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By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated:


Authored By: Joe Gilmore

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Xanax side effects and its strong potential for abuse and addiction mean that this benzodiazepine is typically prescribed strictly for short-term use.

A branded form of alprazolam, Xanax is benzo in the same family as the following common anti-anxiety medications:

  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Ativan

Xanax is the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. Alprazolam is usually prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders and panic disorders.

The medication works by reducing excitement in the brain and CNS (central nervous system), inducing a sense of calm. Xanax achieved this calming effect by enhancing the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain.

Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1981, the medication is still widely prescribed in 2022.

Does Xanax have side effects, though?

What are the Side Effects of Xanax?

Many people use Xanax to cope with the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Less frequently, Xanax is prescribed for the treatment of panic disorders. The medication can deliver fleeting relief from the general symptoms of anxiety.

Often, people misuse alprazolam for its calming effects, without properly considering the possible side effects of Xanax abuse.

The misuse and abuse of Xanax can trigger aggressive and impulsive behavior, depression, and psychosis. The chronic misuse of Xanax can rapidly lead to dependence and addiction.

Tolerance to Xanax quickly builds, meaning you will need progressively more alprazolam to achieve the same result.

When Xanax addiction develops, you will experience an array of adverse withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the medication.

How long do the side effects Xanax last?

How Long Do Xanax Side Effects Last?

Xanax takes 1 to 2 hours before levels peak in your bloodstream.

When you take Xanax regularly, tolerance usually builds quite swiftly. When this occurs, not only will you need more of the medication to achieve the same effects, but you’ll also require more time before you feel the effects of the drug.

The rate of absorption, and the rate at which Xanax leaves your body is impacted by variables including age, weight, metabolism, liver function, race, and the use of alcohol and nicotine.

There is an extended-release Xanax tablet that delays the onset of peak levels. With Xanax XR, it takes 10 hours for the effects to peak.

While the effects of Xanax kick in quickly, they don’t last for long. Xanax has a short half-life, meaning the effects peak shortly after you ingest the medication. This truncated half-life is one of the main reasons Xanax has a high potential for abuse. All drugs of this type are liable to be misused.

The fleeting duration of effects means you’ll typically take several doses of Xanax each day, from 3 to 4 doses.

The rapid onset of effects means Xanax is useful as an on-demand medication for panic attacks, and it also makes the medication unsuitable for the long-term treatment of anxiety.

The side effect of Xanax can be divided into short-term and long-term effects, so what can you expect if you take this medication?

Short Term Side Effects of Xanax

Xanax can induce a laundry list of side effects that typically present at the beginning of Xanax therapy and disappear when you stop taking the medication.

These may include any or all of the following:

  • Headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Reduced energy levels
  • Nervousness
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired coordination
  • Restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Decreased libido
  • Abnormal involuntary movements
  • Anxiety
  • Memory impairment
  • Irritability
  • Incontinence
  • Rash
  • Inflammation of skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased saliva production
  • Increased libido
  • Muscle twitching
  • Cramps
  • Tachycardia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hyperventilation
  • Chest pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Blurred vision
  • Hypotension
  • Nasal congestion
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Fear
  • Tremors
  • Appetite changes
  • Abnormal dreams
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Edema

Long Term Side Effects of Xanax

If you abuse a benzodiazepine like Xanax for a sustained period, your brain undergoes changes to structure and functioning. In time, the brain loses the ability to effectively operate in the absence of Xanax.

When you abuse Xanax long-term, it interferes with the following:

  • Memory
  • Thought processes
  • Emotional responses
  • Consciousness
  • Muscular coordination

All benzos cause an increase in the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with calming the nerve impulses that can trigger emotional expressions like panic and anxiety.

Tolerance to Xanax easily forms, and the medication starts becoming less effective. In time, it will stop treating emotional disruptions effectively.

If you take higher doses of Xanax, you’re likely to develop an addiction more rapidly, although even small doses of this medication can lead to dependency in less than a month.

Over time, Xanax can trigger dramatic mood swings, something resulting in hostile, aggressive, or violent behavior.

