What is Xanax?
Xanax is an antianxiety medication in the benzodiazepine family. This is the same family that includes diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), flurazepam (Dalmane), and others.
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Xanax works by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it in October 1981.
Benzodiazepines act on the brain and central nervous system (CNS) to produce a calming effect.
Xanax slows down the movement of brain chemicals that may have become unbalanced, resulting in a reduction in nervous tension and anxiety. Xanax works by boosting the effects of a natural chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is made in the brain.
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To ensure the safe and effective use of benzodiazepines, doctors will provide the following guidance to anyone with a Xanax prescription:
People should inform their doctor about any alcohol consumption and any medications they are currently taking, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications. People generally should not consume alcohol while taking benzodiazepines.
Doctors do not recommend Xanax for use in pregnancy. A person should inform their doctor if they are pregnant, are planning to have a child, or become pregnant while they are taking this medication.
People should inform their doctor if they are breastfeeding.
Until a person experiences how Xanax affects them, they should not drive a car or operate heavy or dangerous machinery.
People should not increase the dosage of Xanax without speaking with a doctor, even if they think that the medication “does not work anymore.” Benzodiazepines, even if a person uses them as recommended, may produce emotional and physical dependence.
People should not stop taking Xanax abruptly or decrease the dosage without consulting their doctor, as withdrawal symptoms can occur.
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In certain individuals, the body may handle Xanax differently. This includes people who:
drink a lot of alcohol
have alcoholic liver disease
have impaired hepatic function
have impaired renal function
People should not use Xanax if they are allergic to alprazolam or other benzodiazepines, such as:
People should not drink alcohol while taking Xanax. Xanax can increase the effects of alcohol.
People should not use Xanax if they are pregnant. Benzodiazepines can potentially cause harm to the fetus. During the first trimester, for example, Xanax increases the risk of congenital abnormalities.
People should usually avoid taking Xanax during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Healthcare professionals should also inform people that if they become pregnant or intend to become pregnant while taking Xanax, they should tell their doctor.
A child born of a person who is taking benzodiazepines may be at risk of withdrawal symptoms from the drug. Respiratory problems have also occurred in children born to people who have been taking benzodiazepines while pregnant.
Xanax may be excreted in human milk. As a general rule, people who use Xanax should not breastfeed.
Researchers have not yet studied Xanax use in children.
Gender does not affect the body’s response to Xanax.
Older adults, or people aged 65 years and above, may be more sensitive to the effects of benzodiazepines. For example, the sedative effects of Xanax may last longer in older adults.
Accidental falls are also common in older adults who take benzodiazepines. Therefore, people should use caution to prevent falling or accidental injury while taking Xanax.
Xanax may affect Asian populations more than white populations.
Xanax concentrations may be reduced in up to 50% of people who smoke, compared with people who do not smoke.
As with other psychotropic medications, there are some precautions to take when people with severe depression or suicidal thoughts take this drug.
Episodes of hypomania and mania have occurred in association with the use of Xanax in people with depression.
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Many people use Xanax to manage anxiety disorder or to provide some short-term relief from the symptoms of anxiety. Anxiety or tension associated with the stress of everyday life usually does not require treatment.
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by unrealistic or excessive anxiety and worry about two or more life circumstances for a period of 6 months or longer. During this period, the person has been bothered more days than not by these concerns.
Panic disorder is characterized by regular panic attacks. Panic attacks are relatively short periods of intense fear or discomfort where four or more of the following symptoms develop all of a sudden and reach a peak within 10 minutes:
heart palpitations, a pounding heart, or an accelerated heart rate
trembling or shaking
sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
a feeling of choking
chest pain or discomfort
nausea or abdominal distress
feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
a fear of losing control
a fear of dying
numbness or tingling sensations
chills or hot flashes
Side effects often occur at the beginning of therapy and will usually disappear when a person stops taking the medication.
