What Does Xanax (Alprazolam) Do and How Does it Work?

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Xanax is the most widely prescribed (1) psychoactive medication in the United States. Xanax is the specific brand name for the substance alprazolam. Millions of Americans regularly use this powerful benzodiazepine for symptoms related to anxiety and panic attacks. It interacts with specific areas of the brain and body to produce calming effects for those who use it. Though it is considered safe, there are some potentially dangerous side effects to remain aware of even while using Xanax as prescribed.

One of the potential side effects of Xanax use is the potential for dependence. If you or someone you love has developed a substance use disorder related to Xanax, help is available. At Guardian Recovery, we understand the negative impact that a substance use disorder can have. We also understand the process of overcoming that disorder. Call today and speak with a recovery advisor about your substance use treatment options. Your journey to recovery can start today.

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What Are the Medical Uses for Xanax?

Xanax is classified as a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines (2) are a powerful group of controlled substances used for their depressant qualities. They are responsible for slowing down the central nervous system causing varying levels of sedation. They are also commonly used in applications for reducing seizures and muscle spasms. Xanax has been historically prescribed for each of these applications, but most commonly for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.

Why Would a Psychiatrist Prescribe Xanax?

Psychiatrists will typically use medications in combination with regular counseling sessions. Commonly, Xanax will be prescribed (3) by psychiatrists for treating patients who display various symptoms of anxiety related disorders. Xanax can also be used by a psychiatrist for the treatment of various disorders related to panic with or without agoraphobia (the fear of crowds).

Common Disorders Treated by Prescription Xanax

Common disorders treated by Xanax include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorders
  • Agoraphobia

How Does Xanax Interact Chemically in the Brain?

Benzodiazepines like Xanax are known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. This means that they slow down (or depress) the functions of the brain and body.

Your brain uses a multitude of chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate specific messages. Certain chemicals cause certain actions, moods, feelings, and emotions. These chemical messages are sent both voluntarily or involuntarily. When Xanax is consumed, your brain begins to fire chemicals that send messages of calm, euphoria, and reward (4). It is because of this communication that Xanax users will have decreased anxiety symptoms. It is also due to this chemical mixture that some will begin to develop addictive patterns of use.

Dependency

As your brain and body are exposed to a substance repeatedly, they begin to adapt. They will become accustomed to its presence and will begin to depend on it to function. This is a phenomena known as dependency. When someone becomes dependent on Xanax, they will require it to maintain certain emotional and physical functions. It is for this reason that there is a potentially dangerous withdrawal period after stopping Xanax use.

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What Does Xanax Do to Your Mood?

When you take Xanax, it begins to release a multitude of powerful chemicals into your brain. These chemicals can produce feelings of euphoria and a sense of calm. These chemicals are also responsible for mood regulation. Many who use Xanax report an increase in their overall mood while using Xanax.

Known Side Effects of Xanax Use

Though Xanax can be a helpful medication when taken as prescribed, it comes with some potential side effects (5). Some mild side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Talkativeness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Joint pain

Severe side effects requiring medical attention include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Severe skin rash
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Confusion
  • Problems with speech
  • Problems with coordination or balance

The Impact on Mental Health Conditions

Xanax is prescribed most often for the treatment of anxiety and panic. These mental health conditions (6) are often positively impacted by Xanax use. Xanax will most often cause calming effects for those who use it leading to a higher quality of life for many with these conditions. Overall mood, sense of wellbeing, and daily functioning are potentially impacted by anxiety. Many users will see positive changes in each of these areas after being prescribed Xanax.

Though many report an overall increase in these mental health conditions, some report adverse reactions. Some report symptoms of depression and, in more severe instances, thoughts of suicide while taking Xanax. It is for these reasons that it is important to communicate regularly to your prescriber. Adverse reactions to Xanax often subside after users stop taking Xanax.

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Seeking Treatment for Xanax Use Disorder

Many have found that a substance use disorder has developed after taking Xanax. If you or a loved one finds themselves in this situation, help is available. Guardian Recovery is committed to the treatment and recovery of those with a substance use disorder. Our nationwide network of substance use treatment facilities operate with the highest standards of care. Call Guardian Recovery today to speak with a treatment advisor. They will be able to guide you through the beginning stages of the treatment process. Your journey to alife of recovery can start today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846112/
  2. https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/benzodiazepines
  3. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Alprazolam-(Xanax)#:~:text=Alprazolam%20is%20a%20benzodiazepine.,difficulty%20sleeping%20and%20alcohol%20withdrawal.
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3957329/
  5. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/alprazolam-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20061040?p=1

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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