The Effects of Xanax on the Brain

Xanax, the brand name for the prescription medication alprazolam, is the 5th most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety drugs in the United States. It belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are used to treat conditions like panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. The drug was created in the late 1960s as a safer alternative to traditional tranquilizer drugs such as alcohol, barbiturates, and meprobamate. When it was first introduced to the US market, Xanax was distinguished from these other medications by two factors.

One, Xanax has an immediate onset of action. Two, Xanax has a much shorter half-life than other benzodiazepines and is out of the system faster than similar drugs such as Valium or Librium. The positives to this are specifically that it provides immediate symptom relief and it showed no decrease in effectiveness over time, even after several years of use. For these reasons, Xanax became and still is the “go-to” medication for those with an anxiety disorder and other related issues.

The Effects of Xanax on the Brain

Xanax and the Nervous System

Benzodiazepines are Central Nervous System depressants. This is a class of medication that works by decreasing abnormal brain activity, which promotes a sense of calm and relaxation.  Xanax works by binding GABA receptors in the brain, which generates a sense of ease and well-being.  It can also lead to sedation when taken in higher doses. As with many prescription medications, Xanax can be abused and is addictive. Those abusing Xanax are taking it either without a prescription or in ways and amounts other than as prescribed. In most cases, those they are seeking a carefree, euphoric high, or the feeling of being “numb” or completely separated from their environment.

Dangers of Xanax Addiction

Xanax is often combined with other drugs or alcohol to strengthen these effects. This method of use is called polydrug abuse and can speed up the onset of addiction as well as the severity of the addiction. When taken in combination with other drugs or alcohol, the side effects intensify, and the risk of respiratory problems and death increases as well. Although it has proven to be highly addictive, Xanax continues to be commonly prescribed.

The statistics of those hooked on Xanax have increased steadily since it was first placed on the market. In 2013 the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that the numbers of those addicted to Xanax between the ages of 18 and 25 were twice that of adults aged 26 and over. Since 2006, the number of people admitted to drug treatment centers for Xanax has skyrocketed exponentially each year. In many of the cases, the addiction begins with a legal prescription that the patient and doctor believe is necessary for their mental health. This eventually turns into an addiction and what is referred to as “doctor shopping”, or seeking multiple prescriptions from different doctors.

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Abusing Xanax has many psychological and physical effects. A person who is addicted to Xanax will show the following physical side effects: drowsiness, slurred speech, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, feeling light-headed, increased salivation, constipation, headache, and lack of coordination. When someone is chemically dependent on Xanax, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping the use of the drug. Physical withdrawal symptoms include muscle pain and stiffness, changes in heart rhythm, and trembling. It can be dangerous to suddenly stop taking Xanax and it is recommended that a person trying to quit the medication do so in a safe medical environment such as a detox facility.


The psychological addiction to Xanax is much more complex and longer-lasting. A person who has become addicted to a prescription drug is convinced that they are not able to manage their lives on a day to day basis without it. They believe that they cannot function normally without it. Addiction is the primary psychological effect of Xanax, however, there are several more. These other side effects include confusion, becoming easily annoyed, trouble with memory, sudden irritability, becoming more talkative, manic-type moods, avoiding tasks that will require attention, major changes in behavior (lack of enthusiasm or excessive tiredness).  The long term side effects of Xanax abuse and addiction include delirium, psychosis, depression, aggression, cognitive impairment, impulsivity, and increased risk of dementia.

Addiction to Xanax can happen very quickly. The substance essentially hijacks the reward system of the brain, which causes compulsive behavior for the person abusing the drug. Each time it is misused and the brain experiences relaxation and. Euphoria, the brain associates Xanax with a positive outcome. A chemically dependent person will continuously risk negative consequences to achieve what their brain tells them is positive.

Xanax Treatment Help

Xanax is one of the most psychologically addictive drugs available and it is never recommended for a person who is abusing the substance to attempt to quit on their own. At Recreate Life Counseling, we are here to help those suffering from substance abuse move forward in their recovery after detox. Recreate Life Counseling is a partial care and outpatient treatment program in Boynton Beach, Florida.

We address the underlying issues of those suffering from substance abuse disorders and not just the addiction. Recreate life provides individual and group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, and other proven methods to prepare you or your loved one for long term recovery. Our caring and professional staff are available 24 / 7 to answer any questions about creating a new life free of addiction. Please call us today.