Medications for PTSD

National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Medications for PTSD

There are four antidepressant medications that are effective for treating PTSD.

What type of treatment is this?

SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are types of antidepressant medication. There are four SSRIs/SNRIs that are recommended for PTSD:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)

*Medications have two names: a brand name (for example, Zoloft) and a generic name (for example, Sertraline)

There are other types of antidepressant medications, but these four medications listed above are the ones that are most effective for PTSD.

How does it work?

PTSD may be related to changes in the brain that are linked to our ability to manage stress. People with PTSD appear to have different amounts of certain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in the brain than people without PTSD. SSRIs and SNRIs are believed to treat PTSD by putting these brain chemicals back in balance.

What can I expect?

To receive medications for PTSD, you will need to meet with a provider who can prescribe these medications to you. Many different types of providers, including your family provider and even some nurses and physician assistants, can prescribe antidepressant medications for PTSD. You and your provider can work together to decide which antidepressant medication may be best for you.

In general, the four different SSRIs and SNRIs listed above appear to work equally well for PTSD. Once you fill your prescription, you will begin taking a pill at regular time(s) each day. It may take a few weeks before you notice the effects of the medication. It is important to continue to take it even if you do not notice changes right away. You will meet with your provider every few months or so. Your provider will monitor your response to the medication (including side effects) and change your dose, if needed.

Is it effective?

Yes, SSRIs and SNRIs are some of the most effective treatments for PTSD.

What are the risks?

The risks of taking SSRIs and SNRIs are mild to moderate side effects such as upset stomach, sweating, headache, and dizziness. Some people have sexual side effects, such as decreased desire to have sex or difficulty having an orgasm. Some side effects are short-term, though others may last as long as you are taking the medication.

Group or individual?

You will attend regular one-on-one visits with the provider who prescribes you the medication.

Will I talk in detail about my trauma?

No, you will not need to talk about the details of your trauma. However, your provider may ask for some basic information about your trauma--like the type of trauma and when it happened--when you first meet.

Will I have homework?

No, you will just need to take your medication as prescribed.

How long does treatment last?

You may start to feel better in about 4-6 weeks. You will need to keep taking the medication to keep getting the benefits.

How available is this in VA?

High. All VA Medical Centers are staffed with providers who can prescribe antidepressant medications for PTSD.

Does VA have an app for that?

No, the VA has not developed an app for antidepressant medications for PTSD.

Choosing the Best Treatment for You

Trying to figure out which PTSD treatment is best for you? For more videos about the four SSRIs and SNRIs used for PTSD and other treatments that work, get started with the PTSD Treatment Decision Aid.

Posted on BrainLine December 18, 2018.

From the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs.