Taking Xanax may make a person feel tired, relaxed, or calm. However, the medication can also cause side effects like dizziness, memory problems, and dry mouth.

Xanax is a benzodiazepine, which is a class of drugs that can treat anxiety and panic attacks. Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam. The effects of the drug come on quickly and disappear rapidly. The fast-acting properties of Xanax can lead to its misuse. Some people use it without a prescription or in a manner other than indicated on a prescription.

Xanax is an effective medication for managing panic and anxiety attacks. However, using it without a prescription or in ways other than prescribed can pose health risks — especially if people combine it with other depressants, such as alcohol.

This article discusses how Xanax affects the body and its potential side effects.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Xanax for the acute, or short-term, treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorders. It can treat various symptoms of GAD, including high levels of anxiety, restlessness, and muscle tension.

Xanax is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It is in the benzodiazepine class of medications, which comprises drugs that slow down the CNS.

Xanax works by increasing the effects of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which promotes calmness and produces a relaxed feeling. The drug decreases the level of excitement in the brain to treat anxiety and panic disorders.

In addition to treating acute anxiety and panic attacks, Xanax can act as a muscle relaxant and sedative. However, these are off-label uses. Off-label use means that the drug may be of benefit, but this is not its approved function.

People may notice that Xanax affects the mind. It can cause a temporary loss of memory, feelings of hostility and irritability, and disturbing or vivid dreams.

If someone takes too much Xanax, they may experience:

In cases of overdose, it can also result in coma or death.

The United States government classifies benzodiazepines — including alprazolam — as Schedule IV controlled substances in the Controlled Substances Act due to their potential for misuse.

Compared with other benzodiazepines, the body absorbs Xanax quickly, so its effects come on rapidly. Within about 1–2 hours, the concentration of Xanax in the blood reaches its peak. The effects of the drug usually appear within 1 hour.

Xanax also leaves the body quickly. Its half-life is 11.2 hours in healthy adults, meaning that the body removes about half of the Xanax that it has absorbed in just over 11 hours.

Learn more about how long Xanax effects last.

When people take Xanax, they may experience unintended side effects. The most common side effects include:

Not everyone who takes Xanax will experience side effects. Many factors influence whether people will have side effects from a medication, including:

  • the dosage
  • other medications that they are taking
  • the use of other CNS depressants, including alcohol
  • age
  • medical conditions

People will usually experience side effects of Xanax when they first start taking it or when they increase the dosage. With continued use, the side effects tend to disappear.

People can become physically dependent on Xanax, especially if they take the medication every day or very often. Physical dependence means that their body does not function appropriately in the absence of Xanax.

People can also develop an addiction to Xanax which not only includes physical dependence but goes one step beyond such that they will continue to use Xanax despite experiencing harmful consequences as a result. Individuals with a history of addiction or substance use disorder are particularly at risk.

As the body absorbs Xanax quickly, its effects occur faster than other benzodiazepines. Xanax also has a short half-life, meaning its effects disappear quickly. These characteristics increase the potential for addiction.

After taking Xanax for a long time, the body gets used to the substance, so a person may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. Reducing Xanax slowly over time reduces the severity of these symptoms.

The manufacturers recommend decreasing the dosage by no more than 0.5 milligrams every 3 days. A doctor will determine the most appropriate discontinuation schedule for the individual, as the experience may differ from person to person.

Withdrawal symptoms of Xanax may include:

  • mild feelings of dissatisfaction
  • sleeplessness
  • stomach cramps
  • muscle cramps
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • tremors
  • convulsions

Some researchers have noted reports of other withdrawal symptoms that are more common with alprazolam than other benzodiazepines, such as delirium, psychosis, and rebound anxiety.

To treat withdrawal symptoms when stopping Xanax, doctors sometimes prescribe another benzodiazepine in its place. They may recommend a type that works for longer, such as diazepam (Valium). However, this strategy is not always effective.

If a person has been taking Xanax for a long time and wants to come off it, they should speak with a healthcare professional to work out a safe method for discontinuing the drug.

Learn more about benzodiazepine withdrawal.

People who combine Xanax with alcohol or other CNS depressants are at an increased risk of side effects. Certain medications can result in Xanax staying in the body for longer, which can lead to an overdose.

CNS depressants, such as alcohol, antihistamines, and anticonvulsants, can increase the effects of benzodiazepines.

Some drugs interact with Xanax by blocking or reducing the effect of CYP3A enzymes. These liver enzymes play a role in its elimination.

Medications that impair CYP3A function include:

Opioids are a class of pain-relieving drugs, including the prescription medications oxycodone and hydrocodone and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and heroin.

Combining benzodiazepines and opioids can be fatal, and it is becoming increasingly common. In 2020, 16% of opioid overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines.

Doctors prescribe Xanax to manage acute anxiety and panic attacks. In these instances, it can produce feelings of calm and relax the muscles.

Xanax is an effective medication, and some people use it without a prescription or in a manner different from their prescription. The drug can cause side effects, especially if people combine it with other CNS depressants, such as antihistamines, opioids, and alcohol.

People may also experience negative effects when coming off Xanax after taking it for a long time. Talking with a doctor and following a discontinuation schedule can help avoid these symptoms.