A certain amount of stress can be beneficial, providing a stimulus to action. Too much, however, will often result in anxiety, which might be described as fear or apprehension not caused by real danger. Clinically, anxiety arises when the balance of certain chemicals in the brain is disturbed.
The fearful feelings increase brain activity, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and often triggers physical symptoms, for example, breathlessness, shaking, palpitations, digestive distress, and headaches. Why they are used Anti-anxiety drugs (also called anxiolytics or minor tranquillizers) are prescribed for short-term relief of severe anxiety and nervousness caused by psychological problems. These drugs cannot resolve the underlying problems which are best tackled by counselling and perhaps psychotherapy for a long-term solution. Anti-anxiety drugs are also used in hospitals to calm and relax people who are undergoing uncomfortable medical procedures. The two main classes of drugs for relieving anxiety are benzodizepines and beta blockers.
Benzodizepines are the most widely used, given as a regular treatment for short periods to promote relaxation. As most benzodiazepines also have a sedative effect, they help to relieve the insomnia that accompanies anxiety. Beta blockers are mainly used to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as shaking and palpitations. They are commonly prescribed for people who feel excessively anxious in certain situations, such as interviews or public appearances. Many anti-depressants, including SSRIs, clomipramine, and venlafaxine, are proving useful in some anxiety disorders. How they work Benzodiazepines and related drugs.
These drugs depress activity in the part of the brain that controls emotions by promoting the action of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which binds to neurons, blocking transmission of electrical impulses and thus reducing communication between brain cells. Benzodizapines increase the inhibitory effect of GABA on brain cells, preventing the excessive brain activity that causes anxiety.
Busiprone differs from other anti-derpressants in that it binds mainly to serotonin (another neurotransmitter) receptors and does not cause drowsiness. Its effect is not felt for at least two weeks after starting treatment. Beta blockers The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by an increase in the activity of the sympatheic nervous system. Sympathetic nerve endings release a chemical transmitter called norepinephrine (noradrenaline) that stimulates the heart, digestive system, and other organs. Beta blockers block the action of noradrenaline in the body, reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety. How they affect you Benzodiazepines and related drugs reduce feelings of restlessness and agitation, slow mental activity, and often produce drowsiness. They are said to reduce motivation and, if they are taken in large doses, may lead to apathy.
They also have a relaxing effect on the muscles, and some benzodiazepines are used specifically for that purpose. Minor adverse effects of these drugs include dizziness and forgetfulness. People who need to drive or operate machinery should be aware that their reactions may be slowed. Because the brain soon becomes tolerant to, and dependent on their effects, benzodiazepines are usually effective for only a few weeks at a time. Beta blockers reduce the physical symptoms associated with anxiety, which may promote greater mental calmness. They are safer for people who need to drive as they do not cause drowsiness.
Risks and special precautions The benzodiazepines are safe for most people and are unlikely to be fatal in overdose. Dependence is the main risk, especially for regular users or when larger-than-average doses have been used. Because of this they are usually given for courses of two weeks or less. If they have been used for a longer period they should be withdrawn gradually under medical supervision. If stopped suddenly, withdrawal symptoms such as excessive anxiety, nightmares, and restlessness, may occur. Benzodiazepines have been abused for their sedative effect, and are therefore prescribed with caution for people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse.