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Antianxiety Medications

  1. Robert M. Julien

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0067

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

Julien, R. M. 2010. Antianxiety Medications. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. Oregon Health Sciences University

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Classically, antianxiety medications (anxiolytics) have all been medicines referred to as sedative-hypnotic drugs or central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These medicines affect neurons so that the functioning of the brain is depressed, resulting in a behavioral state of calm, relaxation, disinhibition, drowsiness, sleep, and coma as doses of drug increased. These agents were classically ingested to ease anxiety, tension, and agitation and to induce a soporific state. Behaviorally, what was observed was a dose-related state of increasing intoxication with release from inhibitions, sedation, sleep, unconsciousness, general anesthesia, coma, and eventually death from respiratory and cardiac depression. Increasing cognitive and psychomotor impairments were induced as the dose of any anxiolytics was increased. The classic (and certainly first) of these CNS depressants used to treat anxiety was ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Certainly ethanol as a CNS depressant is not a specific treatment for anxiety, despite hundreds of years of use for this disorder. Neither ethanol nor any other CNS depressant is useful in relieving pain (they do not have specific analgesic actions), nor do they possess antidepressant actions (they actually make depression worse). However, until recently, these CNS depressants were treatments of choice for treating anxiety disorders.