What Are the Side Effects of Xanax?

What Are The Side Effects of Xanax

What Are the Side Effects of Xanax?

Xanax is one of the most popular, and plentiful, prescription drugs in the United States and many Western countries. Commonly used for the treatment of panic disorders and anxiety, Xanax remains the most prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States. While Xanax has been proven to be an effective anti-anxiety medication, there are a number of side effects that are associated with this medication.

Some of these side effects are potentially serious and can be threatening to overall health. In this article, we’ll take a look at what Xanax is, how it interacts with the body, and how that interaction leads to some of the common, and rare, side effects. We’ll also examine how one of the most insidious and common side effects of long-term Xanax usage is the cultivation of a chemical dependency that can be difficult, and in some cases, life-threatening, to quit. While Xanax remains one of the staple prescriptions for millions of Americans battling anxiety and panic disorder, it carries with it the potential for grave health risks and life-long addiction.

Origin and History of Xanax

Xanax is the trade name for alprazolam, an anxiolytic drug of the benzodiazepine family. Anxiolytic medications are used almost exclusively to take advantage of their anti-panic and anti-anxiety effects. Xanax was released in the United States by the company Upjohn in 1981 as a treatment for panic disorder. Upjohn was later bought by one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer, which continues to produce and market Xanax to this day.

At the time of Xanax’s introduction in the United States, another benzodiazepine, Valium, was used almost exclusively to treat panic and anxiety disorders. Valium, although a powerful benzodiazepine that interacts with the body in much the same way that Xanax does, is slower acting, taking anywhere from 40 minutes or more to take effect but with a concurrently long duration in the body from 20-80 hours. In contrast to this, Xanax has a much shorter half-life of between 5-7 hours, but onset until the full effects are felt is much faster, typically from 20-40 minutes.

From Xanax’s introduction, many doctors saw the benefits of utilizing a fast, powerfully acting medication to treat panic disorder and anxiety. These two conditions, which could occur at any time, often left their patients waiting for Valium to take effect. In contrast to this, Xanax proved to provide nearly immediate relief from anxiety or panic disorder.

Xanax also interacts with the body so powerfully that it provided more complete relief from symptoms stemming from anxiety and panic disorder. Consequently, within a few years, prescriptions for Xanax had surpassed Valium and all other commonly prescribed benzodiazepines. Since its introduction, Xanax has continued to dominate prescriptions for benzodiazepines and is currently the most prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States.

How Does Xanax Work?

Xanax and other benzodiazepines produce their anti-anxiety and anti-panic properties through powerful interaction with the central nervous system. At the most basic level, Xanax depresses the function of the central nervous system to reduce feelings associated with anxiety and panic.

More specifically, Xanax and other benzodiazepines interact with the neurotransmitter in our bodies, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is responsible for inhibiting or depressing the excitability of neurons within our brain. When Xanax enters the body, it binds to GABA receptors, allowing the neurotransmitter GABA to work more efficiently on those receptors.  The result of the increased interaction of GABA with GABA receptors is an overall relaxation of the central nervous system, combined with an increased release of dopamine into the bloodstream which produces feelings of well-being or pleasure.

The popularity for using Xanax to treat anxiety and panic attacks is directly related to both how powerfully, and how quickly, it interacts with the body. Another treatment for anxiety and depression related disorders is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), which also affect the central nervous system, albeit in a different way. However, one of the main clinical drawbacks to SSRI’s is they can take quite a long time for results to manifest. Often, SSRI’s don’t have a noticeable effect on symptoms of anxiety or depression for weeks. In contrast to this, Xanax works immediately and produces noticeable feelings of relaxation.

Side Effects of Xanax

Although Xanax is widely used and helps patients who suffer from anxiety and panic disorder, this drug has potentially serious side effects. First, it is important to note that there is an abundance of medical literature on the short-term effects, and side effects, of Xanax. This is due to the fact that Xanax has always been intended for short-term use only. It is currently unknown how exactly the long-term use of Xanax alters the neurochemistry of the brain, although more research is being done in this area. Despite this lack of research, it is known that there are side effects in both short and long term for those that use Xanax.

Short-Term Side Effects

In the short-term, Xanax’s side effects are related to its powerful suppression of central nervous system function. Typically, users will have feelings of drowsiness that can be quite powerful. This drowsiness can also be accompanied by insomnia, which may cause a disruption in everyday life. Xanax can also leave a person feeling weak and fatigued, making everyday tasks difficult.

This weakness can be further compounded by difficulty or an inability to concentrate, as neurons in your brain are less active than normal. Some people also experience slurred speech or the inability to coherently form sentences, which can be extremely common if Xanax is combined with alcohol or other drugs that affect the central nervous system.

Many people experience problems with memory on Xanax as well. Short-term retention of conversations, events, or other daily tasks can easily be affected by Xanax, even in small doses. Motor skills tend to be affected quite strongly, particularly in the first few days that Xanax is taken. In particular, a condition known as ataxia, characterized by a wobbly or even gait, is common in people first taking Xanax. Not only are the muscles responsible for the ability to walk or move affected, but many people also experience blurred vision or difficulty focusing the eyes.

