Robert Downey Jr. Said He Was On Beta Blockers During Golden Globes Speech. Here's What They Are

Since Robert Downey Jr.'s seemingly jovial mention of them in his January 7, 2024, Golden Globes acceptance speech, beta blockers seem to be the talk of the town. 

Downey made a brief mention of the medicine prescribed to lower blood pressure in his opening comments after accepting the award for Best Supporting Male Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for his portrayal of Lewis Strauss in "Oppenheimer," saying, "Yeah, yeah, I took a beta-blocker, so this will be a breeze." The 58-year-old actor seemed to be indicating that he was not anxious about his acceptance speech after taking the medication. 

Even though they are specifically prescribed to lower blood pressure by making the heart beat more slowly, beta blockers are considered okay to be used off-label for anxiety as well, particularly performance-related anxiety (via Cleveland Clinic). They soothe anxiety the same way they work for lowering blood pressure — by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, or adrenaline. "'Off-label' means that we are using an FDA-approved medication but not necessarily for the condition the FDA approved it for. Often, we use off-label medications because a drug has an unintended benefit or because there is some evidence to suggest it is helpful in other circumstances," explained psychiatrist Jack Owens to Cleveland Clinic.

Beta blockers can be taken for performance anxiety

Beta blockers can be taken when you're anticipating performance-related anxiety, explained San Diego-based psychiatrist Dr. Sheldon Zablow (via USA Today). Adding that their effects begin within 10 minutes and last about three hours, Dr. Zablow shared, "You can take them situationally. If you can anticipate when you're going to be anxious and you take it before, it can help you get through the experience much easier."

Beta blockers have been in use since the 1960s, so their effects have been studied widely, but that doesn't mean they don't come with their own set of risks. Extreme fatigue, weight gain, dizziness, nausea, irregular heartbeat, dry mouth and eyes, sleeplessness, depression, and shortness of breath are some of the medication's side effects. 

Beta blockers are only a temporary solution for performance-related anxiety and should not be taken without a doctor's prescription. Also, while they may work for someone with mild anxiety who wants to soothe their nerves before going on stage (much like what Robert Downey Jr. seemingly did at the Golden Globes acceptance speech), "if someone has more severe anxiety that occurs almost all the time, that would require treatments like anti-depressants," added Dr. Zablow. 

Downey ended his speech by thanking his wife, Susan Downey, for making an art out of "extracting me from my comfort zone" and even the Golden Globes journalists for "changing your game, therefore changing your name. Salut."