Medications for anxiety and depression often target neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to improve mood and reduce symptoms.

Anxiety and depression frequently co-occur, often sharing symptoms like difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, irritability, fatigue, and changes in appetite.

A doctor will typically diagnose these conditions using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), usually through chats or questionnaires.

The doctor will then plan treatment options, which may involve medications that address both anxiety and depression.

Finding the right meds is essential for improved quality of life, though it may take some time. Here are some options for managing both conditions.

Here are some commonly prescribed medications for treating both anxiety and depression:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs like sertraline (Zoloft) and escitalopram (Lexapro) are commonly prescribed for anxiety and depression. They work by blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin by nerve cells, allowing it to remain active in the brain for more extended periods.

This prolonged activity of serotonin helps regulate mood and emotions, effectively alleviating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and related conditions.

SSRIs are commonly considered first-line treatments for both depression and certain anxiety disorders due to their effectiveness, tolerability, and relatively fewer side effects compared to other classes of antidepressants.

A study of more than 8,000 adults with major depression found that SSRIs had rapid and strong effects on specific emotional symptoms like depressed mood and psychic anxiety (internal tension or unease).

In addition, as their depressed mood lessened, they also saw improvements in their ability to think and concentrate.

Side effects of SSRIs can include:

  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • sexual dysfunction
  • potential weight change

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs like venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta) function by hindering serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake in the brain. This action influences mood, attention, and the stress response, potentially easing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

While concerns exist about SNRIs possibly causing anxiety due to their noradrenergic impact, a review of 52 studies involving venlafaxine and duloxetine in adults with depression or anxiety disorders showed promising outcomes.

These medications consistently relieved depressive and anxious symptoms without exacerbating anxiety, suggesting their effective management of both conditions.

Side effects of SNRIs may include:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • increased blood pressure

Atypical antidepressants

Atypical antidepressants, a diverse class of medications, don’t have a precise mechanism of action shared among them. They’re deemed “atypical” due to their unique mechanisms, distinct from other standard antidepressants.

Two common atypical antidepressants include:

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin): Bupropion primarily inhibits dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake, contributing to its antidepressant effect and use in smoking cessation by affecting nicotine receptors. Side effects might include agitation, insomnia, dry mouth, headache, nausea, and, rarely, seizures at higher doses.
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron): Mirtazapine uniquely blocks specific serotonin and alpha-adrenergic receptors, enhancing the release of norepinephrine and serotonin. Its sedative quality is often used to alleviate depression-related sleep issues. Side effects may include increased appetite, weight gain, drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation, and dizziness.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs like amitriptyline (Elavil) and nortriptyline (Pamelor) elevate serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, easing depression. They impact various brain receptors, potentially making them more effective for certain symptoms such as pain, treatment-resistant depression, or insomnia.

Sometimes used off-label for anxiety, TCAs might be chosen over SSRIs based on specific symptoms or medical history.

A study examining 75 individuals treated with TCAs found that most (71%) reached therapeutic levels within 2 months. Nortriptyline often achieved these levels more swiftly than other TCAs.

Yet, TCAs commonly yield more side effects like:

  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • constipation
  • blurred vision
  • possible cardiovascular effects, due to their broader impact on bodily systems

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs, such as phenelzine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate), work by blocking the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which breaks down neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

A doctor might prescribe an MAOI over an SSRI in cases of severe treatment-resistant depression, or if your depression shows atypical features.

A case study showcased a man in his 60s whose severe depressive symptoms resurged after discontinuing long-term phenelzine due to a shortage. Despite trying other antidepressants, his symptoms persisted until reintroducing phenelzine, resulting in marked improvement within weeks.

This highlights phenelzine’s unique effectiveness as a nonselective MAOI, likely impacting multiple neurotransmitters. While MAOIs pose risks like hypertensive crisis and serotonin syndrome, careful monitoring and education can facilitate their safe use, especially in treatment-resistant depression cases.

But, due to dietary restrictions and potential interactions, MAOIs are typically considered later in treatment. Side effects might involve blood pressure changes, dizziness, and interactions with specific foods and medications.

Other treatment options for anxiety and depression may include:

  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and other talk therapies can be highly effective in managing symptoms.
  • Alternative therapies: Mindfulness, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and yoga are among complementary approaches that some find helpful.
  • Brain stimulation therapies: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) are options for severe or treatment-resistant cases.
  • Self-help strategies: Learning stress management, relaxation exercises, and using apps or resources focused on mental health can aid in symptom management.
  • Lifestyle changes: Regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and avoiding alcohol or substance misuse can positively impact mood.

Living with anxiety and depression can significantly impact your quality of life, affecting everything from relationships to daily functioning. Seeking treatment and finding the right medication can offer significant relief.

Openly discussing your concerns with your healthcare professional is crucial. Collaborating closely with them helps identify what works best for you.

Taking the time to tailor a suitable medication and treatment plan to your specific needs can significantly improve your mental health journey.