Xanax is a benzodiazepine, which is a class of drugs that can treat anxiety and panic disorders. It typically takes less than an hour to begin working and has a calming, relaxing effect.

Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam. The effects of the drug come on quickly and disappear rapidly. Some people take it recreationally for its calming effects. The fast acting properties of Xanax can lead to its misuse.

Xanax is an effective medication for controlling panic and anxiety. However, using it recreationally can pose health risks, especially if people combine it with other depressants, such as alcohol.

In this article, we answer the following questions:

  • What does Xanax feel like?
  • What are its side effects?
  • What does Xanax withdrawal feel like?

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Xanax may relieve anxiety and ease muscle tension.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved Xanax to treat certain kinds of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). 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.

People may experience the following effects from Xanax, as well as from other depressant drugs:

  • anxiety relief
  • easing of muscle tension
  • relief from insomnia

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:

  • shallow breathing
  • clammy skin
  • dilated pupils
  • a weak and rapid heartbeat
  • coma or death, in cases of overdose

The United States government has classified benzodiazepines, including alprazolam, as Schedule IV controlled substances in the Controlled Substances Act because of their abuse potential. This classification makes it easier for the government to track the prescription and distribution of Xanax.

In comparison 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, with one small scale study finding an average onset time of 49 minutes with oral administration.

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.

Doctors often prescribe Xanax to take three times per day, spread out over the course of the day.

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Possible side effects of Xanax include drowsiness, dizziness, and fatigue.

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 dependent on Xanax. The drug has high abuse potential, especially for individuals with a history of substance misuse or abuse.

As the body absorbs Xanax quickly, its effects occur faster than those of other benzodiazepines. Xanax also has a short half-life, which means that its effects disappear quickly. These characteristics increase its addictive potential.

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 (mg) 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 seem to be more common with alprazolam than with 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.

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A person should speak to their doctor about how their other medications might interact with Xanax.

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

When doctors prescribe Xanax, they have to consider other medications that a person may already be taking. CNS depressants, such as antihistamines and anticonvulsants, can increase the effects of benzodiazepines.

As alcohol is a CNS depressant, people should limit their alcohol intake when using Xanax. A doctor or pharmacist will explain the risks when they prescribe this medication.

Some drugs interact with Xanax by blocking or reducing the effect of the liver enzymes that play a role in its elimination. These drugs include fluoxetine and birth control pills.

People take Xanax to control anxiety and panic. It produces feelings of calm and relaxes the muscles.

Xanax is an effective medication, and some people use it recreationally. The drug can cause side effects, especially if people combine it with other CNS depressants, such as antihistamines and alcohol.

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