Medication and anxiety

Strong evidence – there is lots of high-quality evidence that some young people find this treatment option helpful.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) 

Your professional might recommend that you take Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) if you have severe anxiety symptoms, you’ve tried Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and it didn’t help, or you did not want to have CBT.

SSRIs are called ‘antidepressant medications’ because they were originally developed as a treatment for depression. However, there is strong research evidence that they can also help with anxiety disorders. There are several different types of SSRI medication. Sertraline is often prescribed for anxiety disorders, but your professional might recommend another SSRI if they feel it would be more helpful.

It’s important to know that SSRIs don’t work straight away.  It can take 2-4 weeks before you notice an effect, and it can take 8 weeks or more to feel the full effect.


Buspirone is a different type of medication that can also help with anxiety symptoms. It is used on a short-term basis to reduce anxiety symptoms, so you might be offered buspirone at the start of your CBT treatment if you are very anxious and need help to get started. It takes 1 to 2 weeks to work, and 4 to 6 weeks to get to its full effect.

There is less research on buspirone as a treatment for anxiety disorders than there is for SSRIs.

Sedative medications

Diazepam and lorazepam are part of a group of medications called benzodiazepines. These are sedative medications that are sometimes used to reduce anxiety in specific stressful situations, such as going to the dentist. They are not used to treat anxiety disorders because the anxiety returns when the medication wears off and because they can cause dependence, which means that it can be difficult to stop taking the medication.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are another group of antidepressant medications. Research suggests that this type of medication can be helpful to treat adult anxiety disorders. However, SNRIs have a higher rate of side-effects in children and young people than SSRIs and are also less effective, so these are not usually prescribed for children and young people with anxiety disorders.

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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