Skip to main content
Drug AddictionSubstances

What Is Xanax®? | Facts, Side Effects, Health Risks, and Withdrawal

what is xanax

Key Points

  • XANAX® (alprazolam), is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and other panic disorders
  • It works with the GABA-A receptors in our brain and spinal cord to calm our central nervous systems.
  • Common side effects of XANAX® may include the inability to concentrate, poor coordination, gastrointestinal issues, stuffy nose, and swelling of hands or feet.
  • XANAX® can cause a dependency, and its abuse is classified as a sedative use disorder under the DSM-5.
  • XANAX® should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women.
  • Mixing XANAX® with opiates, alcohol, cough and cold medications and some prescriptions could lead to health emergencies and/or death.

What Is XANAX®?

XANAX® is a medication commonly prescribed for the treatment of generalized anxiety and panic disorders. As a member of the benzodiazepine class of medication, XANAX® works on the central nervous system to calm and relax the body and brain. It is also known by the generic name Alprazolam.

What Does XANAX® Do?

XANAX® works directly on the GABA-A receptors found in our central nervous system to reduce restlessness, hypervigilance, nervousness, derealization, and other symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. It may also be prescribed for insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and depression. [1]

How Should I Take XANAX®?

XANAX® may be prescribed in two forms: XANAX® (alprazolam) immediate-release tablets and XANAX® XR CIV (alprazolam) extended-release tablets. XANAX® provides fast relief, whereas XANAX® XR will continue to work for up to 5 to 11 hours.

XANAX® can be taken with or without food but should not be taken with alcohol, opiates, some cough and cold medications, and some prescriptions. Let your doctor know if you become pregnant while taking XANAX®. It’s not advisable to stop taking this medication without consulting your medical team.

Common XANAX® Dosages

Use Adult Geriatric 
Anxiety Disorders
  • 0.25 mg to 0.5 mg three times a day XANAX®
  • Maximum dose: 4 mg/day XANAX®
  • 0.25 mg to 0.5 mg three times a day XANAX®
Panic Disorders
  • 0.5 mg to 6 mg once a day XANAX® XR
  • 0.5 mg three times a day XANAX®
  • Maximum dose: 10 mg/day  XANAX® and XANAX® XR
  • 0.5 mg once a day XANAX® XR
  • 0.25 mg two to three times a day

What Are The Benefits and Side Effects of XANAX®?

XANAX®, also sold as alprazolam, works by latching onto the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors[2] in our brains and spinal cords in order to calm our central nervous system, relax our muscles, and slow our thoughts. This makes it effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder[3], panic disorder, and other related disorders.

XANAX® Side Effects

When taken as prescribed, side effects of XANAX® are typically mild and manageable and will resolve with time. However, when taken improperly, in excessive doses, or without a prescription, XANAX® can cause serious or even potentially life-threatening adverse reactions. Speak to your doctor about any side effects you may be experiencing.

Common Side Effects of XANAX®

  • Common side effects of XANAX® include:
  • Drowsiness and lethargy
  • Dizziness, poor balance and poor coordination
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia
  • Memory problems, trouble concentrating, and/or decreased mental alertness
  • Slurred speech
  • Diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, nausea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Appetite and/or weight change
  • Swelling of hands or feet
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stuffy nose
  • Hypomania
  • Worsening depression
  • Loss of interest in sex

Serious Side Effects of XANAX®

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these side effects after taking XANAX®:

  • Appearing ‘drunk’ without having had anything to drink
  • Increased salivation
  • Joint pain
  • Light-headedness
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Coma

XANAX® and Other Drugs

When mixed with alcohol, opiates, cannabis, codeine, muscle relaxants, and cough medications, XANAX® can lead to decreased respiration and heart rate and may result in overdose or death.

Other medications, including azole antifungals, certain antidepressants, protease inhibitors, macrolide antibiotics, rifamycins, St. John’s wort, and drugs used to treat seizures, affect our body’s ability to process and remove XANAX®.