Some possible side effects of Xanax include:
The above is not a complete list of side effects, and others may occur. Call a doctor for medical advice about side effects. People can also report any Xanax side effects they experience to the FDA at 800-332-1088.
A person needs emergency medical help if they have any of these symptoms of an allergic reaction to Xanax:
swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
A person should call their doctor at once if they have a serious side effect such as:
depressed mood, thoughts of suicide or hurting oneself, unusual risk taking behaviors, decreased inhibitions, or no fear of danger
confusion, hyperactivity, agitation, hostility, or hallucinations
feeling very faint
urinating less than usual or not at all
chest pain, a pounding heartbeat, or a fluttering feeling in the chest
uncontrolled muscle movements, tremor, or seizures
jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin or eyes
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Xanax comes as a tablet, an extended-release tablet, an orally disintegrating tablet (a tablet that dissolves quickly in the mouth), and a concentrated solution (liquid) to take by mouth.
A person should take Xanax by mouth as a doctor directs. The dosage will be based on the following factors:
why the person is taking it
how their body responds to the treatment
A doctor may gradually increase the dosage of Xanax until the drug works effectively for the person. People should closely follow their doctor’s instructions to reduce the risk of side effects.
If a person has used this medication regularly for a long time or in high dosages, withdrawal symptoms can occur if they suddenly stop taking it.
To prevent this, a doctor may reduce the dosage of Xanax gradually.
Xanax is available in doses of:
0.25 milligrams (mg): This will be white, oval, scored, and imprinted with “XANAX 0.25.”
0.5 mg: This will be peach, oval, scored, and imprinted with “XANAX 0.5.”
1 mg: This will be blue, oval, scored, and imprinted with “XANAX 1.0.”
2 mg: This will be white, oblong, multiscored, and imprinted with “XANAX” on one side and “2” on the reverse side.
A person should not crush, chew, or break a Xanax extended-release tablet. They should swallow the tablet whole. It is specially made to release the drug slowly into the body. Breaking the tablet would cause too much of the drug to be released at once.
People should not share their medications with other people. It may not be suitable for them and may harm them.
What happens if I miss a dose?
If a person misses a dose of Xanax, they should take the missed dose as soon as they remember. However, they should skip the missed dose if it is almost time for their next scheduled dose.
They should not take extra to make up for the missed dose.
What happens if I overdose?
Symptoms of a Xanax overdose include:
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The following drugs may increase the effects of Xanax:
HIV protease inhibitors, such as ritonavir (Norvir)
Benzodiazepines, including Xanax, can produce extra depressant effects on the CNS when a person takes it alongside:
other psychotropic medications
other drugs that produce CNS depression
Some other drugs that may interact with Xanax include:
digoxin (Lanoxin), in people aged 65 years and above
imipramine (Tofranil) and desipramine (Norpramin)
birth control pills
Studies of benzodiazepines other than Xanax suggest a possible interaction with the following drugs:
ergotamine (Cafergot, Ergomar, Migergot)
cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune)
some heart or blood pressure medications
dexamethasone (Cortastat, Dexasone, Solurex, DexPak)
St. John’s wort
antifungal medications, such as miconazole (Oravig) or voriconazole (Vfend)
antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or nefazodone
some seizure medications
This list is not complete, and other drugs may interact with Xanax. A person should tell their doctor about all the medications they use. This includes prescription, OTC, vitamin, and herbal products.
People should not start a new medication without telling their doctor.
It is important to taper off Xanax gradually. Otherwise, there is a risk of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.
Withdrawal from Xanax
To discontinue treatment of Xanax, a doctor should reduce and taper the dosage slowly. They should decrease the daily dosage of Xanax by no more than 0.5 mg every 3 days.
Some reported withdrawal symptoms include:
fatigue and tiredness
abnormal involuntary movement
nausea and vomiting
muscle tone disorders
Xanax is a safe and effective medication when a person uses it correctly.