What Is Xanax?
What is Xanax? To start with, it’s a prescription sedative from the benzodiazepine class of drugs, so it’s also known as a benzo. It’s mostly prescribed for generalized anxiety and panic disorders. It can also help with sleep problems and alcohol withdrawal.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), it’s a schedule IV drug. That means that Xanax is legal, but only under a doctor’s orders.
Xanax and other benzodiazepines are usually prescribed for short amounts of time because a person, even when using them as directed, can grow emotionally or physically dependent on them.
What Is the Generic for Xanax?
Xanax is available as a generic medication, too, sold under the name alprazolam. It comes in pill, capsule, and liquid form. Several options and dose sizes are available, including:
- Xanax: Available in tablet form at 0.25 mg., 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg doses.
- Xanax XR: Extended release tablets, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg, and 3 mg doses.
- Niravam: Orally disintegrating tablets: 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg doses.
- Alprazolam Intensol: Liquid concentrate: 1 mg/ml doses.
Alprazolam is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine, and the most frequently prescribed psychotropic (mood-altering) drug in the United States. More than 48 million prescriptions were filled in 2013 alone.
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What Does Xanax Look Like?
Xanax pill identification can be a bit tricky, primarily because there are so many variations in colors and shapes (white bars, blue ovals, round yellows), depending on if it’s generic or name-brand, and whether it’s low or high dose, extended release, and so on.
The National Library of Medicine’s Pillbox website is a good place to start, however. Users can enter drug names, shapes, imprints, and color to sleuth out the substance in question.
Street names for Xanax include candy, downers, sleeping pills, tranks, benzos, and chill pills. The 2 mg doses come in scored bars, so those get lots of “bar” nicknames, such as handlebars. They’re also known as planks, for their long, slender shape.
Some may ask, is Xanax an opioid? No. There are many differences between benzodiazepines and opioids.
Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that work on the nerves’ opioid receptors. They’re commonly used to manage pain. They include:
- Illegal drugs such as heroin.
- Synthetics such as fentanyl.
- Common pain prescription pain medications such as oxycodone and morphine.
A sense of euphoria often occurs after people use opioids.
Benzodiazepines (benzos), on the other hand, are used mostly to treat mental illnesses, particularly anxiety disorders.
Xanax can be very helpful in extreme, sudden stress (a panic attack, for example), as it tends to kick in pretty fast, sometimes in as little as 5 or 10 minutes. Because it works quickly, its effects also tend to wear off rapidly. It’s most intense for about two to four hours, followed by a bit of a lingering fuzzy feeling.
The half-life of Xanax is about 11 hours (or, in that amount of the time, a person’s body will typically metabolize it out of the bloodstream). That can vary, however, depending on a person’s metabolism, health, other prescriptions, and other factors.
Once Xanax wears off, the chill feeling will vanish. People taking it for anxiety or a racing heart may have those symptoms return after the medicine’s effect fades.
While benzodiazepines aren’t opioids — one calms the mind, and the other relaxes and releases what pains a person — they’re a too-common and potentially dangerous combination.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that more than 30% of opioid overdoses also included benzodiazepines. Since 1999, overdoses involving both substances have steadily been on the rise.
Side Effects of Xanax
After taking Xanax, a user may experience more than drowsiness or relaxation. Any of the following may occur:
- Slurred speech
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Clammy skin
- Impaired judgment, coordination, and memory
- Lower blood pressure
Xanax can slow the functioning of the central nervous system, which regulates breathing. In worst-case scenarios, respiration can drop to dangerous levels, resulting in coma or death.
That can become further complicated when people pair Xanax with opioids, which also slow breathing. Used together, the substances can lead to synergism, where the two substances create a more potent effect compared to how they’d work individually. In a sense, it’s kind of a strange drug arithmetic where one plus one equals three.
Alprazolam also does not pair well with alcohol. Using alcohol and alprazolam together can rob people’s energy and make them forgetful, interfere with their breathing, and spark confusion or seizures.
Xanax can interact badly with other common medications, too, including oral contraceptives, antidepressants, antibiotics, and heartburn drugs. It’s best to check with a pharmacist or doctor before taking.
Is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax can be habit-forming and users can quickly develop a tolerance — in as little as two weeks — so it won’t take long for the same amount to have less of an effect. It also can be dangerous to simply go cold turkey (stop using the drug abruptly).
Stopping too suddenly can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Muscle spasms
Because it’s easy to form a habit, Xanax withdrawal can quickly occur. Usually that starts two to seven days after the last dose and can linger for two to eight weeks.
After stopping (or even starting) Xanax, if a person struggles to speak, feels dizzy, passes out, or experiences an accelerated heartbeat, headaches, or an allergic reaction to benzodiazepines (swelling of the throat, face, or tongue, or trouble breathing), medical help should be sought immediately.
Odd sleep behaviors, such as driving or eating while asleep (and with no memory of doing so) are also cause for concern.
The best approach is to taper off Xanax gradually, and to do so under medical supervision. No Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drugs are designated to specifically kick alprazolam addiction, but doctors can prescribe medications to help while a person weans off of benzodiazepines. They can also recommend alternatives that work better long-term for anxiety and phobias, ones which aren’t so habit forming.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, where a therapist works with a client to find healthier coping strategies, has been found to be highly effective in treating benzodiazepine addiction. It can pair very well with tapering procedures. Counseling and support groups can be very helpful too.
- surgeongeneral.gov – Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health
- nami.org – Alprazolam (Xanax)
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal
- pillbox.nlm.nih.gov – Pillbox Search Feature
- surgeongeneral.gov – Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Spotlight on Opioids
- healthline.com – How Long Does Xanax Last?
- drugabuse.gov – Benzodiazepines and Opioids
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System-Mediated Effects
- healthline.com – What Does Xanax Feel Like? 11 Things to Know
- pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome
- healthline.com – How to Recognize and Treat Xanax Addiction
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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