Treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Medicine

Treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Medicine

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen after you go through a severe trauma. This may include physical abuse, rape, a natural disaster, a car accident, the death of a loved one, 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 needlessly anymore. Treatment is available. Along with therapy (counseling), medicine may help manage your symptoms.

Medicines

Certain medicines 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, medicines and dosages may need to be adjusted to find what works best for you. Try to be patient. Many medicines can take weeks to be effective. Tell your healthcare provider how a medicine makes you feel. This way, you can work together to find the treatment that’s best for you. Keep in mind that medicines can have side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider about any side effects that are bothering you. Changing the dose or type of medicine may help. Don’t stop taking medicine on your own. Stopping a medicine can cause serious withdrawal symptoms. It can also bring back PTSD symptoms.

Antianxiety medicine eases symptoms and helps you relax. Your healthcare provider 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. Antianxiety medicine may make you feel a little sleepy or “out of it.” Don’t drive a car or operate machinery while on this medicine, until you know how it affects you.

Close-up of a woman's hand putting pills in another woman's hand

Caution

Never use alcohol or other drugs with antianxiety medicine. This could result in sedation, lack of muscular control, coma, or death. Also, use only the amount of medicine prescribed to you. Never take more, use another person's prescription, or share your medicine. If you think you may have taken too much, get emergency care right away.

Keep taking medicines as prescribed

Never change your dosage or stop taking your medicine without talking to your healthcare provider first. Keep the following in mind:

  • Some medicine 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 medicine each day.

  • Medicines are often taken for  6 to 12 months. Your healthcare provider will then decide if you need to keep taking them. Many people who have also had therapy may no longer need medicine to manage anxiety.

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

  • If symptoms return, you may need to start taking medicine again. This isn’t your fault. It’s just the nature of your anxiety disorder. If symptoms return, get care as soon as possible.

Special concerns

  • Side effects. Medicines may cause side effects. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist what you can expect. They may have ideas for preventing 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 medicine often solves the problem. If you have a sexual side effect that concerns you, tell your healthcare provider.

  • Addiction. If you have history of addiction, you may need to stay away from certain medicines. Be honest with your provider about any past history of drug use. This will help to make sure that you receive the safest possible medicines for your PTSD symptoms. Antianxiety medicine carries a risk of addiction. No matter the reason for medicine or the type of medicine, your provider will want to prescribe them based on a complete knowledge of your health history.

  • Medicine security. Antianxiety medicines are sought after by those who abuse or sell drugs. Keep your medicine in a secure location, not in the bathroom cabinet or on the kitchen counter. Make certain the medicine is not visible or can be reached by friends or family members.

To learn more

Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN

Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2022

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