Xanax Side Effects
Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs today. It’s used to treat anxiety disorders, and it’s highly effective at doing so.
For people who suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety, panic attacks and similar conditions Xanax offers much-needed relief. However, that relief isn’t without a certain level of risk.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of side effects so you know what to expect or you can make the decision to take a different medication.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax is the brand name for a type of benzodiazepine called alprazolam intensol. It acts as a sedative meaning that it elicits feelings of calm.
This class of chemical enhancing drug slows down activity in the brain that can cause stress and anxiety. It does so by affecting gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters.
GABA has been likened to a natural tranquilizer. The chemicals in Xanax bind to the GABA neurotransmitters strengthening their calming effects in the brain.
How Long Does It Take for Xanax to Work?
Xanax is a fast-acting drug, particularly when compared to similar medications. This is true both in terms of how quickly it can improve an anxiety disorder and how quickly the effects are felt after taking Xanax.
Generally, the effects are felt within 1 hour of taking Xanax. The concentration peaks 1-2 hours after ingestion.
On the flip side, Xanax is also eliminated from the body quicker than other drugs like Ativan. The half-life for Xanax is 11 hours on average with a range of 6.3 to 26.9 hours.
What Are Some Common Xanax Side Effects?
As with any other prescription medication, there are potential side effects associated with using Xanax. The most common side effects are:
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Coordination problems.
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased libido
- Difficulty concentration
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite
- Memory impairment
- Skin rash
- Slurred speech
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
Less common side effects include:
- Blurred vision
- Body aches
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased libido
- Muscle twitching
What Are the More Serious Xanax Side Effects
The common Xanax side effects are fairly benign and can be easily managed. But there are more serious side effects that all patients should be aware of before they begin taking Xanax.
Xanax and other psychotropic medications can cause a person to have suicidal thoughts.
Xanax use can cause feelings of paranoia.
Some patients have reported having hallucinations while taking Xanax. The hallucinations involved hearing voices and seeing things that didn’t exist.
Slowed Breathing That Causes Coma or Death
Taking opioids, alcohol and other drugs with Xanax can lead to life-threatening complications. It can result in severe sedation and slowed breathing that causes a coma or death.
Patients may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Xanax or reduce the dosage. Seizures are one of the possible withdrawal symptoms.
Do Xanax Side Effects Go Away?
If you experience side effects while using Xanax stop taking the drug right away. The side effects will subside once the drug has fully cleared your system, which usually takes 2-4 days.
If you’ve been taking Xanax for an extended period of time it may take longer for the drug to be completely metabolized.
Symptoms of withdrawal may linger longer than other Xanax side effects, but patients shouldn’t aburuptly stop taking the medication. It’s safer to gradually decrease the dosage.
Is Xanax Highly Addictive?
All benzodiazepines, including Xanax, are considered to be addictive. It’s one of the biggest risks involved with taking Xanax even when it is used as prescribed.
Because Xanax is addictive and can cause emotional and/or physical dependence it is designated a Schedule IV controlled substance. It is highly regulated by the federal government in an effort to reduce abuse and addiction.
The unfortunate truth is that many people improperly take Xanax because it produces a “high” effect.
Factors that increase the risk of addiction include:
One of the benefits of Xanax is that the effects aren’t diminished the longer a person uses it. However, the longer Xanax is used the higher the possibility is for addiction to develop. This is why Xanax is recommended for short-term use.
The higher the dose the higher the risk of addiction.
Because Xanax can elicit a high feeling, some people take the medication without a prescription. Even if a person has a prescription for Xanax it’s extremely important to only take the medication as prescribed.
Taking the medication more often than prescribed or doubling up doses can increase the risk of addiction.
Those who develop a dependence while taking Xanax may experience the following withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood changes
Other examples of Schedule IV drugs include Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, Soma, Tranxene, Halcion and Restoril.
Are There Long-Term Side Effects or Harm Caused by Xanax Use?
Xanax is primarily intended for short-term use, which has proven to reduce the possibility of side effects. Those who take Xanax long-term are at a greater risk of developing a dependency and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug.
Potential long-term effects include:
- Cognitive impairment
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of appetite
- Mood swings
One study conducted in Britain has suggested that long-term Xanax use could increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
People who take Xanax without a prescription are at risk of serious harm. There have been reports of counterfeit Xanax pills that aren’t made as required and could contain harmful ingredients.
Counterfeit Xanax could cause any number of side effects. To avoid inadvertently using counterfeit Xanax, prescriptions should only be filled at a reputable pharmacy.
If the Xanax is purchased off a website look for the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) accreditation.
Xanax Drug Identification
Another way to prevent accidentally using counterfeit Xanax is to make sure pills look like the medication produced by Pfizer. Each dosage looks slightly different.
Xanax 0.25 mg: White, oval shaped pill with the words Xanax 0.25 embossed on one side.
Xanax 0.5 mg: Orange, oval shaped pill with the words Xanax 0.5 embossed on one side.
