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How Effective Is Atenolol for Anxiety?

By S. Berger
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Atenolol is a beta blocker, a class of medications often used to treat high blood pressure, or hypertension. By decreasing the body's fight or flight response in this way, this medication also serves as an anxiety treatment. The use of atenolol for anxiety is well-established among the medical community, and this drug has been shown to reduce anxiety from many different sources.

Anxiety produces both psychological symptoms, such as worrying and feelings of dread, as well as physical symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat and high blood pressure. This particular beta blocker does not enter the brain, but it does stop the physical symptoms of anxiety. Taking atenolol for anxiety can prevent these physical symptoms from providing positive feedback to the brain, thereby reducing the psychological symptoms in an indirect way.

Support for using atenolol to treat anxiety comes from studies regarding the effectiveness of this drug in treating hypertension. Research investigating improvements in the quality of life among individuals taking this beta blocker found that not only were physical symptoms often controlled, but a better quality of life was also frequently reported. This was related, in turn, to certain other dimensions including a lack of depression and anxiety. Some patients noted that they preferred this compound to more traditional anxiety medications, since it did not produce difficulties in functioning due to drowsiness and the risk of dependence. Both of these qualities are dangers inherent in using benzodiazepines, another class of medication, to treat anxiety.

Studies have demonstrated that taking atenolol for anxiety resulting from other mood disorders, such as social phobia, is somewhat effective. When compared to certain types of behavioral therapy requiring immersion in social situations, atenolol was not as effective at reducing anxiety. The same was true when comparing this beta blocker to a type of antidepressant known as phenelzine. Atenolol was shown to be superior to a placebo treatment for this condition, however.

Performance anxiety and withdrawal from alcohol are two other conditions for which this medications may occasionally be used. Other beta blockers, such as propranolol, are sometimes used to treat these conditions. Atenolol is often preferred to these other compounds on the grounds that the latter does not have as many side effects, and has a longer half-life, meaning that it remains in the body, exerting its effects. These uses of atenolol for anxiety are off label, or not not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for these particular purposes.

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Discussion Comments

By anon990135 — On Apr 08, 2015

@Donasmrs: The answer to your question is literally in the first paragraph of the article. It is a beta blocker. Thus it weakens fight or flight response (The body's physical reaction to stress/threat/fear including increased heart rate, increased production of epinephrine which causes vasoconstriction and norepinephrine which involves stress hormones causing high BP -this is where tx of hypertension comes into play- increased sweat secretion, etc.) Basically a main component of anxiety is the body's fight or flight response. The other component being mental. But because the two work in tandem and your body communicates with your brain (and vice versa obviously) because the body does not activate the fight flight response as it normally would it tricks the brain into thinking there is in fact nothing to be worried about. there is research that shows if you force yourself to smile by holding a pencil in your teeth for 30 seconds you will actually be happier afterwards, same concept here.

By anon958473 — On Jun 27, 2014

What dose seems to help people with anxiety disorder? My son takes 25mg morning and night (total of 50mg) and it helps with anxiety but leaves him without energy. I was wondering if people have success on 25mg just once a day?

By anon943934 — On Apr 04, 2014

@sarahgen: Be very very careful with quitting atenolol. It's very dangerous to stop taking beta blockers. You can have a heart attack. Talk to your doctor if you want to quit it.

By anon313720 — On Jan 13, 2013

Atenolol has been a God-send for my anxiety. Having been on clonazepam for years, I now rarely take it. For me, it has been much more effective than clonazepam. It's great for social anxiety, and since I've been on it, I had one minor panic attack (it was a very stressful situation, that would've caused a major panic attack before I started taking atenolol.) So, it worked for my panic attacks as well! I'm very happy with it. I'm taking the lowest dose, 25mg. I wanted to share my experience with it.

By burcinc — On Dec 21, 2012

@donasmrs-- I'm not an expert or anything but I know that atenolol doesn't work for everyone. I've tried it and it didn't do anything for me.

It's not really supposed to treat anxiety, just the side effects of anxiety, particularly high blood pressure and heart palpitations. So if someone is not having these symptoms, which was the case with me, it doesn't do much for anxiety.

I suppose in some situations, anxiety and high blood pressure can go hand in hand. They might be triggering one another.

By donasmrs — On Dec 20, 2012

I've been suffering from social anxiety for some years now. I have been hearing more and more about the use of blood pressure medications in the treatment of anxiety.

This is really interesting to me. How can a medication like atenolol help with anxiety symptoms?

Could it be that some people are experiencing anxiety not in and of itself but rather as a symptom of high blood pressure? I don't see how else atenolol group drugs would work for anxiety.

If anyone can enlighten me on this, that would be great.

By SarahGen — On Dec 19, 2012

I've just been put on a low dose of atenolol for anxiety by my doctor. It has been a few days now.

I really wasn't expecting this medication to work but I feel so much better these few days. The feeling of butterflies and tension migraines have disappeared. I'm so glad that I don't have to take addictive anti-anxiety medications. At least I won't have many withdrawal effects from atenolol if I need to quit taking it in the future.

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