What Does Xanax Do To You?

Some drugs not only exert their effects on our bodies but also on our brains. Those drugs have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause chemical changes in the brain.

In this article, we will explain how one of such drugs, Xanax, affects the body and the brain, what it really is, why it is prescribed and its side effects.

What is Xanax?

Xanax is a brand name for Alprazolam, a very common benzodiazepine. It has a fast onset of action – you would feel its effects within 30 – 60 minutes of taking the drug and the effects can last for about 5 hours, though the drug itself lasts about 8 hours in the body before being broken down by the liver and eliminated from the body.

It is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders and is considered the number one most prescribed and most abused Benzodiazepine in the United States. Most people who abuse Xanax actually started with a genuine prescription, but they got hooked on it with prolonged use. Xanax’s ability to hook its users lies in its ability to alter the chemical nature of the brain.

Why Is Xanax Prescribed?

You know the feelings of fear and worry that come when you are about to make a critical decision, address a large audience or sit for an exam you did not prepare for?


These feelings are very normal and for most of us, they go away once we get comfortable with the situation or when the task has been completed. For some people, however, the feelings of anxiety can be constant, overwhelming and may impair daily activities. If such feelings last longer than six months, it may be a sign of a condition called anxiety disorder.

As of 2016, it was estimated that about 275 million people or 4% of the global population suffer from an anxiety disorder. Many people suffering from anxiety disorders are unaware that it is a mental illness, and as a result, only very few people receive some form of medical attention.

If you have prolonged feelings of anxiety or you are unsure if you have an anxiety disorder, please see a doctor for proper diagnosis. In case you know someone suffering from anxiety disorder, consider these 7 practical steps in order to be of help to them.

How Does Xanax Work?

Doctors and psychiatrists have a number of ways of treating anxiety disorders, one of which is the use of prescription medicines, an example of which is a class of drugs called Benzodiazepines.

You have probably heard of drugs like Valium, Ativan, or Xanax; they all belong to the Benzodiazepine class.

Benzodiazepines are known to enhance the effect of a certain endogenous substance in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid or simply GABA.

GABA is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that nerves release in order to communicate with other nearby nerves), whose primary role is to suppress the activities of the nerves. By enhancing the effect of GABA, benzodiazepines, therefore, elicit sedative, sleep-inducing, anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxant effects.

What Xanax Does to The Brain

I have mentioned that Xanax enhances the effect of GABA. How exactly does it do that? It binds to the receptor where GABA should bind, and generates the calming, anti-anxiety effects of GABA.

Think of it like inserting a similar key into a keyhole to open a door. If the key is similar enough in shape and size to the original key, it will be able to open the door.

After all the Xanax is used up, which typically happens in less than 8 hours, the brain begins to crave more Xanax. Interestingly, the brain cells usually get used to the continued presence of Xanax, and they begin to produce less GABA for the brain.


Reduced production of GABA implies that without Xanax, the brain would not have enough GABA to bring about relaxation, hence, people who have not taken Xanax tend to feel lots of anxiety, sometimes more than it was before they started using the drug. The need for continuous use of the drug is called Dependence.

Again, reduced production of GABA also leads to reduced effects with a regular dose of Xanax. This is called Tolerance. A user would need to increase the dose of Xanax in order to achieve the same effect as before. Tolerance is a sign of drug dependency.

What Xanax Does to The Body

Aside from helping with anxiety, Xanax has muscle relaxant effects.

It makes you feel calm and relaxed. As with medications generally, Xanax has its side effects listed as follows:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Changes in sex drive.
  • Increased salivation.
  • Problems urinating.
  • Weight changes.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Joint pain.
  • Seizures.
  • Depression.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Memory problems.
  • Unusual changes in mood

Hooked on Xanax? Here Is What to Do

If someone cannot do without using Xanax, the best line of action is to seek help. Addiction is a powerful force as most addicts are unable to quit all by themselves.

Addicts would require both medical help and psychological support from friends and family. Usually, under the guidance of medical personnel, an addict would take a reduced dose of Xanax over time until they are able to discontinue the use of the drug altogether. In most cases, psychotherapy is usually employed to enhance recovery.

What Happens When Xanax is Stopped Abruptly?

It is not advisable to stop taking Xanax abruptly. If you have undesirable effects, please consult your doctor or pharmacist before discontinuing the medication. When someone stops taking Xanax all of a sudden, maybe by a decision to discontinue the drug or inability to restock on supplies, the following symptoms, referred to as withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur:

  • amplified anxiety and panic disorder
  • sleep problems
  • aggression
  • depression
  • tingling
  • suicidal thoughts
  • seizures or death

The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the dose used and the duration of use.

What Happens When Someone Takes Too Much Xanax?

Overdose may refer to taking more than the prescribed dose of Xanax per time or taking the prescribed dose more frequently than prescribed or taking the drug with substances that inhibit its degradation, such as alcohol. The following are signs of Xanax overdose.

  • Sleepiness/sleeping for long periods.
  • Snoring or gurgling sounds
  • Confusion.
  • Shallow breathing
  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Problems with coordination.
  • Impaired reflexes.
  • Coma.

If you suspect anyone around you has overdosed on Xanax or is addicted to Xanax, please consult a doctor immediately, it is an EMERGENCY!

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Grace Adejuwon, B.Pharm

Grace Adejuwon joined 25 Doctors in 2019. She has a bachelor's degree in Pharmacy from the Obafemi Awolowo University with many years experience in pharmaceutical care, logistics and pharmacy business management. She is also the lead pharmacist at Synapse Services Ltd, a community pharmacy. An ardent lover of nature, she delights in spending time within the pages of books. She uses her love for welding words together to educate people, especially about drugs.
Grace Adejuwon, B.Pharm

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