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  • Many people take alprazolam, brand name Xanax, to treat anxiety disorders such as panic disorder. The drug belongs to a group of medications called benzodiazepines (or “benzos,”), which includes other common medications like Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. 

    Despite the drug’s popularity, not many people know how Xanax works or fully understand its effects on the brain. 

    How Does Xanax Work In The Brain?

    Your brain contains a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that influence how you feel. GABA slows down brain activity and has a calming effect on your central nervous system.

    When you take Xanax or another benzodiazepine, the drug attaches to GABA receptors in your brain. This increases the effects of GABA, causing sedation (a relaxed, sleepy feeling). If you’re experiencing a panic attack or other symptoms of anxiety, this increased GABA activity can help you calm down quickly. 

    Effects Of Xanax

    Along with its intended effect of sedation, Xanax can cause side effects such as: 

    • headache
    • dizziness
    • constipation
    • trouble urinating
    • unusual talkativeness
    • dry mouth
    • nausea
    • changes in appetite and/or weight
    • joint pain

    It can also cause more serious side effects, such as:

    • confusion
    • hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)
    • memory issues
    • depression
    • speech difficulties
    • impaired coordination or balance
    • seizures
    • suicidal thoughts or attempts

    If you or someone you know experiences these or other unusual side effects, contact a doctor right away. 

    Xanax can also cause euphoria (intense joy), especially at larger doses. That’s why some people abuse the medication. 

    Xanax Abuse & Addiction

    Xanax abuse occurs when you take the drug in a manner not prescribed by your doctor. For example, you might take higher doses than prescribed, take it more frequently than prescribed, or take it without a prescription. 

    People who abuse Xanax often become addicted to it. Long-term Xanax use, even as prescribed by a doctor, can also lead to addiction. This is why most health care providers prescribe Xanax only for short-term use. 

    Common signs of Xanax addiction include:

    • mood swings
    • intense cravings for Xanax
    • tolerance, which means you need increasingly higher doses of the drug over time to feel the desired effects
    • physical dependency, which means you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug

    People who suffer from Xanax addiction have a number of treatment options, including mental health counseling, peer support groups, and medical detox. If you or a loved one struggles with Xanax use, please contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our substance abuse and addiction treatment programs.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Harvard Health - Benzodiazepines (and the Alternatives)
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Benzodiazepines and Opioids
    U.S. National Library of Medicine - Benzodiazepine interactions with GABA receptors
    U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alprazolam

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on June 29, 2022
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