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The Side Effects of Xanax: Pill Use and Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

What Is Xanax Used For?

Xanax (generic name: alprazolam) is a powerful benzodiazepine drug that is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain.1,2 The medication comes in the form of a pill that quickly dissolves in the mouth, an extended-release tablet, or a concentrated oral solution.

Benzodiazepines can have therapeutic anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant, muscle relaxing, and sedative effects.3 Often known as Xanny or Xan, Xanax is often prescribed for mental health disorders related to anxiety, including:4

  • Generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Panic disorder.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Xanax Use?

When Xanax is taken as prescribed, the short-term effects of Xanax use are beneficial to many individuals. Although it isn’t known exactly how Xanax works, it causes a depression of the central nervous system (CNS).4 CNS depressants cause calming and drowsy effects.2

The dangers of Xanax use should not be underestimated. You don’t have to use it for a long time to begin experiencing some of the negative effects of the medication. The side effects of Xanax—both physical and mental—typically occur when it is first started.4 When you use Xanax in larger quantities, you increase the risk of adverse side effects and benzodiazepine overdose.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Xanax Use?

When people abuse a benzodiazepine for a long period of time, it becomes less effective as tolerance increases. Long-term Xanax use can cause loss of appetite and weight loss, lethargy and weight gain, forgetfulness, cognitive problems, impaired motor function, liver damage, seizures and psychological symptoms such as turbulent mood swings, anxiety, manic depression, paranoia and depression. In a meta-analysis of individuals using benzodiazepines on a long-term basis, cognitive impairments were noted, despite patients stopping the benzodiazepines. These include problems with visuospatial cognition, attention and concentrating, general intelligence and psychomotor speed.7

What Are the Side Effects of Xanax Use?

All medications have potential side effects, including Xanax. Even when a person is adhering to prescribed dosing, Xanax side effects can still occur—with some being more serious than others. Some of the common side effects of Xanax use include:11

  • Drowsiness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Changes in sex drive.
  • Increased salivation.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Memory problems.
  • Decreased coordination.
  • Irritability.
  • Confusion.
  • Urinary retention.
  • Changes in menstrual cycle.
  • Low blood pressure.

Some serious possible Xanax side effects include:11

  • Slow and/or shallow breathing.
  • Seizures.
  • Suicidality.
  • Dependency on Xanax.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Fainting.
  • Swelling.
  • Liver damage.

The risk of side effects can be increased by mixing Xanax with other drugs, especially other depressants like alcohol or opioids.1,3 This can increase the risk of potentially fatal breathing issues, sedation or coma. Because of this, using alcohol or illegal drugs while taking any benzodiazepine is never recommended, and the use of any other medications should be cleared by a medical provider.1


Credit: American Addiction Centers

What Are the Lasting Health Effects of Xanax Abuse?

Persistent Xanax abuse changes the way the brain operates. Chronic use of sedatives is associated with:6

  • Cognitive deficits.
  • Psychomotor impairment.
  • Dependence on the drugs.
  • Abuse of the drugs.

Xanax Dependency

You may be wondering, ‘is Xanax addictive?‘ People who take benzodiazepines for an extended amount of time may build up a tolerance to some effects of the drugs.5 When tolerance occurs, your body requires a larger dose or an increased frequency of use to achieve the same or similar effect that the substance had on you when you began taking it.2

If you continually use Xanax, especially in larger quantities, you may develop a physical dependency on the medication.3,5 When this happens, your body doesn’t function properly without it.12 Of note, it is possible for someone to become physically dependent on the drug both when it is used unprescribed and when it is used as prescribed by a doctor.3

You can experience withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using Xanax or decrease your dose significantly.1 Some users may continue taking it to avoid the onset of these unpleasant, potentially life-threatening Xanax withdrawal symptoms.4,9 The dangers of withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Xanax mean that a person should not stop taking them without consulting with a medical provider. If they are possibly dependent on the medication, they should be tapered off of it gradually.1 Many Xanax addiction treatment programs offer supervised medical detox to provide a safer experience as you end your use and begin recovery.

