-label use is a common and legal practice of using a medication to treat a condition not specifically listed on its prescribing label as an FDA-approved use.


Also known as talk therapy and psychological counseling, psychotherapy involves working out underlying life stresses and concerns and making behavior changes. It can be a very effective treatment for anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Generally a short-term treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on teaching you specific skills to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with positive ones. Even if an undesirable situation doesn't change, you can reduce stress and gain more control over your life by changing the way you respond.

Sep. 08, 2011

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