Aviophobia: Does flight anxiety medication help?
Medically reviewed by Alexandra Perez, PharmD, MBA, BCGP on February 2, 2023
If you have a fear of flying, traveling by plane can be very upsetting. If you fly regularly, you may find talk therapy and antidepressant medications useful. Flight anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines, might also help with immediate symptoms.
Flight anxiety medication
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), identifying triggers is an important part of overcoming associated anxiety and fear. But medications may also help you through the process.
Antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are long-term medications that can help with anxiety and episodes of panic.
Some examples of SSRIs include:
- fluvoxamine (Faverin)
- citalopram (Celexa)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
Some examples of SNRIs include:
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
- levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
Other medications like benzodiazepines and beta-blockers may provide more immediate relief from the physical symptoms of anxiety. However, these drugs act as a tranquilizer, and they could lessen the effects of exposure.
If you feel your flight anxiety affects your life, discuss your symptoms with your doctor who will be able to create a personal treatment plan.
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There is limited evidence suggesting that over-the-counter (OTC) options can help with anxiety. However, some options could include the following:
- Ashwagandha: A 2021 review found that this herbal supplement has significant stress and anxiety-reducing effects.
- Magnesium: Evidence suggests a link between magnesium and stress and a possible link between low magnesium levels and mental health conditions. There’s not enough conclusive evidence that magnesium can help treat anxiety.
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): One 2021 review suggests that 5-HTP may help treat mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders.
OTC medications may sometimes interact with other medications, and the Food and drug Administration (FDA) may not have the same oversight as prescription medications. For this reason, it is best to check with a doctor or healthcare professional about which options are best for your specific circumstances.
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Some talk therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), may also help with flight anxiety. This therapy type looks at pinpointing, understanding, and challenging your usual way of thinking and behaving. A therapist may use techniques to help calm your fears and anxieties, including deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing.
A therapist may also recommend group therapy courses. These are often tailored specifically for those with flight anxiety and take place in an airport. If you are ready, these courses can end with a flight with your therapist. The ADAA advises this method is useful in overcoming flight anticipation.
Flight anxiety symptoms
If you have flight anxiety, you may experience the following symptoms in anticipation of flying or once you board a plane:
- a feeling of imminent doom
- a desperate need to get out of the situation
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
- increased sweat rate
- shakiness or trembling
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or gastrointestinal distress
Alcohol and flight anxiety
Doctors do not advise using alcohol to help you through flight, or any other anxiety episode, and according to the ADAA, alcohol can even cause panic attacks. If you’re taking medications to treat your anxiety, interactions between the drug and the alcohol are also possible.
There’s also a strong link between anxiety disorders and substance use disorder.
CBD and flight anxiety
There’s evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) may help with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Taking edible CBD before you fly might help relax you, but it may not resolve the phobia symptoms you feel before boarding a plane.
It’s also important to remember that CBD products must meet Transport Security Administration (TSA) guidelines and have clear labels saying they contain less than 0.3% THC. Also, in the U.S., laws surrounding CBD products can differ from state to state.
CBD rules and laws may also vary internationally.
Medications for flight anxiety, like SSRIs and SNRIs, can help manage symptoms in addition to other treatments, like exposure therapy and CBT. Some medications can also help you with upsetting and sudden symptoms, including episodes of panic.
It’s best to talk with a doctor about your options for flight anxiety. If your flight phobia affects your day-to-day life, it may also help to talk with a mental health professional.
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- 8 steps to overcoming your fear of flying. (n.d.). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/specific-phobias/treatment/8-Steps-to-Overcoming-Your-Fear-of-Flying
- Blessing EM, et al. (2015). Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4604171/
- FDA regulation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD). (2021). https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). (n.d.). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
- How can I overcome my fear of flying? (n.d.). https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/ask-expert/how-can-i-overcome-my-fear-of-flying
- Maffei ME. (2021). 5-hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP): Natural occurrence, analysis, biosynthesis, biotechnology, physiology and toxicology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7796270/
- Pickering G, et al. (2020). Magnesium status and stress: The vicious circle concept revisited. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761127/
- Soares VP, et al. (2017). Evidences for the anti-panic actions of cannabidiol. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5412699/
- Speers AB, et al. (2021). Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on stress and the stress-related neuropsychiatric disorders anxiety, depression, and insomnia. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34254920/
- Substance use. (n.d.). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/co-occurring-disorders/substance-abuse
- Symptoms. (n.d.). https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/specific-phobias/symptoms
- What are the different types of therapy? (n.d.). https://adaa.org/find-help/treatment-help/types-of-therapy