Oil leaks, terror attacks, earthquakes, volcanic ash: It's no wonder you're feeling antsy, can't sleep, and every time a loud bang goes off your heart starts racing. We asked two psychiatrists which drugs to take best ease the psychic pain.
If you've been wondering why you've been so jittery lately, don't look for clues inside your head. Flip on CNN and you'll find the anchors are screaming disaster. Jury-rigged explosive devices smoking in Times Square; clouds of volcanic ash parked over Europe; the third big earthquake of 2010 in Puerto Rico; revolts in Greece and Thailand threatening the global economy; tumbling stock prices, including a bizarre thousand point "meltdown" allegedly triggered by a typo; and, perhaps most ominously, the Deepwater oil rig explosion that's been pumping millions of gallons a day into the eco-system.
And that's just in the last few weeks.
With the world seemingly more frightening every day, there's a good chance you share what one New York-based psychiatrist describes as the complaint she hears most from patients these days, "an overwhelming dread about a loss of quality of life." Or in the words of another shrink, "You'd be crazy not to be a little bit crazy."
But if you still have health insurance, be not afraid. Big pharma, and the American psychiatric establishment, are here to rescue you from collapsing in front of the tube into a ball of nervous dread.
But with over 200 psychotropic medications—antidepressants, tranquilizers, mood stabilizers and sleeping pills—to choose from, which one is best for you? Let's run down some the best medications in treating "generalized anxiety disorder," according to two NYC based psychiatrists and some of our medicated friends.
Deemed especially useful in combating physical pain associated with anxiety and depression—scripts of this pill went up over two hundred fold from '05 to '09—possibly the poster drug for our nervous age. According to one long-time user, while she swears by it for her mood disorder and psychosomatic symptoms, side effects include an inability to have an orgasm or drink alcohol without getting sick. "In other words, it takes all the fun things in life," she says.
Perfectly formulated to take the edge off of creeping dread, Xanax is now the most prescribed psych med in the country. Last year alone, an astounding 44,029,000 scripts were written for these blue oval wonders. (The really strong ones are white and "stick" shaped, left.) Great for reducing anxiety quickly and targeting panic symptoms. Addictive as hell. Nearly ubiquitous both in suburban medicine chests and in rundown McDonald's where they are hawked for $2 a piece.
Though longer lasting, it's not as fast acting as its fellow benzodiazepine, Xanax. Because it is not considered as addictive as other tranquilizers, doctors treating patients with compulsive personalities favor it. If you want to get fancy, try the one with the "K" stamped on it—but as is the case with Xanax, and all the other meds here—the generic works just fine.
Virtually forgotten until recently, for some reason this fast-acting, highly sedating, older benzo has experienced a revival of late, transforming itself into the 3rd most prescribed psych-med in the country. Side effects include over-sedation and dizziness. A friend says not to take three before you make a court appearance—lest you wind up slumped against your mortified court-appointed lawyer's shoulder as a furious judge tries to pass sentence.
Virtually synonymous with the term "antidepressant" in the popular consciousness, it was the first SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) approved for depression in the late 1980s, and until recently, the most popular. While its compound, Fluoxetine, was developed a decade earlier, Eli-Lily was able to convince the populace that the green and blue capsule represented a revolution in neuropsychiatry. With a little bit help from Gen X writers like Elizabeth Wurtzel, suddenly everyone just had to have it. But a few years later, Prozac unleashed a media firestorm, when it was found that a string of guys who went postal in the heartland—shooting up their workplace—were on high doses. Then there's the nagging question: Do SSRI's work better than a placebo?
It's Japanese luxury car like-name and snappy marketing campaign has ensured that it is the most oft-prescribed antidepressant having even beaten out big bad Prozac. Common side effects include weight-gain, but a shrink says that she "loves prescribing Lexapro," because she thinks it's the most beneficial anti-depressant with the least serious side effects.
Good for OCD, but without the energetic boost of other SSRIs. "No one writes the great American novel on Zoloft," a shrink says, reserving such greatness as the métier of Prozac popping depressives. (Hint: no one really writes the great American novel on Prozac either.)
A worthless tranquilizer substitute that script-wary doctors try to foist on patients sometime. Cry foul and ask for the real stuff. If that fails, buy yourself a pint of Scotch.
Because of its purported peaceful nature (Pax is peace in Latin), it became popular when Prozac takers began to turn mysteriously violent in the late 90s. Proving again that it's impossible to have it all, side effects, include sluggishness and loss of sex-drive.
In years gone by, the favored sleep aid of the entertainment and political elite—it was especially prevalent on Air Force One during "Poppy""Bush's reign, according to Maureen Dowd. Side effects, however, include bizarre behaviors like "sleep driving."
Not as powerful as Halcion, but will definitely help you sleep. Like Halcion, it's been linked to "sleep driving" and "sleep eating." But it may also "spice up" your sex life, at least according to Tiger Woods who occasionally took the sleep med before having sex with his mistresses, according to reports.
In case it needs to be said, unless you're a Hells Angel, Adderall (and other amphetamines) will not help relieve anxiety related symptoms. They're agitating and make you sweat! But the drug's appeal to the harried and deadline-strapped is undeniable. Just always have a Benzo to come down.
[Photo, top, by Berna Namoglu/Shutterstock.com]