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Drug Therapies For Stress Management

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In the hub I wrote about psychological stress management I talked about how an individual can focus on changing the emotions felt towards a specific stressor without actually changing the situation itself. You can achieve this with sessions with a psychologist but alternatively you can use drug therapies to alleviate the anxiety associated with stress.

This hub will outline some of the drug therapies one could use to manage stress.


Benzodiazepines (BZ's)

Examples of BZ's are valium and librium and these are the most commonly used drugs to tread stress and anxiety.

BZ's work by slowing down the central nervous system activity of the person taking it by enhancing the effect of GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) on the brain's neurons. GABA is a neurotransmitter that locks onto the receptors that are on the outside of receiving neurons (about 40% of our brain's neurons respond to GABA) and increases the flow of chloride ions into the neuron. An increased flow of chloride ions makes the individual feel more relaxed because they make it harder for the neuron to be stimulated by other neurotransmitters and therefore slow down its activity.



Beta-blockers work by reducing the activity of adrenaline and noradrenaline produced as a result of the body's response to acute stress (sympathomedullary response). Organs in the body are stimulated by the presence of adrenaline (for example the heart beats faster and blood pressure increases etc) and what beta-blockers do is bind to receptors on the cells of the organs that are usually aroused during this process. This makes it harder for these cells to be stimulated and therefore the heart beats slower and blood pressure decreases and as a result of this the person feels calmer and less anxious.

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One way of testing the effectiveness of a drug is to get a group of people that have the condition that needs to be treated and give them either the drug or a placebo. From the findings you can tell if the drug is actually effective because of it's pharmacological properties rather than something psychological.

In 1986 Kahn et al used this technique to test the effectiveness of BZ's. They followed 250 patients over 8 weeks and found that BZ's were significantly superior compared to the placebos at treating anxiety and stress.


Drug therapy is very effective and easy to use, however it does have some negative aspects. For example in 1997 Ashton saw that patients taking BZ's to treat anxiety and stress showed withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking them, even if they were only taking small doses. The recommended time that a person takes BZ's was then reduced to 4 weeks because of the addictive nature of the drugs.

Drugs also only temporarily treat the symptoms associated with stress, this is fine if the person on the drugs is experiencing an acute and temporary stressor but if the stress is chronic then stressor will still be there after the course of drugs has finished. It doesn't seem to appropriate to put someone on drugs that may cause more problems (such as addiction) if when the person comes off them they will still have to face their problems and stress.

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