Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults each year. Anxiety causes significant distress and impacts daily functioning. While therapy is an effective treatment option, many people turn to medication for relief. The class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed as a first-line pharmacological treatment.
SSRIs are believed to increase levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. By blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin into nerve cells, SSRIs make more serotonin available to improve communication between nerve cells. This enhancement of the brain’s chemical messaging system can improve mood and relieve anxiety symptoms.
The most commonly prescribed SSRI for anxiety is sertraline, known by its brand name Zoloft. Zoloft was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991 and today is prescribed for more patients than any other antidepressant medication. An estimated 37.2 million prescriptions are written for Zoloft every year.
Why is Zoloft the number one choice for anxiety treatment? There are several key reasons Zoloft has become the medication doctors turn to most:
- Effectiveness – Multiple large studies have found Zoloft effective for reducing anxiety symptoms in a range of disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD and PTSD.
- Versatility – Zoloft can treat anxiety alongside other conditions like depression. This makes it useful for the many anxiety patients who have multiple diagnoses.
- Tolerability – Compared to some SSRIs, Zoloft tends to cause fewer side effects which makes it easier to stay on. The most common side effects are gastrointestinal issues like nausea and diarrhea.
- Safety – Zoloft is associated with relatively mild withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly. It is considered safe even at higher doses. There are no major drug interactions. This gives doctors confidence prescribing Zoloft even for more severe cases of anxiety.
- Low cost – Since Zoloft is an older generic drug, most insurance plans cover it in their lowest, most affordable tier. This makes it accessible to most patients. A one month supply can cost as little as $5.
While Zoloft is considered the “gold standard” SSRI for anxiety, it does not work for everyone. The anti-anxiety effects may take 4-6 weeks to become apparent. Some patients may need to try other medications like SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), tricyclic antidepressants or benzodiazepines to find their optimal anxiety treatment. Patients should work closely with their doctor to determine the medication regimen that provides them with the greatest relief.
Doctors may prescribe Zoloft as monotherapy for anxiety, or along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is considered the most effective form of talk therapy for anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on changing unhealthy thought and behavior patterns that fuel anxiety. Combining Zoloft with CBT provides both biological and psychological approaches to anxiety management.
For many anxiety sufferers, Zoloft can be life-changing. The ability to better regulate brain activity and neurotransmitter levels reduces the severity and frequency of anxiety symptoms. Patients report feeling calmer, less worried and more able to engage in their regular activities. Of course, medication alone cannot “cure” anxiety completely. Making lifestyle changes to lower stress and control anxiety triggers is important as well. But for most patients, Zoloft makes it easier to manage anxiety’s debilitating effects and reclaim a sense of normalcy.