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Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety

Anxiety is something we all deal with on occasion. While anxiety can be a warning of something dangerous, it is also a good source of motivation. But for some, anxiety is severe and interferes with daily life. Benzos often help, but there are alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety. 

Because benzos have a high risk of addiction, some people don’t want to take the medication. For others, they want to treat the underlying causes of anxiety and not just mask the symptoms. If this sounds like you, there are various benzo alternatives. 

Medication Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety and Sleep

Severe anxiety is debilitating and may interfere with daily life. As a result, medication is needed. However, benzodiazepine is not the only option. In 2017, over 120 million people left the doctor’s office with a benzo prescription. That is, millions of people can find safer alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety. While various medications effectively treat anxiety and sleep issues, the two most common include antidepressants and sedatives. 


Antidepressants effectively treat generalized anxiety and depression without the risk of addiction to benzos. 

SSRIs like Sertraline (Zoloft), Escitalopram (Lexapro), and Fluoxetine (Prozac) are commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders. They work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which helps regulate mood and reduce anxiety. SSRIs are effective but take a week to start working. As a result, you may need something else the first week.  

SNRIs such as Venlafaxine (Effexor) and Duloxetine (Cymbalta) are another class of antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders. They increase levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety. 

TCAs like Amitriptyline and Imipramine are older antidepressants that are sometimes used to treat anxiety disorders. They work by increasing serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, like SNRIs. 

These antidepressants have been extensively studied and shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders with a lower risk of addiction compared to benzodiazepines. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate medication for individual needs. 


Sedatives help alleviate anxiety by targeting certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are involved in regulating mood and anxiety levels. The primary mechanism of action varies depending on the specific type of sedative, but generally, sedatives enhance the activity of neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, and melatonin, which are known to have calming and relaxing effects. 

Antihistamines like Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and Doxylamine (Unisom) are commonly used as over-the-counter sleep aids. They have sedative effects that can help promote sleep and reduce anxiety. 

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It is available as a supplement and is commonly used to treat insomnia and improve sleep quality. 

Ramelteon (Rozerem) is a prescription sleep medication that works by targeting melatonin receptors in the brain. It can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and improve sleep onset. 

These sedatives have been studied and shown to be effective in promoting sleep and reducing anxiety with a lower risk of addiction compared to benzodiazepines. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new medication or supplement. 

Infographic about benzodiazepines

What are Benzos?

Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are prescription sedatives for anxiety and insomnia. They work by slowing down the body and the brain. Common benzos include Ativan, Valium, and Xanax.  

While benzos are very effective, they are also highly addictive. Even when taken as prescribed, the body can develop a dependence on the drug. As a result, you will go through withdrawals if you suddenly stop taking benzos.  

Why Do You Use Benzos for Anxiety?

Benzos are often used in treating anxiety and sleep disorders because of their relaxing qualities. It affects the neurotransmitter GABA. As GABA sends calming messages throughout the body, the overstimulation in the brain also calms.  

Benzos are quick-acting and relieve anxiety symptoms shortly after taking them. They are taken either once a day, multiple times a day, or as needed. How much and how often you take benzos depends on the severity of your symptoms.  

What are the Dangers of Benzodiazepines?

When benzodiazepines are taken temporarily and as prescribed, they are viewed as generally safe. However, they are habit-forming, and any misuse or long-term use can cause various health issues. These issues include mood swings, hallucinations, dependence, and overdose.  

When you misuse benzos along with other medications, drugs, or alcohol, the risk of overdose increases. This is especially true when mixing benzos and opioids. The effects may include: 

  • Enhancing side effects of both drugs
  • Respiratory depression or slowed breathing
  • Loss of cognitive function
  • Slower reaction times
  • Increases risk of substance use disorder
  • Overdose

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Misuse

A person misusing benzo will exhibit physical, mental, and behavioral changes. It is crucial to recognize the signs of a benzo use disorder, which include: 

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Increase anxiety
  • Job loss
  • Isolation
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Overdose

The Risk of Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines

When a person takes benzos on a long-term basis or misuses them, the body develops a tolerance for the drug. As the tolerance builds, the more it takes to feel the same effects from benzos.  

But, when they suddenly stop using or reduce their dose, withdrawal symptoms emerge. Benzo’s withdrawal symptoms are physically and emotionally painful. Above all, they can be life-threatening.  

Symptoms of benzo withdrawal typically last up to 10 days and may include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Trouble concentration
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Because some benzo withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, it is safer to detox from benzos in a medical detox center. 

