Xanax (alprazolam) can be effective for panic disorders and anxiety, and is one of several benzodiazepine medications used to calm your body. Developed by Pfizer, Xanax is prescribed for treating panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, and for other anxiety symptoms. Xanax is also used for anxiety that accompanies depression.
In general, Xanax (pronounced zan-ax) works to decrease anxiety, induce sleep, and relax muscles. It affects the central nervous system as a depressant, and users may experience drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, and clumsiness due to the muscle relaxing effect. The level of impairment will vary based on the individual and the dosage amount. Because of this, users are warned against driving a car or operating machinery until the effects of the medication are well known.
Other side effects may include changes in weight or appetite, nausea, constipation or diarrhea, decreased sexual desire or ability, dry mouth, light-headedness and a sluggish, tired feeling.
How Xanax Works
When individuals experience stress or fear, the amygdala sends out chemical danger signals within the brain. The amygdala responds to emotions and helps prepare the body for the fight, flight, or freeze response. While this function is critical in meeting a real danger, it can become overburdened with inputs such as loud noises and low level threats, subsequently generating an extremely high number of chemical danger alerts. The body is designed to respond to these alerts, and the feelings of anxiety and fear are one of those responses.
The brain has several ways to generate calming neurochemicals, but for those with panic attacks, those natural functions are overwhelmed. All benzodiazepines, including Xanax, enhance the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally-occurring brain chemical that acts like the brakes on a car to slow down and smooth out excessive brain activity. GABA deactivates the neurochemical signals from the amygdala, which reduces both the physiological and psychological experience of stress, anxiety, and panic. Xanax helps your brain use GABA more effectively, amplifying its power.
Each individual will metabolize medications differently. However, in general, Xanax reaches effectiveness is approximately 1 hour, continues for 3-4 hours, and then tapers off for another hour. Xanax is offered in an extended release version as well.
Caution When Discontinuing Xanax
Even short-term use of Xanax can create problems with dependency, so do not abruptly stop taking it and do not decrease the dose without consulting your health care provider.
Studies have shown that some high doses may lead to severe emotional and physical dependence in some individuals, rendering it exceedingly difficult to discontinue the medication. To withdraw usage of Xanax, the dosage should be reduced slowly. See your health care provider for a tapering regiment.
When considering dosage, note that cigarette smoking can reduce the amount of active ingredient in the blood stream by up to 50 percent compared to nonsmokers.
Tips For Safe Usage
- Alcohol should not be used with benzodiazepines. Marijuana and other substances can complicate treatment with any sedating medication and should be discontinued.
- Xanax is not recommended for women who are pregnant or will become pregnant, or for nursing mothers.
- Learn how this medication affects you before driving or operating machinery.
- Do not change the dosage without your healthcare provider’s advice.