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Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Medication

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen after you go through a severe trauma. Such traumas may include physical abuse, rape, or military combat. Symptoms of PTSD involve intense anxiety that keeps coming back. Nightmares, intrusive memories, and flashbacks (vivid memories that seem real) related to the trauma may also occur. But you don’t have to suffer anymore. Treatment is available. Along with therapy (also called counseling), medication may help manage your symptoms.

Close-up of Doctor wrting on prescription pad.

Medications

Certain medications may be prescribed to help relieve your symptoms. As a result, you may feel less anxious or depressed. You may also feel able to move forward with therapy. At first, medications and dosages may need to be adjusted to find what works best for you. Try to be patient. Tell your doctor how a medication makes you feel. This way, you can work together to find the treatment that’s best for you. Keep in mind that medications can have side effects. Talk to your doctor about any side effects that are bothering you. Changing the dose or type of medication may help. Don’t stop taking medication on your own because it can cause symptoms to come back.

  • Anti-Anxiety Medication: This medication relieves symptoms and helps you relax. Your doctor and pharmacist will explain when and how to use it. It may be prescribed for use before entering situations that make you anxious. Or, you may be told to take it on a regular schedule. Anti-anxiety medication may make you feel a little sleepy or “out of it.” Don’t drive a car or operate machinery while on this medication, until you know how it affects you.

CAUTION

Never use alcohol or other drugs with anti-anxiety medications. This could result in coma or death. Also, use only the amount of medication prescribed to you. If you think you may have taken too much, get emergency care right away.

  • Antidepressant Medication: This kind of medication is often used to treat anxiety, even if you aren’t depressed. An antidepressant balances out brain chemicals. This helps keep anxiety under control. This medication is taken on a schedule. It takes a few weeks to start working. If you don’t notice a change at first, you may just need more time. But if you don’t notice results after the first few weeks, tell your doctor.

Keep Taking Medications as Prescribed

Never change your dosage or stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor first. Keep the following in mind:

  • Some medication must be taken on a schedule. Make this part of your daily routine. For instance, always take your pill before brushing your teeth. A pillbox can help you remember if you’ve taken your medication each day.

  • Medications are often taken for 6-12 months. Your doctor will then decide if you need to keep taking them. Many people who have also had therapy may no longer require medication to manage anxiety.

  • You may need to stop taking medication slowly to give your body time to adjust. When it’s time to stop, your doctor will tell you more.

  • If symptoms return, you may need to start taking medication again. This isn’t your fault. It’s just the nature of your anxiety disorder.

Special Concerns

  • Side effects: Medications may cause side effects. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what you can expect. They may have ideas for avoiding some side effects.

  • Sexual problems: Some antidepressants can affect your desire for sex or your ability to have an orgasm. A change in dosage or medication often solves the problem. If you have a sexual side effect that concerns you, tell your doctor.

  • Addiction: Antidepressants are not addictive. And if you’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol, you likely won’t have a problem with anti-anxiety medication. But if you have history of addiction, this medication may need to be avoided.

Resources

  • National Institute of Mental Health
    www.nimh.nih.gov/topics/topic-page-ptsd.shtml

  • The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
    631-543-2217
    www.aaets.org

 

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