Does Zoloft Treat Anxiety?

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
September 7, 2021

Everyone feels anxiety occasionally, but for some people, those stressed feelings don’t go away when the stressful situation ends—or happen when there’s no stressful situation at all.

If you’ve experienced this, or find that those anxious thoughts interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

You’re not alone: Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million Americans every year.

Fortunately, anxiety is both well understood and highly treatable. If you are suffering from symptoms related to an anxiety disorder, a prescription medication may help treat your condition and improve your quality of life. 

Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride) is a brand-name medication that is available by prescription. It is one of a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that work by boosting and rebalancing the amount of serotonin in your body at one time.

Research has shown a strong link between increased serotonin levels and enhanced mood, appetite, energy, and sleep. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved Zoloft for patient use more than two decades ago.

Since that time, Zoloft, along with other SSRI medications, has become one of the most commonly prescribed medications for mental health disorders globally.  

Today, healthcare professionals use Zoloft to treat millions of patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), as well as a range of anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder (SAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Healthcare professionals also sometimes use Zoloft off-label to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and certain eating disorders, among other conditions. 

If you are suffering from anxiety and believe that you might benefit from prescription medication, talk to your healthcare provider about whether Zoloft or another form of treatment might be appropriate for you.

Read on to learn more about how Zoloft works to treat anxiety symptoms and other mental health conditions.

In this article, I’ll talk about how common anxiety is, and if Zoloft can help.

I’ll explain the drug’s dosage, how long it takes to start working for anxiety sufferers, as well as side effects, warnings, and potential drug interactions with Zoloft.

I’ll discuss alternatives to Zoloft for anxiety, and when it’s best to talk to a doctor about your symptoms.

How Common Is Anxiety, and Does Zoloft Help?

Although Zoloft is considered an antidepressant medication, and was initially marketed to treat patients with depression, it is now FDA-approved to treat people with certain forms of anxiety. 

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions in the United States.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, roughly 19% of adults have an anxiety disorder. An estimated 7% of children also suffer from excessive anxiety. When we break down those statistics even further, we find: 

For many patients, taking an SSRI medication like Zoloft can ease symptoms and improve their mood. 

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Zoloft Dosage for Anxiety

Zoloft is available as a tablet and as an oral solution.

Generally, doctors will start by prescribing 25-50 mg of the medication daily to treat adults with anxiety disorders, while children receive lower doses.

Usually, patients take their medication once daily by mouth. 

If you believe you might benefit from Zoloft, you must first talk to a healthcare provider about your anxiety symptoms.

If they agree that the medication is appropriate for you, they will prescribe a recommended dose that considers your individual needs, health history, medical conditions, risk of drug interactions, medication tolerance, and more.

You should follow your doctor’s medical advice when taking Zoloft; increasing or decreasing your dosage without their permission can lead to serious side effects and withdrawal symptoms. 

How Long Does It Take for Zoloft To Treat Anxiety?

Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that works by blocking how your body’s nerve receptors typically reabsorb, or reuptake, serotonin.

By blocking this reuptake, the amount of this neurotransmitter in your brain is boosted.

Although SSRIs begin to work immediately, it takes a while for your body to get used to its new, rebalanced neurochemistry. Your brain needs time to build the new receptors that can absorb the increased serotonin in your body.

Until it can do so, you may have boosted your neurotransmitters, but have no way to take full advantage of them.

Some patients report feeling better after their first few weeks on Zoloft, but on average it takes 6-8 weeks on the medication to experience significant improvement.

If you have been taking Zoloft as directed for two months or more and have not experienced a change in your mood or other symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider.

They may need to adjust your dosage or change your medication for you to feel better.

Never stop taking Zoloft suddenly without your doctor’s express permission.

Abruptly changing your dosage can cause an adverse reaction called discontinuation, or withdrawal syndrome.

Symptoms include anxiety, irritability, agitation, muscle tremors, dizziness, hallucinations, insomnia, headache, fatigue, nausea, excessive sweating, and seizures.

These symptoms should generally improve after taking a dose of the medication.