Lifestyle Change: A Benzo Alternative

When anxiety becomes an issue, it is important to look at your lifestyle choices. What improvements can be made? Can you add anything to improve your mental health? 

Your physical health is a great place to make changes. The following are examples of some physical care which in turn improves your mental health. 

  • Exercise – Physical activities such as running and swimming release endorphins which create a sense of wellbeing. 
  • Eat a Nutritious Diet – The phrase “we are what we eat” is true. Eating a well-balanced diet keeps the body and the brain working it’s best. In the same way, eating junk food makes you feel sluggish and makes anxiety and worry worse. 
  • Get Quality Sleep – A lack of sleep adds stress and leads to higher anxiety. But it’s not just the amount of sleep but the quality of sleep you get. Having a wind-down routine such as a warm shower and reading a book can improve the overall quality of sleep. 

Holistic Therapies: Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety

People are turning to various holistic therapies as an alternative to benzos. Holistic therapies focus on healing the mind, body, and spirit. So, not only can you cope with anxiety better, but holistic therapies also create a sense of overall well-being.  

Yoga and Meditation for Anxiety and Sleep

When you start feeling anxious, yoga can help calm your mind and body. By focusing on your breathing and being in the present moment, you can quiet the thoughts in your mind and improve your mood.  

Just a few minutes can make a big impact. Find a quiet spot. Focus on the movements of your body and the air flowing in and out of your lungs. If your thoughts scatter, bring yourself back to the sensations of each movement.  

When it’s not feasible to step away for yoga, meditation is another benzo alternative. Meditation can take as little as 60 seconds or as long as you need. By taking time to clear your mind and taking long, deep breaths, you lower anxiety and improve your sleep. 


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment. It has been used for thousands of years for anxiety, depression, and much more. A practitioner uses thin, sharp needles in the upper layers of the skin. These specific spots release natural painkilling chemicals in the brain and reduce anxiety.  

Nature Therapy Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety

Nature therapy uses the benefits of nature to boost growth and healing, specifically mental health. For example, hiking, growing a garden, and being around animals can reduce anxiety and build confidence.  

Nature therapy benefits include: 

  • Improve mood 
  • Reduce anxiety and stress 
  • Relaxation 
  • Improving physical health 
  • Builds self-esteem and confidence 
  • Meeting new friends 

Holistic therapies are not an instant fix, and some therapies such as yoga and meditation take practice. This can be frustrating for those who are used to the quick fix of benzos. But be patient. Alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety are overall more effective in achieving a better life. 

Therapy and Counseling: Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Sleep and Anxiety

People struggling with daily anxiety often stay up at night with thoughts racing through their minds. This lack of sleep adds more stress and increases anxiety. Psychotherapy or individual therapy is a crucial alternative to benzodiazepines for sleep and anxiety.  

Having a trusted therapist listen to your thoughts and feelings surrounding anxiety helps build the tools needed to overcome these feelings. A few therapies are effective alternatives to benzodiazepines and include: 

A therapist helps identify situations that bring feelings of anxiety and fear. Then together, you develop the tools to replace anxiety with positive thoughts and feelings. 

Hypnotherapy works by tapping into your subconscious. The hypnotherapist uses positive affirmations and visuals to promote physical and mental wellbeing.  

Medical Detox from Benzos at Sana Lake Recovery

Detox is the process of removing toxins from the body. When detoxing from benzos, it is safest under medical supervision. Our experienced staff at Sana Lake Recovery can help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms with medication and mental support.  

Another significant benefit to medical detox programs is the ease of continuing into inpatient treatment. Although detox helps your body cleanse all the toxins out, it is not a form of treatment. Without entering a treatment program after detox, a person increases their risk of relapse.  

Treating Anxiety at Sana Lake Recovery

People struggling with anxiety often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. But, this behavior, unfortunately, induces anxiety and can lead to a substance use disorder. At Sana Lake Rehab in St. Louis, we offer a variety of alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety and sleep. This includes trained therapists, medication-assisted therapy, and holistic therapies.  

If you or someone you love is struggling with severe anxiety or a substance use disorder, we can help. Contact us today. We are waiting to answer all your questions and get you started toward a better life. 

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Picture of Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry LCSW
Ashley Murry, LCSW, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Sana Lake Recovery. She oversees clinical operations, ensuring effective treatment strategies and compliance. Before this, she was Program Director at Gateway Foundation, managing care programs and collaborating with state departments. Ashley has also served as Director of Clinical Services at Treatment Management Company, improving staff retention and clinical standards. She holds a Master's in Social Work from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor's in Social Work from Saint Leo University. She is licensed in Florida, Arizona and Missouri.
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