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What is Xanax?

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Updated September 16, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition:

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is a trade name for the anti-anxiety medication alprazolam. It is one of a group of addictive prescription medications known as benzodiazepines. Although Xanax is a prescription medication, it is also a controlled drug, which means it is illegal to take Xanax without a prescription from a medical doctor.

Effects of Xanax

The effects of Xanax depend on several factors, including, like other drugs, dosage and set and setting. The exact dosage of Xanax that you get from your doctor will depend on several different factors, so you should clearly and honestly answer all of your doctor's questions and take your Xanax dose exactly as prescribed. If you feel you need more Xanax, speak to your doctor before increasing the dose.

The main effect of Xanax is feeling calmer almost immediately. This helps to offset the feelings of anxiety that occur to an unusual degree in people with anxiety disorders. However, Xanax will make you feel calmer even without anxiety, which some people find pleasant.

Another effect, which can attract people to abusing Xanax, is a pleasurable feeling called euphoria. This is often referred to as a drug high, and is one of the major reasons for people to abuse drugs, whether they are prescription drugs like Xanax or illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and meth.

Xanax is available in an extended release version, called Xanax XR. This is an advantage, because you only need to take one Xanax dose per day, the rebound effect is reduced, and if you follow the correct dosage as prescribed, the risk of addiction is lower. You are also less likely to experience euphoria, making it less likely you will become addicted.

Side Effects of Xanax

Xanax has many side effects, and the following should be reported to your doctor immediately in case you need further medical attention or need to discontinue taking Xanax (your doctor may be able to prescribe an alternative medication).

  • allergic reactions like skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips or tongue
  • confusion and forgetfulness
  • depression
  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty speaking
  • feeling faint or lightheaded, which increases the risk of falls
  • mood changes,including feeling overly excitable or aggressive
  • muscle cramps
  • trouble passing urine or changes in the amount of urine
  • feeling unusually weak or tired

People on Xanax also sometimes experience changes in appetite or sex drive. (You don't have to tell your doctor about these side effects unless they are bothersome.) You should not drive or operate machinery until you know how Xanax affects you.

Xanax Withdrawal

Withdrawal from Xanax, as with other benzodiazepines, carries significant risks and should be done under the supervision of your prescribing physician. Don't try to quit or cut down on Xanax without telling your doctor, even if you don't think you have been taking a very high dose or for a very long period of time.

The greatest risk of Xanax withdrawal is that you may have a seizure, which can be life threatening.

Other Risks of Xanax

Xanax can interact with other drugs and medications, so you should not take Xanax if you are taking another medication, including birth control, unless your doctor has deemed it safe. In particular, you should not take Xanax if you take ketoconazole or itraconazole. Mixing Xanax and alcohol is unsafe.

Xanax can also interact with grapefruit juice and herbal or dietary supplements such as kava kava, melatonin, dehydroepiandrosterone, DHEA, St. John's wort or valerian. Bear in mind that herbs, nicotine, illicit drugs, dietary supplements and non-prescription drugs can all be potentially dangerous when you are taking Xanax.

Xanax is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, so you should contact your doctor immediately if you become pregnant while taking Xanax. Do not try and stop on your own.

Taking a Xanax overdose is also a significant risk, particularly for people who are not taking Xanax as prescribed (taking more, or even less, than prescribed can increase the risk of overdose), or who are using alcohol or other drugs or medications.

If you think you have taken an overdose of Xanax, call 911 immediately.

Pronunciation: zan-ax
Also Known As: Alprazolam, Xanax XR
Common Misspellings: zanax, zanex
Examples:
Ella overdosed after increasing her prescribed dose of Xanax without consulting her doctor.
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