Withdrawal symptoms, or continuing using the drug to avoid or alleviate Xanax withdrawal symptoms, is one of many possible signs of a substance use disorder, though it does not indicate that a person has a substance use disorder in and of itself. A substance use disorder is marked by using a drug in a problematic pattern that causes significant impairment or distress.9

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Xanax Use?

Suddenly stopping Xanax use or decreasing the dose significantly can lead to withdrawal symptoms.1 These symptoms could be life-threatening. The risk of withdrawal should always be considered before stopping or decreasing Xanax use, especially among those who’ve taken a benzodiazepine for any considerable length of time.4 Individuals should not stop or decrease their benzodiazepine use without consulting a medical provider.

Symptoms of alprazolam withdrawal can include:1,4

  • Insomnia.
  • Headache.
  • Sensitivity to noise or light.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Paresthesia or numbness/tingling in the extremities.
  • Digestive upset.
  • Sweating.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Tremors.
  • Seizures.

If you think you or someone else is going through withdrawal, seek medical help immediately. Call 911 if any severe symptoms are present.

What Are Xanax Treatment Programs Like?

drugabuse_istock-57054868-nurse-comforting-rehab-patientWhen you first arrive at a Xanax treatment center, the first step after assessment should be detoxification if you are dependent on the drug. Supervised medical detox is extremely important for Xanax-dependent individuals due to seizure risk and other medical dangers. This can be done in an outpatient or inpatient setting, depending on the individual’s needs. During medical detox, you may be slowly weaned off of Xanax over the course of several weeks or even months in order to give your body a chance to readjust slowly, decreasing the risks of withdrawal. Alternatively, you may be switched to another benzodiazepine with a longer half-life and then tapered off that medication.8

For some individuals, an inpatient detox is the best option.Hospitals and medical detoxification centers should have trained medical staff on hand to help prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms through medications and other means. If any complications arise, the staff can intervene and/or get the patient to emergency care as appropriate.

For individuals who do not have polysubstance dependence, whose benzodiazepine doses were generally in the therapeutic range and who are both dependable and have a dependable support system to help monitor them, outpatient medical detox might be appropriate.8

Detoxification alone is not treatment for a substance use disorder.8 Once the detoxification process is over, if you have a substance use disorder, your treatment should shift to focus on the disorder itself, typically including addressing the reasons behind your use and learning how to prevent relapse. Forms of therapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, 12-step facilitation and/or contingency management (which incentivizes positive behaviors).10 Both individual therapy and group counseling are generally a part of treatment, and family therapy may be as well.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment programs offer more flexibility than inpatient programs. However, some people need the additional structure that an inpatient program provides. It’s important that you review all of your options and choose a program that’s right for your physical health, mental health and overall well-being. Any trustworthy program will also evaluate you first to ensure that they can safely and appropriately meet your needs.

Outpatient treatment programs, by definition, do not have patients stay overnight at the treatment facility. Depending on the intensity of the program, you may be able to receive treatment while still working or attending school. There is a wide range of options available for outpatient treatment, including:

  • Individual and/or group therapy. This can help target the underlying factors in your addiction and/or help you learn relapse prevention skills.
  • Nonprofessional/community-based support groups—e.g. 12-step programs. There are many programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) and peer support groups that can be helpful in learning to manage and cope with your disorder and avoiding relapse.

Inpatient Treatment Programs

Inpatient treatment programs require you to live at the facility for the duration of your treatment, often recommending 30 days, 60 days or 90 days. During your stay, your days focus on your recovery. A typical day at a treatment facility could include group therapy sessions, an individual therapy session, recreational activities designed to help you learn how to relax and have fun without drugs, addiction education groups, skills training and/or relapse prevention education.

How to Find Help for Xanax Addiction

Professional treatment can start anyone battling substance misuse on the path to a happier and healthier life. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. If you think you or a loved one is suffering with Xanax addiction, you can contact AAC free of charge at to discuss your treatment options. You can also use the form below to find out whether your insurance will cover addiction treatment or check your insurance coverage online now.

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