Xanax is a benzodiazepine, which is a class of drug that can treat anxiety and panic disorders. It typically takes less than an hour to begin working and has a calming, relaxing effect.
Xanax contains the compound alprazolam. The effects of the Xanax come on quickly and disappear rapidly. Some people take the drug 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 combined 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?
Xanax is an FDA approved medication, one use of which is to treat certain kinds of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It can treat symptoms of GAD, such as 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 is a group of drugs that slow down the CNS.
Xanax works by increasing the effects of a brain chemical called 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 other depressant drugs:
- anxiety relief
- easing of muscle tension
- relief of 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 prescriptions and distribution of Xanax.
In comparison to other benzodiazepines, the body absorbs Xanax quickly, so its effects come on rapidly. Within about 1–2 hours, the blood reaches peak concentration of Xanax.
The effects of alprazolam usually appear within an hour, with one small scale study finding an average onset time of 49 minutes.
Xanax also leaves the body quickly. The half-life of Xanax is 11.2 hours in healthy adults, meaning the body removes about half of the Xanax 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.
When people take Xanax, they may experience unintended side effects. The most common side effects include:
- memory problems
- slurred speech
- blurred vision
- dry mouth
- stuffy nose
- poor coordination
- muscle weakness
- difficulty concentrating
- nausea or vomiting
- constipation or diarrhea
- excessive sweating
- appetite or weight changes
- swelling of the hands or feet
- loss of interest in sex
Not everyone will experience side effects with Xanax. Many factors influence whether people will have side effects from a medication, including:
- the dose
- other medications
- other CNS depressants, including alcohol
- medical conditions
People will usually experience side effects of Xanax when they first start taking it or when they increase the dose. With continuous use, side effects tend to disappear.
People can become dependent on Xanax. The drug has high abuse potential, especially for people with a history of substance abuse.
As the body absorbs Xanax quickly, its effects occur faster than other benzodiazepines. Xanax also has a short half-life, which means its effect disappears fast. These characteristics increase its addictive potential.
After taking Xanax for a long time, the body gets used to the substance, and so a person may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. Reducing Xanax slowly over time reduces the severity of these symptoms.
The manufacturer recommends that people decrease their dose by no more than 0.5 milligrams (mg) every 3 days. Doctors will determine what the most appropriate discontinuation schedule should be for the individual since experiences may differ from person to person.
Withdrawal symptoms of Xanax may include:
- mild feelings of dissatisfaction
- abdominal cramps
- muscle cramps
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. 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.
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.
Alcohol is a CNS depressant. People should limit alcohol intake when using Xanax. A doctor or pharmacist will explain the risks when they prescribe Xanax.
Some drugs interact with Xanax by blocking or reducing the effect of liver enzymes involved in its elimination. These drugs include fluoxetine and oral contraceptives.
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.