Xanax: an anxiety medication
Xanax is one of the stronger benzodiazpines (BZD), a class of drugs that slows down the nervous system, inducing calm and relaxation.
And it works quickly, and seems to have limited side effects. No wonder that it’s extremely popular, used even by those who appear to be the most successful and least need it.
Unfortunately, use of Xanax may have gone too far because long term use can cause serious problems. Benzodiazepines like it are best used for short term relief of anxiety, and generally as support for treating anxiety and panic disorders.
The American Psychological Association released guidelines to that effect, emphasizing the preferred use of SSRI medications for anxiety disorders.
What should Xanax be used for, for how long, and what are its potential side effects?
Xanax is very good at fighting anxiety. As such it makes sense to use it in the short term for insomnia caused by worrying, and for short term control of anxiety. On the other hand, other drugs are preferred for certain types of short term anxiety, like stage-fright.
Xanax can be used for panic and anxiety disorders and has shown some ability to work for those conditions – but there may be better options that just take longer to work. The SSRIs may perform better and with less risk, and as such have been recommended for typical treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.
And you can’t forget the importance of therapy and exercise for anxiety/panic conditions, which have no side effects.
Use of Xanax after a traumatic event might be a bad idea.
Xanax’s side effects
Xanax can cause excessive sedation, memory problems, and cause or make depression worse. It can interact dangerously with alcohol as both are depressants. And it is addictive.
Long term use has been associated by some with cognitive damage. This means a potential decline in intelligence, ability to pay attention and concentrate, and decreased memory. Stopping Xanax does not always reverse these changes.
Use of Xanax after a traumatic event to help control anxiety may highly increase risk of developing Post Traumatic stress disorder. It is isn’t entirely clear how – or if – this happens.
In terms of physical side effects, Xanax has less side effects than earlier drugs, but can still cause serious physical problems either in overdosing or through interactions with other medications.
Most common side effects: drowsiness, increase salivation, weight gain and constipation.
Use of Xanax can cause difficulties with memory formation and some form of memory impairment in anywhere from 7-33% of those who use it. It may also be associated with difficulty falling asleep, headache, and some form of cognitive impairment.
Menstrual irregularities have been reported in up to 10% of women using Xanax over an extended period of time.
Addiction and Withdrawal
We know Xanax is about as addictive as cigarettes; we just aren’t fully clear on how long dependence takes.
One study showed that 1/3 of people who used any BZD for just a month became dependent to some degree. Another showed a similar rate of addiction over a two months span, and another study put the time-line at 3-6 months.
Use of Xanax over an extended period of time may lead to serious problems upon stopping. The milder problems include anxiety, unpleasant thoughts, and disorientation. Rarer but more serious discontinuation issues include extreme sense-sensitivity, seizures and psychosis.
Do you have any thoughts on Xanax?