Buspar vs Zoloft

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For individuals dealing with anxiety disorders or symptoms of depression, there are several medications that can help manage these symptoms by altering the balance of certain chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters. Buspar and Zoloft are two such medications often prescribed for these conditions. Both of these drugs influence the neurotransmitters in the brain, but each has a different mechanism of action. Buspar, otherwise known as Buspirone, is an anxiolytic drug that works by affecting the chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety. It is not entirely understood how Buspar works, though it is thought to involve dopamine type 4 receptors in the brain. Zoloft, on the other hand, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which means it increases the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness, in the brain.

What is Buspar?

Buspirone (the generic name for Buspar) was a significant evolution from the first class of anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines. Buspirone was approved by the FDA in 1986. Buspar affects the chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety, thereby reducing symptoms of anxiety disorders. It is mostly prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Unlike Zoloft, which is classified as an SSRI and has broad effects on the brain's neurotransmitters, Buspar has a selective influence on serotonin receptors and a minor influence on dopamine receptors. This results in Buspar having fewer side effects and less potential for dependency than other anti-anxiety medications that have a more generalized effect on brain neurotransmitters.

What conditions is Buspar approved to treat?

Buspar is approved for the treatment of certain types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), a condition characterized by persistent and excessive worry about different things
  • Short-term relief of symptoms of anxiety, providing immediate, temporary relief when symptoms are severe

On the other hand, Zoloft has a broader range of approvals:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

How does Buspar help with these illnesses?

Buspar, also known as buspirone, manages anxiety by affecting the amount of serotonin and dopamine available in the brain synapses. It does this by acting as a partial agonist at the serotonin 1A receptor, which means it binds to the receptor and activates it to a lesser extent than serotonin would. Dopamine and serotonin are neurotransmitters, chemicals that act as messengers in the brain and throughout the body. They play important roles in mood, cognition, reward, sleep, appetite, and other functions. It is thought that individuals with anxiety may have imbalances in their levels of these neurotransmitters. Therefore, by moderately increasing the activation of serotonin 1A receptors, Buspar can help limit the negative effects of anxiety and help patients manage their condition and stabilize their mood.

What is Zoloft?

Zoloft, a brand name for sertraline, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which means it increases the levels of serotonin in the brain by reducing its reabsorption. It received FDA approval in 1991. As an SSRI antidepressant, Zoloft does not enhance noradrenaline or dopamine levels like non-SSRI drugs such as Buspar. Rather, it focuses on boosting serotonin to help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. Its side-effect profile differs from that of non-SSRIs; common side effects include nausea, sleep disturbances and sexual dysfunction - these are less typical with non-serotonin affecting meds like Buspar. However, Zoloft's potent action on serotonin can be beneficial for patients who do not respond well to other types of anti-depressants or those who require specific focus on their serotonin levels.

What conditions is Zoloft approved to treat?

Zoloft is a widely used medication that has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of several different conditions including:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

How does Zoloft help with these illnesses?

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that acts as a mood stabilizer, plays significant roles in numerous body processes. It affects not only the mood but also appetite and sleep regulation, memory recall, learning abilities and much more. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Zoloft is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) that works by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain thus helping to alleviate symptoms associated with depression or anxiety. This action on serotonin makes Zoloft particularly effective for treating these conditions. Unlike Buspar which primarily influences dopamine receptors and has lesser effect on serotonin levels, Zoloft can be prescribed when patients do not respond well to other classes of antidepressants or may need simultaneous treatment for other conditions like panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder where SSRIs are known to be beneficial.

How effective are both Buspar and Zoloft?

Both buspirone (Buspar) and sertraline (Zoloft) have strong track records in treating patients with anxiety disorders, and they were approved by the FDA within a few years of each other. Since they affect different neurotransmitters, they may be prescribed under different circumstances. The effectiveness of buspirone and sertraline in alleviating anxiety was directly compared in a double-blind clinical trial in 1996; the two drugs showed similar efficacy in managing symptoms of anxiety as well as similar safety profiles. In this study, no significant differences were observed in treating anxiety between patients receiving buspirone and those receiving sertraline. A 2001 clinical trial studied buspirone against sertraline and found that sertraline (Zoloft) was less likely to cause certain side effects such as dizziness and nausea.

