A Guide To The Different Types Of Medications For PTSD

There are many treatment options for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Finding the right one for you may be a process of experimentation and persistence.

However, if you suffer from this condition, effective medication is worth pursuing and could improve your quality of life.

Curious about clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition triggered by exposure to a highly distressing event, although not everyone who experiences trauma will develop the condition. The sufferer experiences symptoms for months or years afterward that can be debilitating. It is the only predominant mental health disorder for which the cause is known.

Statistics show that, at some point in their lifetime, around 6%–7% of adults in the US will experience symptoms sufficient to qualify for a PTSD diagnosis. In veterans, it is even more common.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Recurring intrusive flashbacks, dreams, or memories of the traumatic event

  • Avoidance of thoughts of the traumatic event or external sources that trigger these memories

  • Increased negative thoughts and/or mood after the trauma, including:

    • Memory loss of some specific parts of the traumatic event

    • A negative perception of yourself or the outside world in general

    • Feelings of isolation or detachment from others

  • Irritability, surges of anger with little provocation

  • Recklessness

  • Trouble focusing

  • Hypervigilance

  • Trouble sleeping

What are the common treatments?

Treatment options for PTSD can include medication and/or trauma-focused therapies. Treatments that do not require medication include:

  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

  • Prolonged exposure therapy (PE)

  • Eye movement, desensitization, and restructuring (EMDR)

  • Narrative exposure therapy

What is the best treatment available?

The most recent research¹ into effective treatments encourages using these trauma-focused therapy methods, which in some cases, can be assisted by medication. Treatment is heavily dependent on the individual, so there is no universal ‘best treatment.’

It all depends on your symptoms and their severity. Seek advice from your doctor if you suspect your current treatment plan is not working for you or if you wish to start treatment.

Medications for PTSD

Fluoxetine (Prozac) for PTSD

Fluoxetine² (e.g., Prozac) is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It stabilizes your mood by preventing your brain from absorbing serotonin, a chemical messenger that helps improve mood, leaving it to accumulate in the brain.

Fluoxetine is commonly used to treat OCD, depression, and bulimia. It has been shown to diminish symptoms of PTSD. Although mostly mild, fluoxetine can cause side effects, including:

  • Nausea

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Nervousness

Sertraline (Zoloft) for PTSD

Sertraline³ (e.g., Zoloft) is also an SSRI. It is an antidepressant used to treat PTSD and many other disorders. It helps to regulate mood, personality, and alertness – all useful effects for the treatment of PTSD.

Taken orally once a day, your doctor will probably start you on a low dose, working up to a larger one if necessary.

A few side effects of this drug can include:

  • Fainting

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Dry mouth

A very rare side effect when taking antidepressants is increased suicidal thoughts for a small group of people. When you start taking an antidepressant you will be asked to monitor your symptoms carefully.

Propranolol (Inderal) for PTSD

Propranolol (e.g., Inderal) is a beta-blocker. It works by changing how your body responds to fight or flight situations by slowing your heart rate and reducing sweating. This is useful in PTSD, as common physical symptoms are an increased heart rate and sweating.

Newer studies have also shown that propranolol may strengthen and organize your memory of certain events.

When combined with behavioral therapies, propranolol can help to rework unpleasant memories into something more constructive.

As traumatic memory is the root cause of PTSD symptoms, the use of propranolol can lead to significant improvement in well-being. While it is most helpful when used recently after the event, it also works well in the later stages of PTSD.

Propranolol is not suited for the treatment of people with severe asthma as it has negative effects on lung capabilities.⁴

Alprazolam (Xanax) for PTSD

Alprazolam⁵ (e.g., Xanax) is a common drug prescribed for mental health disorders in the US. It is most often used to treat anxiety and other panic disorders. It has beneficial aspects, although it is also known as a ‘party drug’ and is often misused due to its ability to eliminate inhibitions.

Patients treated with this drug have been shown to have intense withdrawal symptoms after stopping, especially PTSD patients. A few examples of side effects of this drug include:

  • Tiredness

  • Dizziness

  • Problems sleeping

  • Forgetfulness

  • Clumsiness

  • Hypomania

  • Addiction if used incorrectly

Alprazolam belongs to the group of medications called benzodiazepines. These are to be used cautiously and often only as a short course in PTSD cases, especially when anxiety symptoms are at their peak due to the high risk of addiction.

The lowdown

Some of the side effects listed may seem intimidating. However, most are rare and mild. Each type of medication can combat certain symptoms of PTSD more effectively than others, and in different ways, so your prescription will depend on your symptoms.

PTSD is a very complicated disorder as the symptoms are so varied. Consult a health professional if you’re considering any of these treatments so that you can discuss which would suit your needs.

Frequently asked questions

Are other treatments available than those in this article?

Yes! There are other treatments. However, in many cases, these medications are used to support other therapies rather than on their own. Consult your medical professional for information on available treatments, including non-pharmaceutical options.

What can I expect?

After contacting a health professional, you should expect a thorough examination of your symptoms/diagnosis. They will then lead you through options for a treatment plan and advise you of all necessary precautions and risks before you move forward.

All the drugs listed in this article have side effects, which will be fully explained to you by your medical professional before you start treatment. If these side effects become unmanageable, be sure to contact your doctor to discuss alternative options.

Curious about clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Are you curious about clinical trials?
Have you taken medication for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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