What You Don’t Know About Anxiety Medication

Anxiety Medication


Anxiety is our country’s most common mental health condition. Every year, 40 million American adults—that’s more than 18% of the population—develop some form of anxiety disorder. These numbers are rising due to a phenomenon called post-COVID anxiety. In many cases, the standard treatment approach involves prescribing anti-anxiety medications. But there’s a lot you may not know about how these drugs negatively impact your brain and body.


Brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics shows that benzodiazepines for anxiety are clearly associated with unhealthy-looking brains. Click To Tweet


To treat various types of anxiety and panic attacks, many physicians prescribe antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety pills. Some of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications include benzodiazepines (often called “benzos” for short).

This is a group of drugs that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies as “depressants that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures.”

Common prescription brand names are Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan, and Klonopin. But just because these drugs are prescribed by doctors for the treatment of anxiety doesn’t mean they’re harmless. Here are just a few of the ways they can interfere with the health of your body and brain.


1. Anxiety medications can lead to brain toxicity.

Though doctors often prescribe anti-anxiety medications for mental health treatment, these drugs can actually be harmful to the brain. Benzodiazepines not only suppress brain activity, but they can also make the brain look toxic over time.

Brain SPECT imaging at Amen Clinics shows that benzodiazepines for anxiety are clearly associated with unhealthy-looking brains. On SPECT scans, overall decreased blood flow to the brain is commonly seen with benzo use. Low blood flow is the number-one brain imaging predictor that an individual will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Anxiety medications can be habit-forming, addictive, and prone to misuse.

There’s a reason why benzodiazepines are listed by the DEA. It’s because they are frequently abused. Since they slow the nervous system and lead to a more relaxed state, people may take them to achieve a “downer” effect or create a feeling of euphoria. Abuse of these drugs can create a host of problems, including amnesia, hostility, irritability, and vivid or disturbing dreams, according to the DEA.

Overdoses are also a possibility. Benzodiazepine overdose symptoms include extreme drowsiness, confusion, impaired coordination, decreased reflexes, and respiratory depression. In some cases, this can lead to coma and possibly death.

In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that deaths from overdoses involving benzos quadrupled from 2002 to 2015. Taking benzos in combination with other depressants, such as alcohol and/or sleeping pills, increases the chances of overdose.

That’s no surprise, as prescriptions continue to rise. One study, published in a 2021 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association, noted that the pandemic ushered in an increase in benzodiazepine prescriptions among women.

Another 2020 report cited that 30.6 million adults (12.6% of the population) reported past-year benzodiazepine use annually. While 25.3 million (10.4%) claimed to take it as prescribed, 5.3 million (2.2%) admitted to misuse. And misuse actually accounted for 17.2% of benzodiazepine use overall.

Even if these drugs are not abused, they can be very difficult to stop once they are a part of someone’s daily life. As the body withdraws from anxiety pills, an individual may experience a long and painful recovery process before feeling normal again.

Note that if you’ve taken any kind of benzodiazepine for a long time, don’t stop taking it suddenly. This can increase your anxiety and lead to a long list of other unpleasant side effects. Find a physician who can help you taper off the drug and who can educate you about natural solutions for anxiety (some suggestions are listed below).

3. Anxiety medications have been associated with dementia.

In some studies, anxiety disorder medications have been examined for their link to an increased incidence of dementia. One 2016 report suggested that “long-term use of benzodiazepines and long-acting benzodiazepines are strongly associated with an increased risk of dementia.”

In addition, a 2019 analysis of 10 studies found that using benzodiazepines for long periods of time increased the likelihood of developing dementia by over 50%.

These findings have since been bolstered by a 2022 study published in Nature Neuroscience that examined how these drugs interfere with brain function. Researchers found that benzodiazepines damage microglial cells in the brain, which then interfere with the brain’s synaptic connections. Essentially, it interrupts communication, which brings on the symptoms of cognitive decline.