A 2004 meta-analysis review on buspirone demonstrated that it is effective in alleviating symptoms of anxiety starting from the first week of treatment, that its side effect profile is favorable over many other anxiolytics, and that it is well-tolerated even in elderly populations. The same study reports that buspirone has become a frequently prescribed anxiolytic drug. The dose showing optimal efficacy is thought to be 30-60 mg/day, and beyond alleviating symptoms of anxiety, it also appears to improve general well-being.

A 2016 review and meta-analysis indicated that sertraline seems to be more effective than placebo in treating anxiety, and that it seems to be similar in efficacy to other common anxiolytics. Nonetheless, sertraline is typically considered a first-line treatment option. Significant research on its use involves sertraline used as a standalone treatment, so data confirming its efficacy is robust. Further, the evidence to support sertraline as significantly augmenting the effect of other anxiolytics is well-established. Nonetheless, due to its unique pharmacology, sertraline may be an optimal treatment for patients who did not respond well to other anxiolytics or have a particular need to avoid common side effects of other anxiolytics, such as those prone to dizziness or nausea.

abstract image of a researcher studying a bottle of drug.

At what dose is Buspar typically prescribed?

Oral dosages of Buspar range from 15–60 mg/day, divided into two or three doses. However, studies have shown a dose of 15mg/day is often sufficient for treating generalized anxiety disorder in many individuals. In contrast to Prozac and Wellbutrin, there is no standard starting dosage recommendation for children and adolescents with this medication; it's generally not used in patients under the age of 18. For adults taking Buspar, if there isn't an adequate response after several weeks, the dosage can be gradually increased. It's important to remember that the maximum dosage should not exceed 60 mg per day.

At what dose is Zoloft typically prescribed?

Zoloft therapy usually begins at a dose of 50–100 mg/day. The dosage can subsequently be increased to a maximum of 200 mg/day, administered as one single daily dose. If after several weeks there is no significant improvement or response to treatment at the initial doses, an increase in dosage might be considered by your healthcare provider. It's important to note that Zoloft should always be taken under the supervision of a doctor and any alterations in its administration must follow their specific recommendations.

What are the most common side effects for Buspar?

Common side effects of Buspar (Buspirone) and Zoloft (Sertraline) often have some overlap. These might include:

  • Nervousness
  • Drowsiness or dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Excitement or feeling wired
  • Dry mouth, nausea, stomach upset, diarrhea
  • Tiredness, weakness
  • Unwanted movements like tremors
  • Changes in sexual desire and ability.

However, it is important to note that everyone reacts differently to medications and these lists are not exhaustive. Always consult with a healthcare provider for the most accurate information regarding potential side effects.

abstract image of a patient experiencing side effect

Are there any potential serious side effects for Buspar?

Just like any other medication, Buspar and Zoloft come with potential side effects. In the case of Buspar, these may include:

  • Thoughts about suicide or self-harm
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as hives, difficulty breathing or swelling in your face, lips, tongue or throat
  • Blurred vision or tunnel vision
  • Rapid heart rate that can be accompanied by chest discomfort

On the other hand, Zoloft users should watch out for symptoms such as:

  • Increased thoughts about suicide particularly among young adults during initial stages of therapy
  • Allergic reactions including skin rash with blistering and peeling
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Symptoms associated with low sodium levels in the body like headache, confusion, slurred speech etc.

In both cases it's important to monitor any changes closely and seek immediate medical attention if you notice severe nervous system reactions characterized by rigid muscles, high fever plus sweating confusion etc., symptoms pointing to serotonin syndrome (agitation hallucinations fever muscle stiffness twitching loss of coordination nausea vomiting diarrhea) amongst others. Always remember that these lists are not exhaustive; consult a healthcare provider regarding complete information on possible side effects.

What are the most common side effects for Zoloft?

Zoloft, an SSRI medication commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety disorders, presents its own catalog of common side effects. These can include:

  • Dry mouth or increased salivation
  • Upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Increased sweating and possible tremors
  • Mild weight loss over time due to diminished appetite
  • A faster than normal heart rate -Nervousness and agitation that may escalate into hostility in rare cases. -Rashes are uncommon but possible skin reactions. -Increased frequency of urination is also reported by some users. -The experience of headaches or dizziness is not uncommon with Zoloft use, -Finally, muscle pain or joint pain have been noted as occurring among a minority of users.