Using Xanax routinely causes changes to appetite, involving either weight loss or weight gain. Benzos can lead to episodes of binge eating, with surges of insatiable hunger experienced.

Although Xanax stimulates neurotransmitters in your brain, the medication can make you feel quite tired and drained. Lethargy is a common by-product of Xanax use, and this can often indirectly lead to weight gain.

Taken long-term, Xanax can induce noticeable issues with memory, to the extent others are likely to pick up on your forgetfulness.

Benzos can also play havoc on your coordination. This can manifest in problems with both speech and balance.

Using benzos long-term can also lead to increased problems with focus.

If you continue using Xanax for several months, you risk causing damage to brain cells. Persistent use of Xanax changes the way your brain operates, decreasing inhibitions and exposing you to risks you would otherwise not take. From driving under the influence to unsafe sex, these risks can be deadly.

Abusing Xanax over the long-haul will often lead to depression and suicidal ideation. The same applies to all benzos, a class of drug that is best reserved for strictly short-term use.

The number of people treated for adverse outcomes in ER-associated with Xanax use spiked by 172% from 2004 to 2011.

Irritability is another common long-term side effect of Xanax.

The confused state Xanax use can bring about sometimes leads to hostile and provocative behaviors totally out of character for the person in question.

Less frequently, people abusing benzos long-term experience hallucinations and/or paranoid delusions.

Some current research hints at a possible link between long-term Xanax use and dementia. One study of 2000 seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and 7000 seniors without this degenerative condition showed a 32% higher risk for Alzheimer’s in those who had used Xanax for 90 to 180 days. When Xanax use was ongoing for 6 months or more, the chance of getting Alzheimer’s increased by 84%.

How do you know, then, if you or a loved one requires a supervised medical detox from Xanax?

Ask yourself the following questions:

1.   Do you need to take higher doses of Xanax to achieve the same effect?

2.   Have you tried and failed to moderate or discontinue Xanax use?

3.   Does thinking about Xanax occupy lots of your time?

4.   Are you anxious about always having a supply of Xanax?

5.   Have friends and family noticed your absence at social occasions you would normally attend?

6.   Do you keep taking Xanax despite being aware of the negative consequences?

7.   Do you get withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, or muscle twitches if you cut down on your Xanax dosage or stop using the medication?

If you find yourself responding positively to several of these questions, you could be addicted to Xanax.

Medical detox is typically the safest way to stop taking Xanax safely and to begin transitioning back into a fully functional life. If you have been taking Xanax as part of an overarching treatment plan for panic disorder or anxiety disorder, you’ll need to engage with treatment addressing the underlying condition. This can take the part of another non-benzo medication, psychotherapy like CBT and DBT, or techniques like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.

You should not attempt to abruptly stop taking Xanax without medical supervision. If you ensure you have the right care and support in place during detox and withdrawal, you’ll find you can soon get back up and running without relying on the crutch Xanax provides.

Xanax Side Effects in Elderly

Studies have not indicated any geriatric-specific that would limit the efficacy of Xanax in the elderly.

That said, seniors are more likely to experience unwanted side effects, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Clumsiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Kidney problems
  • Lung problems
  • Liver problems

Slips and falls are also more likely among seniors taking alprazolam.

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Xanax Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If you started taking Xanax to get short-term relief from anxiety and became addicted, it is inadvisable to quit abruptly and without medical supervision.

When you stop using this benzo after sustained use, you can expect to experience a range of adverse withdrawal symptoms similar to barbiturate withdrawal or alcohol withdrawal. Xanax withdrawal can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and possibly even deadly.

For most people, the optimum route to recovery from Xanax addiction is a medically-assisted detox followed by addiction treatment tailored to benzo addiction. This will usually take the form of a tapered reduction in Xanax dosage, medication-assisted treatment, counseling, and psychotherapy.

Here at our California rehab, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of benzo addiction, offering you the support and structure you need without the costs or restrictions of residential rehab. Kickstart your recovery today by reaching out to admissions at 866.330.9449.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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