Other common short-term side effects are Xanax are loss of appetite or a lack of desire to eat.  Users will also commonly feel an overwhelming sense of relaxation, which can have an impact on productivity and overall desire to exert energy. Alongside this, Xanax may affect the sexual drive in people in both the short and long term. Loss of sexual drive occurs in many people and is common in drugs that affect the central nervous system such as benzodiazepines and SSRI’s.

On the other hand, some people have an increased sexual drive resulting from Xanax, which indicates that the complex mechanisms through which Xanax interacts the central nervous system are both unpredictable and vary from person to person. Lastly, a common side effect of Xanax in the short term is constipation. This can be due to the powerful relaxation of the muscles responsible for producing a bowel movement or be a result of the overall lack of a desire to eat.

Many of the short-term side effects of Xanax have been well documented and in most cases are known to pass as your body builds up a tolerance to the drug. In particular, the undesired effects of Xanax on the musculoskeletal system such as the ability to walk or move normally and focus the eyes on objects are generally short lived once a tolerance has been developed.  Other side effects, such as appetite suppression, constipation, insomnia, and changes to the sexual drive can continue in the long-term in certain individuals.

Long-Term Side Effects

The long-term side effects of Xanax are believed to be related to changes to the GABA receptors of the central nervous system due to the use of Xanax over a long period of time.  Although no one knows definitively, it is believed that these receptors begin to function differently in people who use benzodiazepines over the long-term. In particular, one well known long-term side effect of Xanax usage is what is known as the rebound phenomenon or rebound effect. This occurs when a certain symptom or symptoms are being controlled by a medication over a period of time, those symptoms can manifest more powerfully once that medication is discontinued, or a dose is missed.

Because Xanax is used to treat panic disorder or anxiety, this rebound effect takes the form of extremely powerful anxiety when Xanax is not in the system. This rebound anxiety can be much stronger than the anxiety that was present when the person originally began the medication.  Also, Xanax is so effective at treating anxiety in the short-term because it has a short half-life.  This means it enters the body and begins to work quickly, but it is broken down rapidly and excreted.

In this case, users can experience powerful symptoms of anxiety of panic disorder within a short period of time after Xanax exits the body. This can lead to a cycle whereby a user takes Xanax and feels nearly immediate relief from symptoms of anxiety. Within a few short hours the Xanax begins to wear off, and more powerful feelings of anxiety manifest, thus pushing an individual to take another dose of Xanax. This not only creates a cycle of psychological dependence on a powerful, short-acting drug, but it also leads into one of the most negative and debilitating side effects of Xanax; chemical dependency.

The most common long-term side effect of Xanax use is addiction and chemical dependency. It is widely believed that chemical dependency on Xanax can occur in as little as 3-6 weeks of regular use. This is why Xanax is generally prescribed for only short-term use or on an “as-needed” basis in psychiatric care. This chemical dependency is due to the powerful way that Xanax interacts with, and alters the body’s GABA receptors and dopamine responses.

In a situation where chemical dependency on Xanax has been formed, users will experience withdrawal symptoms almost immediately after Xanax has been broken down and excreted from the body. Staving off these withdrawal symptoms pushes users to take more Xanax, which will immediately return their body to a state of normalcy.

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms from Xanax and other benzodiazepines are widely regarded as some of the most difficult and debilitating to deal with. Because benzodiazepines can lead to states of rebound anxiety or other symptoms for which treatment was initially sought, users can begin to have cycles of rising and falling anxiety throughout the day as Xanax enters the bloodstream and is broken down and excreted. This cycle can lead to psychological dependence in a very short period of time.

Users of Xanax may be trying to treat a legitimate medical issue such as panic disorder and anxiety, and when confronted with the powerful feelings of rebound anxiety feel that they have to take another dose to return to a normal state. However, even if someone using Xanax over the long-term decides they want to quit, they then have to confront the extreme, and at times life-threatening, conditions of Xanax withdrawal. Xanax withdrawal can lead to a number of health complications, including seizures and hallucinations, which in turn pushes a long-term Xanax user to return to Xanax in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

Although there is no conclusive research on the effects of long-term Xanax use on overall health, there is no argument that one of the most insidious and dangerous side-effects of Xanax use is chemical dependency and addiction. Because the withdrawal process can be extremely difficult and lead to life-threatening complications, it is imperative that Xanax users undergo detox under medical supervision. In cases of long-term usage, Xanax withdrawal should be conducted in an inpatient drug rehab setting where medical professionals can help monitor and alleviate withdrawal symptoms through medication and therapy. At the same time that chemical dependency is being treated, a drug rehab center can help an individual work through the underlying psychological dependency that may lead to relapse over a longer period of time, thereby giving the best chances of a successful and safe withdrawal and recovery.

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