There are several ways to treat anxiety disorders. The type of treatment available will depend on many factors regarding the patient and their specific symptoms. Although treatment may not cure all individuals who have generalized anxiety disorder, and symptoms may return, many people still receive substantial relief through proper treatment.

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder most often includes a combination of medication and selected forms of therapy. Some professionals recommend a combination of these two treatment options with alternative treatments like holistic health routes, such as meditation or exercise.

treatments for generalized anxiety infographic

Medications Used for Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A common treatment method for individuals with GAD is using medication to suppress anxiety. This technique is useful for people whose anxiety interferes with everyday functioning. Medication can make life easier for the patient. People can take medication alongside therapy to help resolve the underlying cause of the anxiety. The prescribed medications most often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder are short-term prescriptions to reduce the chance of addiction, overuse or tolerance levels changing. These medications may decrease the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as muscle tension, restlessness and impatience.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

Benzodiazepines, a specific type of anti-anxiety medication, are frequently used as sedatives by individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. High-potency benzodiazepines relieve symptoms quickly and have only a few side effects, with one being problematic drowsiness. Even though the side effects are limited, benzodiazepines aren’t always the best choice of medication as they can cause addiction and dependency and people often abuse them. Because individuals may quickly develop a tolerance to these medications, therapists may only prescribe benzodiazepines for short periods of time. This treatment method may help avoid the need to continually increase the dosage to get the necessary effect. Individuals with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are not good candidates for this method of treatment because they may become dependent on the substance they are prescribed.

Buspirone is a newer, widely used anti-anxiety medication that is used for treating general anxiety disorder. Buspirone has a few side effects that are usually strongest when the patient begins to take the medication. Possible side effects include dizziness, headaches and nausea. Unlike benzodiazepines, buspirone must be taken consistently for at least two weeks to achieve an anti-anxiety effect.


While anxiety and depression are very different disorders, some medications that are approved for treating depression may also be effective for anxiety disorders. These selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are anti-depressant medications that are usually taken for several weeks before symptoms start to fade. Patients often get discouraged and stop taking these medications when they do not see relief in their symptoms within a few days. However, it is important to give the medication a chance to work.

Therapy Options for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Some individuals with GAD may not have a successful treatment with the use of medication due to the unpleasant side effects or their desire to avoid medication, which is not uncommon. Therapy is a good route for these individuals to seek treatment for their anxiety without medicating themselves. Therapy can help the patient limit their distorted thinking and irrational fears by looking at their worries realistically.


Psychotherapy comes in many forms and involves talking with a mental health professional. It may include individual therapy with the psychiatrist or psychologist, or it may include a group setting or family counseling. No matter the form of psychotherapy, they all involve talking through problems to search for the underlying cause and onset of the individual’s disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a very prevalent form of psychotherapy. Individuals living with anxiety disorders may choose cognitive behavioral therapy, where they learn to recognize and change thought patterns and behaviors that lead to anxious feelings. This technique inspires the patient to learn the connection their thoughts and feelings have with their behaviors.

Cognitive behavior therapy firstly focuses on changing the thinking processes that encourage the individual’s fears, then changing the way they react to the anxiety stimulating situations. This understanding can allow the individual to find and control the underlying source of their anxiety. This therapy generally lasts around twelve weeks and can be conducted in a group setting with people who have similar problems.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is specifically effective for individuals with social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress syndrome. These patients often get more out of treatment when they have people whom they feel can relate to their daily struggles as an understanding peer and support system.

Other behavioral techniques have been helpful by teaching the patient to relax. Deep breathing, biofeedback and meditation techniques work as a relaxation aid and may help control the muscle tension that often accompanies general anxiety disorder.

For many people, the best approach to GAD treatment is medication combined with psychotherapy. Some people may find that medication is not for them, though it is important to give the medication a chance even if the results are not immediate. Waiting for treatment to work can be challenging for people with anxiety when they already have a difficult time being patient.

Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

Treating a co-occurring diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and substance abuse may be more complicated than treating anxiety alone. The treating physician must have the ability to address both the patient’s psychiatric, anxiety-related symptoms as well as their uncontrollable desire to drink or use drugs. If the individual only seeks treatment for the anxiety, the substance abuse may continue, and the anxiety may return until the use of drugs or alcohol ceases.

Detox is the most common first step in treating a co-occurring disorder alongside a substance use disorder. Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder may live with the condition for a lifetime, and some may believe their misery is normal, though it may be leading them to abuse drugs. Treating substance abuse may not eliminate an anxiety disorder, so it’s usually necessary to treat both together, particularly to lessen the chance of a setback occurring.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Addiction

If the individual tries to seek treatment for their generalized anxiety while continuing to use drugs or alcohol, they may continue to experience severe anxiety symptoms.

Therapy after detox is the ideal component of treatment for this co-occurring anxiety and substance use, which may occur in an outpatient setting or in a residential facility. Behavioral therapies are often the most useful to allow the individual to understand how their current self-destructive behaviors are hindering their treatment, creating worse symptoms. Treatment usually involves developing strategies to avoid drug use stimuli to avoid recurrence of use. Some of these strategies include making positive lifestyle changes, finding new hobbies, relying on the support of loved ones and developing action plans in the case of recurrence of use.

These therapies can help patients set and achieve goals and learn to use healthy coping and relaxation techniques. Individuals learn to recognize their negative behaviors and how to make positive direction changes, away from substance use and toward understanding the underlying trauma that caused the general anxiety.

For individuals struggling with a substance use disorder and experience co-occurring disorders like anxiety, The Recovery Village can help. Individuals who have generalized anxiety disorder symptoms alongside an addiction can receive help from one of the facilities located throughout the country. Call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative and begin the treatment process today.