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March 3, 2022

Medications That Cause Anxiety

When troubled by frequent anxiety attacks, many people find relief in anti-anxiety medications. However, no medicine is free of its own risks, and many people have learned the hard way that certain prescriptions (whatever their original intended purpose) can worsen or actually create anxiety problems. The medication categories below are considered especially risky. Learn everything you need to know about medications that cause anxiety.


Stimulants work by generating increased activity in brain and nerve cells—which improves alertness and focus, but can also trigger restlessness, blood pressure elevation, and overall “jitters.” Even such a mild and non-addictive stimulant as caffeine (often used in migraine and other headache medicines) can cause problems. Stronger stimulants, including amphetamine and methylphenidate (the main ingredient in Ritalin), are common in ADHD medications because they sharpen concentration ability, but they also can trigger chronic anxiety and mood swings.


Medications containing corticosteroids (synthetic hormones) include such brand names as Cortone, Decadron, and Deltasone (prednisone). Corticosteroids are typically prescribed for inflammatory conditions such as allergies, arthritis, bronchitis, or skin rashes. Whether any individual patient might experience anxiety side effects is difficult to predict. However, corticosteroids are associated with reduced hormone production and reduced immune-system effectiveness, so there may be a body-mind connection with impaired physical health.

Medications for Specific Conditions

Consider potential anxiety risks if your doctor recommends a prescription for any of the following conditions:

  • Asthma. Some of the medications prescribed for this condition are corticosteroids. Others provoke hyperventilation as a side effect of opening up the lungs.
  • Hypothyroidism. “Thyroid pills” are intended to stimulate sluggish body functions by supplementing the body’s natural thyroid hormones. But such medications also carry the anxiety risks associated with stimulants in general.
  • Parkinson’s disease. The extended-release capsule Rytary, often prescribed for Parkinson’s, has been linked to anxiety attacks in some patients.
  • Seizures or irregular heartbeat. Phenytoin-containing medications work by stabilizing electrical activity in the brain and heart. However, they can also trigger panic attacks or chronic agitation.

How to Avoid Medication-Related Anxiety

None of the above is intended to imply you should avoid every medication that might possibly cause anxiety—only that you should avoid taking them carelessly or thoughtlessly. (Good advice for anyprescription or over-the-counter medication, in fact.) Discuss possible risks and alternative treatments with your doctor before settling on any prescription. And be especially cautious if you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Have you, or any of your close relatives, ever been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?
  • Do you, or any member of your family, already struggle with anxiety symptoms such as chronic worry, insomnia, unexplained nausea, frequent rapid breathing/heartbeat, or chronically tense muscles?
  • Are you under any unusual or ongoing stress right now?

If you do agree to a prescription, sticking carefully to official directions is the best way to avoid anxiety and other problems. And if you do experience suspicious symptoms (or if a prescription just doesn’t seem to be working), contact your prescribing doctor immediately for advice.

In closing, a few hints for reducing and managing anxiety whatever its source:

  • Keep your schedule as uncluttered as possible. Mark off adequate time for rest and leisure.
  • Avoid multitasking.
  • Avoid excessive news input. (A set TV news hour or a print newspaper is often preferable to online sources with links that tempt to “doomscrolling.”)
  • Spend time outdoors.
  • Practice yoga, meditation, prayer, and/or deep-breathing exercises.
  • Practice healthy eating and sleeping habits.
  • Concentrate on what you can control. (When you’re worried about something specific, it often helps to write out what your exact concern is, how serious or likely it really is, and what you will do about it.)
  • And if you have chronic anxiety that proves stubbornly impossible to control, consult a doctor or therapist. There may be a physical or psychiatric illness behind the problem—and better treatments than medication available.

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Addicted to Medications That Cause Anxiety?

Anxiety isn’t the only problem medications can cause. Many people suffer from addictions that started with a prescription containing amphetamines, benzodiazepines (which are the base of many anti-anxiety medications), or opioids. If someone in your family has a substance use disorder involving prescription medication, don’t be ashamed: get help. Beach House offers full medical detox and aftercare services to help you get free from addiction and build a better life. Contact us to learn more.