4. Anxiety medications may contribute to treatment-resistant depression.

Mental health issues commonly occur in tandem. But when we tackle one mental health issue by prescribing medication only to cause another, there’s a problem. One study, published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, illustrates this concept. Researchers examined treatment-resistant depression and categorized participants into low, medium, and high, based on the number of medications taken for their depression.

They found some similarities in the “high” treatment-resistant (TR) group, including a longer duration of depressive episodes and a higher number of comorbid medical and anxiety disorders. These patients were also more likely to believe that medication was contributing to their current depression.

“The most striking finding was benzodiazepine use, which was significantly more common in the high TR group and within both the melancholic and non-melancholic subsets,” the report concluded.

5. Anxiety medications may be linked to nutrient deficiencies.

Nutrient deficiencies can hamper everything from our moods to cognitive abilities, and anxiety disorder medication has been linked to numerous deficiencies. For example, one study reports that these patients are significantly more likely to experience vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with 200-plus health conditions, including depression, psychosis, autism, and heart disease.

Some people who have taken anti-anxiety medications have reported lower levels of many other nutrients, such as melatonin, folate, calcium, and vitamins B1, B6, B12, and K. This phenomenon is called “drug-induced nutrient depletion.”

Unfortunately, nutrient deficiencies only make mental health issues worse. It’s a potentially deadly combination, as seen in the research that shows benzodiazepines increase the risk of attempting or dying by suicide.


Fortunately, there are many ways to tackle anxiety disorders that do not require potentially addictive and harmful medications. Free and easy methods—available to anyone, anytime—include meditation, prayer, and deep breathing. Mindful, slow movement also helps, so you might try qi gong, yoga, or tai chi.

Certain nutritional supplements, especially GABA, L-theanine, and magnesium, have also been associated with decreased anxiety levels. Of course, eating a nutrient-packed, healthy diet is an essential part of any anti-anxiety treatment plan.

For clinical intervention, neurofeedback or hypnosis can work to calm an active mind. In addition, seeing a mental health professional who offers brain imaging and lab testing to rule out other potential medical conditions that may be contributing to anxiety is critical.

The proper combination of medication-free treatment techniques can work wonders for many people who want to keep anxiety in check. Work with your mental health professional to find the right anti-anxiety program for you.

Anxiety disorders and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Is it the same for ADHD

    Comment by Mohafiz Aziz — September 20, 2023 @ 3:33 AM

  2. What are your thoughts on using the herb St. John's Wort to help with anxiety/depression?

    Comment by Tracy — September 20, 2023 @ 3:35 AM

  3. I've been on 0.5 mg of klonopin for 4 years. 3 times a day, I suffer from a number of mental disorders and it's just enough to keep me level I'm also on 4 other medications for my disorder. The problem is that Somedays I need something stronger. I pray and meditate 3 hours a day but I have ptsd also because of watching my parents die 13 days apart 3 years ago, I landed in psycho ward at the hospital the day after my father died. I just totally broke down. But the power of prayer has stopped me committing suicide, I've had multiple therapists over the years along with psychiatrists . I know things could be worse but the constant thoughts and voices in my head make it difficult to even leave the house sometimes. So yeah the benzos have taken the edge off but they don't take away my mental disorder(s) bipolar, chronic aniexty, panic attacks etc. anyway God bless everyone that struggles like me daily

    Comment by Jimmy clary — September 20, 2023 @ 4:28 AM

  4. Wondering if the use of Hydroxyzine (Atarax) to treat anxiety has the same negative impact on the body and the brain as the use of benzodiazepines .

    Comment by Pamela Eversole — September 20, 2023 @ 5:48 AM

  5. Hello, I am taking Tamazepam 15 mg to help me sleep. sleep has been an issue for me for a long time. I can fall asleep but not stay asleep and I take the tamazepam at 1 am when I wake. I have been telling my doctor for years I want to stop taking it because of the bad side effects but he says it's better than not sleeping. I have been to 2 other psychiatrist that give me doses to ween off in 2 weeks. and thats impossible for me. I would really love some help weening off and am hoping you can refer me to someone who can help me. Or I would come to the clinic if it would help me.

