Anxiety medication, and any medication in general, is something to be taken only with caution (as noted in Medication – Don’t Believe the Hype!), and in many cases, doctors will unnecessarily prescribe medications that are not needed (need and want are two terms that people have a difficult time distinguishing between).
The patient’s goal in seeking medication is to reduce the distress that is being experienced. Many patients often mistake anxiety medication to be a cure for a certain condition; however, this is not the case. What medication really does would be more properly termed to be symptom suppression. By this term, it is meant that rather than actually curing the condition and removing it from the patient, the patient’s anxious symptoms (swirling head, upset stomach, sweaty palms, shaking arms etc…) are reduced to a much more manageable level. The anxious thinking, the core of the problem, is still there. A person will not wake up the next day, being on the new medication, and suddenly turn into a relaxed and confident socialite who can handle anything. A more realistic picture will be that that person is still anxious in all the same situations as before, but to a lesser degree.
What doctors do not tell the patient is how to put this artificial relaxation to use in terms of treating anxiety. Doctors, as a whole, emphasize only half of the human being, the physical part, and the other half, the mind, is incredibly powerful and can have great physical effects. (If one finds a really good doctor that emphasizes both body and mind, one should hold onto this doctor at all costs). What one should really be doing, now that he or she feels more relaxed, is confronting anxiety provoking situations and gaining skill in relation to managing anxiety. That way, when one decides to cease medication, one’s relaxation level will remain as a natural part of one’s personality because he or she has identified healthier thought patterns that reduce anxious symptomology.
Another caveat to medication is that many times patients will habituate to the medication. To habituate means that the person’s body becomes well acclimated to the medication, and the medication no longer provides its beneficial effects. So, while medication may be helpful, its effects are not necessarily permanent.
A very important point to remember about seeing doctors is that medicine, as a science, takes a reactionary approach to treating diseases and conditions. Rather than treating the root cause of the problem, in this case anxiety, medicine treats its symptoms, which as shown before, does not necessarily completely change one’s life for the better. Choosing to treat the symptoms and not the cause of the problem means that patients will have to remain on expensive medications for longer periods of time and engage in even further methods for reducing symptoms (seeking a different medication, or an additional one to suppress negative symptoms provided by the first medication). This creates an elaborate web of methods that are expensive, and most importantly, only temporary. Prevention is a far more effective long term method of treating anxiety, and it is one that most doctors ignore (the good ones don’t ignore prevention). The reason that prevention is not discussed more in medicine, or other areas of mental health, is that prevention is very difficult to measure scientifically, and therefore it is hard to demonstrate with raw numbers that prevention actually works. However, based on the elaborate webs of symptoms and reactionary treatment that are created by today’s medicine, it seems that prevention would be a very useful strategy to employ.
How can one employ prevention in terms of treating anxiety? The answer is by treating the root problem. The more one learns to successfully process anxiety (a superior method to medicine of treating anxiety by burning it off and getting it out of one’s brain and body; this is discussed in more detail in Successful Processing of Anxiety), and the more that one learns to prevent anxiety by engaging in appropriate methods (discussed in further detail in The Anxiety Bible), the better off one is in the short and long term. When one learns to change his or her thinking and perception of life and its events, this leads to a permanent change in behavior, something that medicine alone cannot accomplish.
The final negative aspect to consider about medication is that even though the medication might be approved for sale by the Food and Drug Administration, this does not mean that all the effects of the drug are known, and many times drug companies will pay off officials to look over the possible negative effects of medication. In many cases, although no anxiety medications come to mind, science will find that for a few years, a certain drug is safe; then after a long term study of the drug is conducted, it is found that those who take it receive no beneficial effects for anxiety, or that perhaps they experience significant side effects (like increased risk of cancer or heart disease) many years down the road.
While this article has spent much of its time exposing all the shortfalls and drawbacks of medication, it is important to remember that medication can have very beneficial effects. Many of the severely anxious are so anxious that performing the smallest task, like going to a restaurant to eat, is a very stressful task. For those who are severely anxious like this and who cannot perform basic life functions (like working for example), medication is a necessary solution because it enables them to do the things they need to do in order to survive.
In the end, the best way to view medication is to look at it as a place of last resort. The motto of less is more is a good framework for thinking about medication. Medication, it seems, has a short term effect that is not curative. However, it can be very beneficial in a handful of situations, so it may be a viable option for some, but the best long term solution that leads to permanent happiness and relaxation is a preventative and multidisciplinary approach. There is no objective set of criteria that can be used whether or not to determine if one needs medication. However, the guidelines in this article have hopefully helped to clarify this decision making process.