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Medications for PTSD

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Updated May 16, 2010

A number of medications for PTSD exist. Medications are increasingly being used to treat anxiety disorders, and they have generally been found to be successful in helping people with their symptoms. No medications have been specifically designed to treat the symptoms of PTSD, although some medications commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and depression have been found to be effective in helping people manage their symptoms.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are generally considered "anti-depressant medications" and include such popular medications as Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, Luvox, and Zoloft.

Serotonin is a chemical in your brain that is involved in your mood. Some people do not have the appropriate levels of serotonin in their brain, leading to feelings of depression and/or anxiety. SSRIs prevent the breakdown or "reuptake" of serotonin by your brain, increasing the available levels of serotonin, which is thought to eventually improve mood.

Several studies have found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be useful in the treatment of PTSD. While these studies generally found that SSRIs were successful in addressing many PTSD symptoms, findings were not quite as strong as what is found in studies examining the success of cognitive behavioral treatments for PTSD.

In addition, SSRIs may not address all PTSD symptoms. For example, one study found that SSRIs (particularly fluoxetine which is more commonly known as Prozac) improved numbing and hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD, but not re-experiencing symptoms.

Medication Combined with Therapy

Medications may often be paired with psychological treatments for PTSD, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. On their own, medications and psychotherapy may be effective; however, by pairing them together, their effectiveness may be boosted.

It is important to remember that medications may not be for everyone. Many are associated with side effects that some find unpleasant and some may be addictive, especially benzodiazepines. It is important to discuss the pros and cons of treatments with your doctor or psychiatrist before committing to one. A chart describing the different medications available for PTSD (as well as other anxiety disorders) and how they work is provided at this site.

Sources:
Brady, K., Pearlstein, T., Asnis, G.M., Baker, D., Rothbaum, B., Sikes, C.R., & Farfel, G.M. (2000). Efficacy and safety of sertraline treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283, 1837-1844.

Davidson, J., Pearlstein, T., Londborg, P., Brady, K.T., Rothbaum, B., Bell, J. et al. (2001). Efficacy of sertraline in preventing relapse of posttraumatic stress disorder: Results of a 28-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 1974-1981.

Keane, T.M., & Barlow, D.H. (2002). Posttraumatic stress disorder. In D.H. Barlow (Ed.), Anxiety and its disorders, 2nd edition (pp. 418-453). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Marshall, R.D., Beebee, K., Oldham, M., & Zaninelli, R. (2001). Efficacy and safety of paroxetine treatment for chronic PTSD: A fixed-dose, placebo-controlled study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 1982-1988.

van der Kolk, B.A., Dreyfuss, D., Michaels, M., Berkowitz, R., Saxe, G., & Goldenberg, I. (1994). Fluoexetine in posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 55, 517-522.

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