How Do Antianxiety Agents Work?

How do antianxiety agents work?

Antianxiety agents are medications prescribed to treat anxiety and related disorders. Antianxiety agents work on the central nervous system to reduce hyperactivity in the brain and induce a calming effect. Many of the antianxiety agents are also used for sedation, as muscle relaxants and to prevent seizures.

Antianxiety medications are of two main types:


Benzodiazepines work on the brain’s limbic system, which regulates emotional and behavioral responses, and reticular formation which regulates sleep and consciousness. Benzodiazepines increase the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) in the brain that inhibits nerve signals.

Benzodiazepines bind to GABA receptors, a type of protein molecules on the membranes of nerve cells (neurons), and increase the inflow of chloride ions, which enhances GABA’s effects. GABA inhibits electrical activity in the brain and produces a sedative effect.


Currently, two nonbenzodiazepines are used as antianxiety agents:

  • Buspirone: Buspirone increases the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that has many functions including mood regulation. It is not fully clear how buspirone reduces anxiety, but the effect is thought to be from increased serotonin activity in the anxiety/fear circuitry of the brain. Buspirone does not affect GABA receptors, hence does not produce sedation.
  • Meprobamate: Meprobamate works on GABA receptors and has mild sedative, muscle relaxing, and anticonvulsant effects.

How are antianxiety agents used?

Antianxiety agents may be administered through many routes such as:

  • Oral: Tablets, capsules, solutions, and syrups
  • Injections:
    • Intravenous (IV): Injected into the vein
    • Intramuscular (IM): Injected into the muscle
  • Rectal: Gel applied inside the rectum

Antianxiety medications are chosen based on specific patient needs and conditions. Antianxiety agents are used in the treatment of conditions which include the following:


Orphan designation:

  • Hyperekplexia (a rare hereditary neurological disorder that causes excessive startle reaction to sudden noise or touch)
  • Recurrent, acute, repetitive seizures
  • Repetitive seizures caused by Dravet syndrome, a rare type of epilepsy
  • Organophosphorus poisoning (exposure to a neurotoxic substance that can cause muscle weakness, cramps, and paralysis)

Off-label uses:

What are side effects of antianxiety agents?

Side effects of antianxiety agents may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are names of some antianxiety drugs?

Generic and brand names of antianxiety drugs include:


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