It’s normal for minors to feel anxious or worried from time to time. It happens when they move to a new area or school or before a game and so on. But for some minors, anxiety affects their thoughts and behavior every day, interfering with their home, social, and school life. In this case, a professional may prescribe anxiety medication to help the minor overcome the problem.
Anti-anxiety medications influence the body and brain to lower the symptoms of anxiety, like fear, worry, and panic attacks. These drugs don’t cure anxiety disorders. They only help to manage the symptoms.
Different anti-anxiety medications exist. The doctor prescribes one depending on the type of anxiety disorder present – whether it’s PTSD, separation anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety. They may also consider other medications that the minor is taking and whether the minor has co-existing medical conditions.
Anti-anxiety drugs do a great job of relieving the symptoms. But there are concerns as people report feeling emotional inertness. Some say they feel a loss of motivation or less empathy for others. Others say they are less able to cry or laugh even when appropriate or being unable to respond with the same level of enjoyment as they normally would. But surprisingly, not everyone is concerned about this. In a study of 819 individuals, 38% termed the blunting as a positive outcome of treatment. 37% regarded it as a negative.
People who viewed the emotional blunting negatively are those with more severe symptoms. And as it turns out, the severity of anxiety before medication is directly proportional to the severity of the emotional blunting during treatment. But the good thing is that the blunting usually goes away when one stops using the anti-anxiety drugs.
Examples of anxiety medications include:
- Benzodiazepines: Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Klonopin (clonazepam).
- Beta-Blockers: Inderal LA (propranolol), Tenormin (atenolol), and Sectral (acebutolol).
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): Zoloft (sertraline), Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Lexapro (escitalopram).
- Tricyclic antidepressants: Anafranil (clomipramine), Pamelor (nortriptyline), Elavil (amitriptyline), and Tofranil (imipramine).
- Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): Pristiq (desvenlafaxine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Effexor (venlafaxine).
Effects of anxiety in minors
Anxiety affects many aspects of a minor’s life. Irrespective of how hard they try, their minds wander into different places. One may experience more physical symptoms like digestive problems, upset stomach, constant uneasiness, sweaty palms, bouncing legs, or heart palpitations. Depending on the type of disorder, they may also experience shaking, a sense of unreality, avoidance of social situations, dizziness, specific fears, etc.
When the use of anxiety drugs becomes a problem
One of the most glaring effects of anxiety drugs is prescription drug abuse. Tolerance leads to more users, which leads to addiction. Studies show a close link between anxiety and substance abuse. Many young people who struggle with mental conditions like social anxiety disorder also end up with substance use disorder. Like any other alcohol or drug problem, the minor will need to go through a medical detox and comprehensive addiction treatment to regain control of their lives.
Sometimes, the anxiety drugs go beyond enhancing mood and make the minor feel too little emotion. Some report feeling as though they have lost the richness of day-to-day life. The drugs are designed to boost the brain’s hormones that are responsible for scaling down uncomfortable moods. But this reduction can be experienced as a “dulling” or “blunting” of emotions. So, one doesn’t smile at a happy ending in a movie or laugh with the same enthusiasm. They may feel apathetic and not have the same excitement when doing the things they enjoy, like swimming or singing.
Emotional blunting is where the emotions and feelings are dulled, so the person neither feels up nor down. They simply feel “blah.” And while this doesn’t happen to everyone, studies reveal that between 46% and 71% of people using anti-anxiety drugs have experienced emotional blunting at some point.
Unfortunately, when complacency happens in children, they may have a hard time:
- Forming or maintaining a personal relationship
- Focusing when they are around others
- Being affectionate or loving with a friend or family
- Taking part in activities or going to places
- Expressing their emotions
- Empathizing with another person’s feelings
- Committing to another relationship or person
- Making another person a priority even where it matters
Tolerance to anxiety medication
Prescription medications do a great job at relieving symptoms of anxiety. However, they are not a miracle cure or a permanent fix. According to the American Academy of Family Physician, there’s little evidence that benzodiazepines retain their therapeutic effect after four to six months of regular use. So it might be a good idea to discontinue them once the desired effect is achieved.
When the symptoms of anxiety improve after starting an anti-anxiety drug, doctors may still prescribe it to prevent symptoms from returning. In some cases, they may increase the dosage to maintain the cycle of tolerance and dependence.
Physical tolerance happens as the brain adapts to the way the anti-anxiety drug alters its chemical composition and how the neurotransmitters send and receive messages. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that tolerance occurs when regular doses of a drug seize to have the same effect as they once did. So the person will need to elevate their dosage to get a similar outcome.
When a minor begins to take anxiety medications, he or she’s likely to feel at ease from anxiety, panic, and stress. Their muscle tension will relax as the blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature goes down. But when they develop tolerance, they become prone to drug abuse, which in turn increases drug dependence and the chances of addiction. They may also experience a sort of “blah” general outlook on life.
Tolerance, dependence, and addiction can be resolved with a holistic drug treatment program. Some experts cite benzodiazepines as one of the hardest drugs to quit. Others in the list of hard-to-quit drugs include alcohol, cocaine, meth, heroin & opioid drugs, and nicotine. This explains why comprehensive treatment is critical in cases of abused prescriptions.