Xanax 1 mg: Light blue, oval shaped pill with the words Xanax 1.0 embossed on one side.
Xanax 2 mg: White, rectangle shaped pill with the word XANAX embossed on one side.
If the medication doesn’t look correct, refrain from taking it and contact the pharmacy where it was acquired immediately.
There are four dosage levels for Xanax that have been approved for production. They are:
- 0.25 mg
- 0.5 mg
- 1 mg
- 2 mg
Dosage is determined by the prescribing physician based on a number of factors.
Dosing Xanax for Anxiety Disorders
Millions of Xanax prescriptions have been written to treat anxiety disorders. However, there is no standard dosage.
Doctors will usually begin conservatively with a prescription of 0.25-0.5 mg pills taken three times a day. After 3-4 days of use, the dosage may be increased to achieve the desired effect if needed. Generally, the dosage shouldn’t exceed 4 mg a day.
The prescribing doctor will take several things into account when determining the appropriate dosage. Considerations include:
- General health of the patient
- Existing medical conditions
- Severity of the anxiety symptoms
- Age of the patient
Dosing Xanax for Panic Disorder
The dosage for panic disorder tends to be higher than general anxiety. The dosage will usually begin at 0.5-1 mg not to exceed 10 mg in a single day.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Special consideration should be made if a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding. Xanax has been labeled a category D drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Category D drugs aren’t safe to take during pregnancy because they can cause complications, birth defects or harm the fetus. Problems can occur at any stage of pregnancy so women are encouraged to stop using Xanax as soon as they believe they are pregnant.
The risks of taking Xanax during pregnancy include:
- Increased risk of cleft lip, cleft palate and other birth defects
- Withdrawal symptoms in the baby due to addiction
- Difficulty breathing after birth
- Floppy infant syndrome (weakened muscles)
Long-term effects for the baby are still largely unknown. Xanax is also not recommended while breastfeeding.
The drug can enter breast milk and remain present for more than a day. There have been reports of sedation in infants that are exposed to alprazolam. Infant withdrawal symptoms are also possible.
One study found the milk of women who take a daily dosage of Xanax had 0.5-5 mcg of alprazolam present.
Doctors will sometimes recommend a shorter-acting benzodiazepine during lactation.
Is Xanax Right for You?
Anxiety can be a debilitating disorder. If you experience any of the following, Xanax may be an appropriate solution:
- Feeling restless or tense much of the day
- Uncontrollable sweating
- Uncontrollable trembling
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Sense of impending danger
- Feelings of panic
- Difficulty sleeping
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Difficulty concentrating because of worry
There are a lot of things that should be considered before taking Xanax, and an evaluation by a medical professional is required for diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with anxiety, Xanax may be prescribed.
When to Consult Your Doctor
Self-medicating with Xanax is never recommended even if a person has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
If anxiety is affecting your everyday life and inhibiting you in any way, you should consult your doctor. There may be ways to cope with the anxiety without taking medication, or your physician may determine Xanax is the best course of action.
Risks of Xanax
Xanax is considered to be relatively safe for most people, however, there are significant risks. In addition to addiction, the risks include:
An allergic reaction to alprazolam is possible. People who are allergic to any type of benzodiazepine should not take Xanax.
Some risks are indirect. For example, operating a vehicle can pose a risk due to the possibility of severe drowsiness.
You should drive or operate machinery in the first week of taking Xanax until you know how you react to the medication.
Worsening of Other Medical Conditions
Xanax improves anxiety disorders, but it can make other medical conditions worse. Xanax may not be suitable if you have:
- Liver disease
- Acute alcohol intoxication
- Closed-angle glaucoma
- Respiratory depression
- Paradoxical reactions
Drug interactions are also possible.
Xanax Drug Interactions
Drug interaction is another serious concern when taking Xanax. Many of the serious side effects and risks connected to Xanax are related to drug interactions.
A drug interaction is an unintended change in the toxicity or efficacy of a drug when taking another drug simultaneously or consecutively.
Approximately 956 other medications and substances are known to have a negative drug interaction with Xanax. Of those, 138 can cause major drug interactions. They include:
- Other central nervous system depressants
- Oral Contraceptives
It’s extremely important to be upfront with your doctor about medications that you’re already taking (prescription and over the counter), the amount of alcohol you consume and any drug use. Your doctor needs to be fully aware of these factors before deeming Xanax safe.
Other Drugs and Treatments
Anxiety and panic disorders are complex and vary significantly in severity from one person to the next. There are a range of potential treatments that can be used if Xanax isn’t appropriate or poses a risk.
Other benzodiazepines such as Ativan can be prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be a safer option, particularly for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are often used to help people overcome symptoms of anxiety. This is a good option for anyone who prefers treatment that doesn’t involve prescription drugs or may be an initial treatment before drugs are prescribed.
In states that have legalized medical marijuana, the drug is sometimes prescribed to control anxiety. Patients must use caution when taking marijuana to treat anxiety.
Marijuana can actually increase anxiety in some people and the effects are heavily dependent on the strain of cannabis that is ingested.