Venlafaxine is a medication primarily used as an antidepressant, but it also is effective at treating anxiety disorders in some individuals. Some anxiety may arise from deficient chemical activity of compounds in the brain called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Taking venlafaxine for anxiety reduces the rate that these neurotransmitters are broken down, allowing them to exert their effects on brain cells, called neurons, more effectively. This drug is therefore sometimes used as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and anxiety that occurs with depression.
GAD is a mental disorder characterized by high levels of daily anxiety, so it cannot be effectively treated with certain drugs like benzodiazepines. These can create life-threatening physical dependence when used daily. The use of venlafaxine for anxiety of this type allows individuals to take a daily medication to treat symptoms without the risk of tolerance or addiction. According to a 2002 study performed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, about two-thirds of people with GAD experienced symptom improvement after taking this drug for several weeks.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is another condition that may be relieved by this drug. People do not take venlafaxine for anxiety of this type as frequently as they do for GAD, but there is some evidence that this drug can effectively treat SAD. Research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry looked at people from 26 places in the United States, and found that some symptoms of SAD were relieved by this drug. For the majority of the 12 weeks of the study, people taking venlafaxine for anxiety showed improvement in several measures of SAD that were well above the changes seen in the placebo group.
Extended-release versions of venlafaxine can provide more regular levels of this drug in the blood stream. Constant plasma, or blood, levels allow anxiety disorders to be more consistently regulated. This form of the drug has been found to be effective at treating other anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Side effects experienced by people taking venlafaxine for anxiety are generally mild. Dry mouth, nausea, and insomnia tend to occur during the initial weeks of treatment. After this time, most individuals grow tolerant to these mildly adverse effects. Some people also experience discontinuation syndrome, or withdrawal, if a dose is skipped or the drug regimen is stopped suddenly.