Types of Anxiolytics: Characteristics, Uses and Effects

Mental health problems afflict a large part of the world's population and can be looked down upon. One of the most frequent is anxiety. Would you like to know what types of anxiolytics it can be treated? Keep reading!
Types of Anxiolytics: Characteristics, Uses and Effects

Last update: 06 June, 2021

Anxiety is a disabling psychiatric illness that affects millions of people around the world. It’s characterized by an irrational, exaggerated and persistent fear of daily situations. Fortunately, there are multiple types of anxiolytics capable of helping to control the disease.

It’s very common to feel anxiety occasionally, as it’s part of many people’s daily lives. However, it becomes pathological when the episodes are very frequent and prevent activities from being carried out. Some of the most affected are adolescents, which can affect up to 11% of them according to studies.

All types of anxiolytics have a very similar mechanism of action, which involves a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The substance in question is an inhibitor of the central nervous system, so these drugs are grouped with hypnotics or sedatives.

What are the types of anxiolytics?

Today there are many drugs capable of controlling the symptoms of anxiety. All these drugs can create many different effects in the body, so they’re also useful in the treatment of other types of pathologies.

In general terms, there are 4 main types of clinically accepted anxiolytics, which are the following:

Benzodiazepines and analogs

These types of anxiolytics have adverse effects.
Some of these drugs may cause dependence.

One of the most widely used drugs to treat different anxiety disorders are benzodiazepines and their analogs. In fact, multiple investigations suggest that they represent 90.5% of all anxiolytics prescribed and consumed.

Benzodiazepines and their analogs have the same mechanism of action; both drugs bind to the GABA receptor enhancement site in the brain. This union will increase the entry of chlorine to the neurons, thereby reducing the transmission of the nerve impulse and improving the seizures presented.

Benzodiazepine analogs are newer types of anxiolytics. These drugs have fewer side effects than previous generations, which explains their great popularity. Among the benzodiazepine drugs available, the following stand out:

These drugs are divided into 3 large groups, those with a short, medium, and long half-life. The former are ideal to reduce symptoms immediately. However, it’s likely to develop addiction and dependence. For their part, those with a long half-life have a longer-lasting pharmacological effect, requiring a lower dose.


Barbiturates were one of the first anxiolytics to appear and were the most widely used before the discovery of benzodiazepines. Despite its great ability to improve anxiety disorders, this group of drugs isn’t currently prescribed due to its large number of side effects.

The risk of developing addiction and generating a fatal overdose was very high, so it was decided to suspend its use. However, some barbiturate compounds are still used in other medical and surgical procedures. An example of this is phenobarbital, which is a powerful sedative and helps in the treatment of seizures.


This drug is a potent agonist at the receptors for a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the central nervous system. It binds to inhibitory receptors and reduces the release of serotonin and norepinephrine, which may explain its anxiolytic effect.

Buspirone isn’t as effective for acute anxiety symptoms as other types of anxiolytics, as its effect can take several days to manifest itself according to studies. The compound also has certain advantages over benzodiazepines, as it doesn’t have a sedative effect or affect psychomotor capacity.

The sedative effect of the drug is very weak, so it isn’t useful in the treatment of sleep disorders or seizures. An important characteristic is that it doesn’t produce withdrawal syndrome and its main side effects are dizziness, nausea, and headache.

Other drugs

These types of anxiolytics are widely used.
The options for anxiolytics are very varied.

There are also other compounds that can help to calm the different symptoms of anxiety disorder. An example of this is beta-adrenergic receptor antagonists such as propranolol or pindolol. They’re capable of slowing the heart rate and tremors, which helps calm anxious people.

These drugs block the receptors used by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which prevents the neurotransmitter norepinephrine from exerting its effect. The SNS prepares the body for any situation of concern, so it’s very active during anxiety attacks.

Antidepressants belonging to the group of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) also help control symptoms. SSRIs are as effective as benzodiazepines in some specific cases such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and social phobia.

They act on the same receptor as buspirone, so they take 3 to 4 weeks to produce a real effect. It’s very important to know that these compounds inhibit some liver enzymes, so they shouldn’t be mixed with other types of anxiolytics or antidepressants.

Uses and effects of types of anxiolytics

In general terms, the effect that this group of drugs generates in the body is the depression of the central nervous system. By reducing the number of transmitted impulses, it’s possible to reassure patients and reduce somatic manifestations.

For its part, another small group such as buspirone and the SSRIs have their effect on the serotonin cycle. This neurotransmitter is closely associated with mood and happiness.

The different types of anxiolytics can be used in the treatment of all types of anxiety. In this sense, they are useful both in the treatment of generalized anxiety, simple or social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In addition, they’re also able to treat other psychiatric disorders such as depression or neurological disorders such as epilepsy. It’s important to remember that psychotropic drugs enhance or inhibit the effect of neurotransmitters, thus modifying the brain activity of individuals.

Very safe drugs in the right doses

The effectiveness of all the medications mentioned in the treatment of anxiety is more than proven. However, their consumption must be carried out under strict medical prescription. Many types of anxiolytics are capable of causing dependence when consumed in high doses, so it’s important not to abuse them.

You’re also likely to develop withdrawal syndrome and create a rebound effect when its intake is discontinued improperly. In this way, it’s important to inform the doctor before the appearance of any abnormal symptoms and consult with them about any questions you may have.

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