If you want to stop taking Zoloft, talk to your doctor about how to gradually decrease your prescription gradually and safely so you can avoid any health complications.

Side Effects

For most patients with anxiety disorders, Zoloft is a safe and effective medication that alleviates their symptoms and improves their lives.

But for some, Zoloft can cause side effects that range from mild to more serious. 

The most common side effects include: 

If you take Zoloft and develop a skin rash, hives, unusual hoarseness, swelling in your throat, tongue, lips, or face, or have difficulty breathing, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

These are signs of a rare but severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that can be life-threatening if left untreated. 

Warnings

Do not take more than your recommended dose of Zoloft without first speaking to your doctor.

Taking too much Zoloft or taking Zoloft while using another serotonergic drug can result in a dangerous reaction called serotonin syndrome.

Symptoms of this syndrome include heart palpitations, confusion, and seizures. You should be evaluated in the emergency room right away if they occur. 

Patients who have bipolar disorder and who take Zoloft while they are experiencing a depressive episode may develop manic symptoms as a result of the medication.

Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has been diagnosed with bipolar type I or II, mania, or hypomania before beginning to take Zoloft.

According to some research studies, a small percentage of children, teens, and young adults who take antidepressants are at risk of experiencing increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Although it is rare, pediatric and young adult patients should be cautious when taking Zoloft or other SSRIs. If you or someone you know is at risk of harming themselves or others, call 9-1-1 or immediately go to the nearest emergency room.

Zoloft can cause sexual dysfunction in certain patients.

Some male patients experience abnormal ejaculation, decreased libido, and erectile dysfunction while taking the medication. A percentage of female patients also report a decreased libido and difficulty achieving orgasm due to taking the prescription drug.

Research has shown that some antidepressants can cause harm to fetal and infant development.

If you are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about the costs and benefits of taking an SSRI like Zoloft before you begin your medication.

Interactions

Certain prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and homeopathic treatments can interact poorly with Zoloft and cause serious health consequences.

When you speak with your doctor about Zoloft, make sure to tell them about any medicines, substances, and supplements you take so that they can adjust your dosage and help you avoid adverse outcomes. 

Zoloft can interact with: 

  • Antipsychotic medications 
  • Fentanyl
  • Lithium 
  • Meperidine
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Pimozide
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • St. John’s wort
  • Tramadol
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants 
  • Triptans
  • Tryptophan
  • Blood thinners (Warfarin/Coumadin)

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Alternatives to Zoloft for Anxiety

Anxiety is a well-understood and highly treatable medical condition.

If you are suffering from symptoms and find that Zoloft is unsuitable for you, there are plenty of alternatives that can ease your symptoms and help you find relief. 

Prescription drugs

There are many kinds of medications on the market that can help you manage your anxiety.

Healthcare professionals often suggest other SSRI drugs such as Prozac (fluoxetine) and Lexapro (escitalopram) for anxiety disorders.

They can also recommend a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) or a benzodiazepine to manage anxiety symptoms.

In some cases, healthcare professionals prescribe anticonvulsant and antipsychotic medications “off-label” to treat anxiety disorders.

Talk therapy 

Many patients with anxiety also benefit from speaking to a therapist.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help patients identify, challenge, and replace negative thought patterns so that they can live healthier, more productive lives. 

Exposure therapy can also be helpful for people with PTSD and specific phobias. In sessions, therapists gently desensitize patients to the situations or objects that trigger their anxiety, helping them build confidence and avoid feelings of panic.

Lifestyle changes

Healthy habits are not a substitute for prescription medication or talk therapy, but can augment and support patient well-being.

Making lifestyle changes that include eating well, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and practicing meditation and breathing techniques can reduce your anxiety symptoms.

When to Talk to a Doctor

If you are experiencing intense, intrusive, or unwanted symptoms related to anxiety, you don’t have to suffer alone. You can start controlling your anxiety and get access to the treatment you need with K Health.

Starting at $19/month get prescriptions for mental health medications plus unlimited doctor visits through the K Health app. Start your free assessment here.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.