These 5 Common Medicines Can Cause Anxiety

Everyone has to deal with stress and worry at some point in their lives. We worry about our jobs or school. We worry about ourselves, our families, and the people we care about. We are worried about an upcoming meeting, interview, or appointment. Feelings such as these are normal. They are built into our bodies and help keep us safe.

But for some people, these feelings are always there and can make their daily lives hard. About 40 million people in the US have some anxiety disorder. One important part of treating anxiety is figuring out what makes it happen. Some people might try to stay away from certain circumstances or triggers.

Others may change their habits, talk to a counselor, or take medicine to feel better. The medicine cabinet is another important place to look. Some medicines can cause or worsen anxiety, particularly if you already have an anxiety disorder. It could be your medicine if you have trouble with these illnesses and have governed out other causes.


Stimulants are the best medicine for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In this group are amphetamine salts (like Adderall), methylphenidate (like Ritalin and Concerta), and dexmethylphenidate (Focalin).

These medicines work by changing the number of certain chemicals in the brain. This helps people with ADHD or narcolepsy stay more focused, awake, and feel better overall. But anxiety can happen if you carry too much of the drug or it’s not right for you.

If you get anxious while taking a stimulant, your doctor may need to change the amount you take or give you a different drug. Change can help you feel less anxious while keeping the symptoms of your condition under control.


Corticosteroids, also called “steroids,” are used to treat several conditions and diseases that cause swelling or rashes. They are known for having long-term side effects like stomach problems, high blood sugar, changes in the immune system, and cataracts.

Anxiety is one of the possible side effects, and it often happens when steroids are taken in high doses, when the dose is reduced too quickly, or when they are stopped all of a sudden. Research shows that the dose you take is the most important risk factor for mental health side effects like anxiety, with higher doses putting you at the most risk.

There are numerous dose forms for corticosteroids, including pills, liquids, inhalers, nasal sprays, eye drops, and ear drops. Pills, liquids, and inhalers cause most anxiety symptoms because they have higher doses and are more likely to get into your bloodstream.

Corticosteroids are things like:

  • Hydrocortisone
  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Inhaler for fluticasone
  • Dexamethasone

Medication with caffeine

Caffeine wakes you up. It can sometimes make us jumpy. We feel this way when we drink too much soda, coffee, or energy drinks. Caffeine also speeds up the heart rate and makes you more alert. But doing too much of it can make you feel anxious.

Caffeine is found in many drinks and medicines like Excedrin, BC Powder, and Goody’s Powder, which are over-the-counter (OTC) diet pills and migraine remedies. Caffeine can also be taken with prescription drugs. Fioricet, which is used to treat migraines, is a good example.

As with the drinks above, the caffeine in these over-the-counter and prescription medicines can make you anxious. If caffeine worries you, check the labels of your medicines for a list of ingredients or talk to your pharmacist about your medicines. Think about how much caffeine you get daily from food, drinks, and medicines.


We take nasal decongestants when we have a stuffy nose, a headache from the sinuses, or bad allergies. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine are two decongestants that are often used (Sudafed PE). These medicines work great to clear the nose and make it easier to breathe. But to our bodies, they look a lot like the stimulants we talked about before, and they could have the same side effects, like anxiety.

Several over-the-counter (OTC) medicines have decongestants in them. Several cough and cold medicines contain a decongestant, a sniffle suppressant, an antihistamine, or a pain reliever. OTC nasal sprays like oxymetazoline also contain decongestants (Afrin). This is another group of drugs for which you should read the label or ask your pharmacy for help choosing a drug.


Most of the time, antihistamines are taken with decongestants. These medicines stop runny noses, cool and collect itchy eyes and skin, and help with other allergy symptoms. Several different kinds can be bought over the counter, including:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Loratadine (Claritin)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec),
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra),
  • Levocetirizine (Xyzal)

Most people think antihistamines will make them sleepy, but this isn’t always true. Some people take diphenhydramine to get a faster heartbeat, have trouble sleeping, or feel restless. One study also shows that cetirizine and hydroxyzine are more likely to cause anxiety and mood changes than other antihistamines.

Hydroxyzine is also used to treat conditions that cause anxiety. So, if your symptoms worsen after taking this medicine, talk to your doctor about it. Antihistamines can cause anxiety, but if you stop taking medicine, the anxiety should go away. If you feel more anxious in the hours after taking these allergy drugs, talk to your doctor about other options.