Discuss any other medications you may be taking with your doctor or pharmacist prior to beginning your XANAX® prescription.

Pregnancy and XANAX®

pregnancy and XanaxTaking XANAX® during pregnancy is not recommended. Studies demonstrate that using this medication during pregnancy can result in low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, and withdrawal symptoms in newborns.[4] If you’re pregnant and taking XANAX®, visit your doctor before stopping the medication.

Breastfeeding and XANAX®

XANAX® can transfer via breast milk, so breastfeeding while taking this medication is not recommended. Infants who are exposed to breast milk containing XANAX® are at an increased risk of sedation and withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor can recommend alternative medications with less risk for this period of time.

Can XANAX® Lead to Substance Abuse?

XANAX® can lead to substance dependence and abuse due to both its calming and relaxing properties, along with its effect on the neurotransmitter dopamine, commonly associated with pleasure. Tolerance to XANAX builds up over time, leading to an increasing need for larger dosages to get the same effects.

XANAX® dependence is classified as a sedative use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: 5th Edition.

Signs of XANAX® Substance Abuse

Dependency and abuse of XANAX® (alprazolam) will look different depending on the individual. Some common signs of XANAX® addiction include:

  • Spending a significant amount of time acquiring, taking, and recovering from XANAX®
  • Continuing to take XANAX® even after it causes problems at work, home, school, and with family and friends
  • Craving XANAX®
  • The inability to stop taking XANAX® despite the personal desire to stop doing so
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after stopping the use of XANAX®, or if the familiar dose is reduced

Recovering from XANAX® Abuse

Managing the withdrawal symptoms of XANAX® requires medical supervision and should never be undertaken without support. Recovering from XANAX® dependency and abuse involves more than just physical recovery. Treatment may include inpatient programs, day programs, one-on-one counseling, and family therapy.

Recovery is possible. Speak to your doctor or a recovery specialist to get started.

Frequently Asked Questions Related To "What Is Xanax"

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), XANAX® is a Schedule IV controlled substance. A physician or therapist must prescribe Xanax®; prescriptions are only good for six months and can only be refilled up to five times.

XANAX®, also sold as alprazolam, is not only the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine [5], but it is also the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medication in the U.S. It is an effective treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and other related disorders.

Like other benzodiazepine medications, reducing or stopping XANAX® can result in withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, sweating, loss of appetite, sleep problems, and, in rare and severe cases, seizures. By working with your doctor or pharmacist, you can taper off your dosage and avoid many of these withdrawal symptoms.

There is a Better Way to Live. It's Time to Get the Help You Deserve.

Take the first step in getting your life back. Speak with our admissions team today.
Contact Us


The internet contains a vast amount of misinformation, but when it comes to your health only peer reviewed, research centered data matters. At Ocean Recovery, all content published throughout our website has been rigorously medically reviewed by a doctorate level clinician, and cross checked for medical accuracy. Our editorial process helps our readers trust that the information they are consuming is factual and based upon scientific data. Your health is our top priority, find out more about how we safeguard the integrity of information on our website. Read More About Our Process

Ocean Recovery has sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our reference. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our Editorial Policy.

[1] StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. (n.d.-a). Alprazolam. Retrieved from on May 15, 2023.
[2] StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. Physiology, GABA (n.d.-b). Retrieved from on May 15, 2023.
[3]CIV- Food and Drug Administration(n.d.). XANAX alprazolam tablets. Retrieved from on May 15, 2023.
[4] Frontiers in pharmacology. Pregnancy and Neonatal Outcomes After Exposure to Alprazolam in Pregnancy. Retrieved from on May 15, 2023.
[5] Ait-Daoud, N., Hamby, A. S., Sharma, S., & Blevins, D. (2018). Journal of addiction medicine. A review of Alprazolam use, misuse, and withdrawal. Retrieved from on May 15, 2023.

Last medically reviewed September 14, 2023.