In this episode of PTSD Bytes, host and clinical psychologist Pearl McGee-Vincent discusses medications as treatment for PTSD with Dr. Paul Holtzheimer, psychiatrist at VA’s National Center for PTSD.
Listen to “#7: Treatments for PTSD 4: Medications” on Spreaker.
Medications for PTSD
When chemicals in the brain are out of balance, it can lead to issues like PTSD or depression. Fortunately, medications can be used to correct the imbalance. The four medications recommended to treat PTSD are Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and Effexor.
Research shows that these medications work for about half of the people who take them. PTSD medications are antidepressants. They should also help any depression symptoms. If one medication doesn’t work for you, a different one might. When the medications are working, you will experience improvements in most, if not all, of your symptoms.
This improvement usually starts within the first 4 to 12 weeks. It’s generally recommended that you continue taking it for at least another few months to experience the full effects. If your symptoms are better after a few months and you want to stop taking the medication, talk to your doctor.
The side effects of PTSD medications are very well known. They are usually mild and go away in a few weeks. If side effects persist or become too much, your doctor might adjust the dose of your prescription or talk with you about trying a different medication.
Holtzheimer says trauma-focused psychotherapies, such as Prolonged Exposure or Cognitive Processing therapy, are the best treatments for PTSD. If possible, it is recommended you try one of these talk therapies first. If it doesn’t work for you, or it isn’t an option for you at this time, talk to your health care provider to see if taking medication is possible.
Making the decision to start medication
When you’re deciding whether to start medication for PTSD, it’s important to talk to your psychiatrist or doctor about:
- What the different medications do.
- How they work.
- What the side effects are.
You should consider what preferences you have for your treatment. The PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, developed by the National Center for PTSD, is a useful tool. It goes over much of this information. You can use it on your own or together with your therapist or doctor.
Mobile apps like PTSD Coach and Insomnia Coach can also be helpful. PTSD Coach has information about PTSD treatments, as well as tools for tracking symptoms, practicing skills, and more.
If you experience sleep difficulties even with medication, Insomnia Coach can help you learn how to fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
If you are a Veteran who is experiencing a crisis or supporting a loved one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for immediate assistance, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat.