The Most Common Psychiatric Medications and What You Should Know About Them

The world of psychiatric medications is broad and can be overwhelming if you don’t have any experience with them. But having a working understanding of the different types of psych meds and how they’re used to treat mental illnesses can help you be more confident about seeking help. 

In this post, we’ll list some of the most common psychiatric drugs and what conditions they’re often used for.


This is a broad category that includes many types of medications. Despite the term “antidepressants,” these are often also used to treat other mental illnesses like anxiety as well.


SSRIs change the way your brain processes serotonin, helping lift and regulate your mood. This is often the first type of medication a prescriber will try for depressive symptoms.  Some of the most common SSRIs (which you may recognize the names of) include:

  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft


SNRIs change the way your body processes serotonin and norepinephrine. They work differently than SSRIs do and tend to affect people differently. If you’ve tried SSRIs and weren’t pleased with the results, SNRIs can be an effective alternative.  This category includes:

  • Pristiq
  • Cymbalta
  • Effexor


Wellbutrin is a common depression medication, but it works uniquely, which is why it’s in its own category. It mainly affects the brain’s dopamine and norepinephrine. It’s also frequently used for attention issues and low energy.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

As the name suggests, anti-anxiety medications are a go-to when treating anxiety of all types. And their uses aren’t strictly limited to anxiety disorders. They can also be used to treat insomnia.


Benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos”) are most often prescribed on an as-needed basis, rather than every day like an antidepressant. That’s because these can be habit-forming if taken too often. But when used as directed, they’re safe and effective. Common benzos include:

  • Xanax
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Ativan


Buspar is a unique, non-habit-forming drug used to treat generalized anxiety and other anxiety-related conditions. Unlike benzos, Buspar is generally taken every day.

Off-Label Medications for Anxiety

Prescribers frequently use medications intended to treat other conditions to treat anxiety. Gabapentin and Lyrica, for example, are often used for anxiety.

Antipsychotic Medications

This category of medications can be used to treat psychotic disorders that involve irrational thoughts, delusions, or hallucinations. But they’re often also used to treat mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression, or trauma-related disorders like PTSD. If your prescriber suggests an antipsychotic, don’t be alarmed. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing psychosis.  Common antipsychotics include:

  • Abilify
  • Latuda
  • Seroquel
  • Risperdal

Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are generally used to treat bipolar disorders or mood changes resulting from other mental disorders. They can also be used to augment the effects of other medications when treating depression. Lithium is the most well-known mood stabilizer.


Stimulants are most commonly used to treat attention issues like ADHD.  Many of these medications are well-known, such as:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Vyvanse
  • Concerta
  • Ritalin

Non-Stimulant ADHD Medications

Simulants aren’t always the right choice to treat attention issues. Common alternatives include:

  • Catapres
  • Intuniv
  • Strattera

Combining Medications

Prescribers sometimes use a combination of medications, even across different categories, to treat a patient’s symptoms. For example, it’s common for a provider to prescribe an SSRI alongside an anti-anxiety medication or antipsychotic for best results.

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