PTSD: Medications and Psychotherapy Options
Know and discuss your options with your therapist
When you have PTSD, it might feel like you'll never get your life back. But it can be treated. Short and long-term psychotherapy and medications can work very well. There are many good options available to you. Although medications do not work as well as trauma-focused psychotherapies, they are a very effective way to treat PTSD.
You've probably heard of some common PTSD medications already. The four medications that are recommended for PTSD are sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), fluoxetine (Prozac), and venlafaxine (Effexor). They are also good for treating depression and anxiety.
Because medications can be prescribed by nurse practitioners, physicians, and many other providers, they may be easier to get access to than trauma-focused psychotherapy. After you fill your prescription, you will meet with your provider every few months to talk about how you're doing.
My HealtheVet tools
Using the Pharmacy tools within My HealtheVet can make managing your medications easier. You can review medication histories, refill prescriptions online, and add non-VA prescriptions for a more complete view of your medications. Downloading your Blue Button report will give you a full picture to share with your therapist and providers.
Remember, it takes time
You should know that once you begin taking a medication, it might be a few weeks before you start to feel better. Or, you might see improvement in PTSD symptoms, but be bothered by side effects like an upset stomach, sweating, headache, and dizziness. Some people have delayed orgasm or other sexual side effects. Don't give up. Instead, tell your provider how you are feeling. A different medication might be a better fit for you. Even though the medications are similar, people will react differently to them. If you are on other medications, your provider should take that into account so that you avoid troublesome interactions.
Talk to your health care team
Staying in touch with your provider is important. Secure Messaging (sign in required)allows you to send messages safely to your health care team. You can expect a response within three business days.
If you want to stop taking the medication, talk to your provider. According to Dr. Nancy Bernardy, Associate Director of Clinical Networking and clinical research psychologist at the Executive Division of the National Center for PTSD, "People should not stop taking antidepressants suddenly, because they can have some withdrawal symptoms." She says that "PTSD symptoms may return if you stop taking the medication suddenly, so make a plan with your provider to slowly taper off."
While medications can be a good treatment option, trauma-focused psychotherapies work better. Research shows they can keep working long after treatment is over.
To learn about the best PTSD treatments available, Dr. Bernardy recommends using the Treatment Decision Aid from the National Center for PTSD, which includes video and other materials to help you better understand your options.
Updated November 3, 2020