Remember: It's important to consult your healthcare provider if you notice any new symptoms while on Zoloft therapy.

Are there any potential serious side effects for Zoloft?

While Zoloft is generally well-tolerated, it can sometimes cause serious side effects. These may include:

  • Allergic reactions such as skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips or tongue
  • Changes in appetite with associated weight loss or gain
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising, pinpoint red spots on the skin
  • Suicidal thoughts and increased risk to act upon them
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeats causing palpitations
  • Visual disturbances including blurred vision and eye pain
  • Signs of serotonin syndrome: agitation; hallucinations; fever; fast heartbeat; overactive reflexes; nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; loss of coordination
    If any of these symptoms are observed while taking Zoloft, immediate medical attention should be sought. It's important to remember that everyone reacts differently to medications so not all patients will experience these side effects.

Contraindications for Buspar and Zoloft?

Both Buspar and Zoloft, like many other antidepressant medications, may exacerbate symptoms of depression in some individuals. If you notice your depression intensifying or if there is an increase in suicidal ideation, thoughts, or behaviors while on these medications, it's crucial to seek immediate medical help.

Neither Buspar nor Zoloft should be taken if you are currently taking or have recently taken monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Always disclose all the medications you're on to your healthcare provider; MAOIs will require a washout period of about 14 days to clear from your system before starting Buspar or Zoloft to prevent harmful interactions.

How much do Buspar and Zoloft cost?

For the brand-name versions of these drugs:

  • The price of 60 tablets of Zoloft (50 mg) averages around $320, which works out to $5-10/day, depending on your dose.
  • The price of 60 tablets of Buspar (10 mg) averages about $100, working out to approximately $1.50/day.

Thus, if you are in the higher dosage range for Zoloft (i.e., 200 mg/day or higher), then brand-name Buspar is less expensive on a per-day treatment basis. However, note that cost should not be a primary consideration in determining which of these drugs is right for you.

For the generic versions of Zoloft (sertraline) and Buspar (buspirone), costs are significantly lower:

  • Sertraline (50 mg tablets) is available in packs of 30 tablets and above, with approximate costs of $0.10 to $0.30 per day for dosages of 50 mg/day, or between $0.20 and $1.20 per day if you are taking more typical dosages of 100 to 200 mg/day.
  • Buspirone is available in packs of 60 up to 180 tablets (10 mg), with the cost to you starting from as low as $0.04/day (if you buy the largest pack upfront), and not exceeding about $0.15/day.

Popularity of Buspar and Zoloft

Buspirone, available as the brand name Buspar, was prescribed to approximately 4.5 million people in the US in 2020. Buspirone accounted for about 7% of anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) prescriptions in the US. It is a unique medication and does not fit into a larger class of anxiolytics. Buspirone has seen a consistent increase in usage since 2013, likely due to its fewer side effects and lack of dependency risk compared to some other anxiolytics.

On the other hand, Sertraline, also known as Zoloft, was prescribed to nearly 38.7 million people in the USA in 2020. Sertraline accounts for roughly 23% of SSRI prescriptions, and about 12% of all antidepressant prescriptions. The usage of sertraline has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, due to its effectiveness in treating a broad range of anxiety and depressive disorders.


Both Buspar (buspirone) and Zoloft (sertraline) are widely used in the management of anxiety and depression, with numerous clinical studies and meta-analyses demonstrating their effectiveness over placebo treatments. In some instances, these two medications may be combined, however, this requires careful consideration by a healthcare provider since they can interact with each other. Their mechanisms of action differ, with Buspar primarily acting as a serotonin receptor agonist and Zoloft as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This difference often drives their prescription under different circumstances. Zoloft is often considered a first-line treatment for depression and anxiety disorders, whereas Buspar is typically used as an adjunct therapy to SSRIs like Zoloft, or in patients who did not respond well to first-line SSRIs, or those who wish to avoid the common sexual side effects associated with SSRIs.

Both Buspar and Zoloft are available in generic form, making them more affordable, especially for patients paying out of pocket. Both may require an adjustment period, as the effects may not be immediately noticeable.

The side effect profiles of the two drugs are somewhat similar, with both generally well-tolerated, but Zoloft may lead to more common sexual dysfunction compared to Buspar. Patients must closely monitor their moods, particularly when initiating treatment, and seek immediate medical help if they notice their depression or anxiety worsening, or if they begin to have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about self-harm.