    Comment by Julie Wharton — September 20, 2023 @ 5:56 AM

  6. The flip side is STRESS. much information out there on how stress effects daily life. How does the brain look on stress?

    Comment by Sabine Painter — September 20, 2023 @ 6:53 AM

  7. What's your opinion on 5-HTP? I take 100mg of time release for the last two and a half years and it has completely eliminated my panic attacks and anxiety issues.

    Comment by Joel — September 20, 2023 @ 7:21 AM

  8. Been anxious since I was born. Sensory processing sensitivity…ever heard of that?
    A person cannot function with anxiety. The things you mention are all well and good but never helped me and many many others that I counsel as a licensed therapist. I wish it were that simple. I would not be commenting here.

    Comment by Victoria J Haag — September 20, 2023 @ 11:50 AM

  9. You should have mentioned the horrors of getting off them.

    Comment by Dawn — September 20, 2023 @ 5:06 PM

  10. Hopefully there will be better use of genetic testing to look for problems like MTHFR genetic variants that sets some of us up to have emotional and/or physical health problems and set us up for more anxiety as a result. Besides a single MTHFR genetic variant, my genetic testing also revealed double anxiety genetic markers. I'm presently trying to repair my methylation with methyl-folate and methyl-B12 that not everyone knows about including many regular doctors , psychologists and psychiatrists much to our dismay. Despair in some cases.

    Comment by Elinor Nosker — September 20, 2023 @ 7:11 PM

  11. Do you have services in Canada. Ontario ?

    Comment by Jane — September 21, 2023 @ 3:13 AM

  12. I spent eight some years on klonipin and the effects are real. I can attest to the effects of klonipin. The simple fact the withdrawal is horrible. Cold or tapered no matter it was hellish withdrawal. Messes with so many aspects of mind and body. Simple satay away and don't take them. Protected withdrawal…it's real

    Comment by Phillip Holcomb — September 21, 2023 @ 3:17 AM

  13. My son has schizophrenia, We are looking for ways to strengthen his brain. He is taking haloparadol.

    Comment by Evonne Levy — September 21, 2023 @ 6:52 AM

  14. Thank you
    Your work and your dedication to helping others is tremendous! Great information and thank you for speaking up about it!

    Comment by Agnes Deason — September 21, 2023 @ 10:49 AM

  15. Thank you for this article. It's good to see an increased awareness of the dangers of benzodiazepines. I would like to add that for many people, the long-term use of benzodiazepines actually causes a dramatic increase in anxiety. The drugs cause GABA receptors to shut down, and GABA is the neurostransmitter needed to feel calm and relaxed. In short, the long-term use of benzodiazepines leads to an increase in symptoms for which the drug was originally prescribed to alleviate. And, as you've pointed out, it can take a very long time for the brain to return to normal after discontinuing the drugs.

    Comment by Jeff Stoffel — September 21, 2023 @ 1:15 PM

  16. Hello Evonne, thank you for reaching out. For more information about brain SPECT scans, and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 21, 2023 @ 3:13 PM

  17. Hello Jane, thank you for reaching out. At this time, Amen Clinics has 11 locations in the U.S.: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 21, 2023 @ 3:18 PM

  18. I would like to order your products but I am surprised at the high cost of mail couriers . Why can’t you use regular mail? Thank you.

    Comment by Angela Brown — September 24, 2023 @ 4:08 AM

  19. Hello Angela, thank you for reaching out. For more information about BrainMD products, please visit: https://brainmd.com/contact

    Comment by Amen Clinics — October 2, 2023 @ 10:57 AM

  20. Hi there, just was aware of your weblog through Google, and located that it is truly informative. I am going to be careful for brussels. I’ll appreciate for those who continue this in future. A lot of other people will likely be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

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