Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescribed to treat anxiety. Meant to be used on a short-term basis, this medication can quickly produce potent effects and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that make it more prone to being misused. And Xanax overdose can be fatal—especially if the drug is combined with other substances or medications. Read on for more important details about this commonly-misused prescription medication.
What is Xanax?
“Alprazolam, more commonly known as Xanax, is used to treat anxiety. It is most often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders such as panic disorder,” Bryan Bruno, MD and Medical Director at MidCity TMS, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Xanax works by affecting the way the brain communicates with the body. “Xanax is in a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which slow down the nervous system by raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain,” Bruno explains.
GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a stress-reducing and sleep-enhancing neurotransmitter, according to a 2020 article published by Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Xanax is rapidly absorbed into the body. However, the medication also has a shorter duration of effect than other benzodiazepines. Its high potency can also cause severe rebound anxiety. These factors make the medication more likely to be misused, according to a 2018 article published by the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
The article also reports that Xanax side effects are common, and can include:
- Slurred speech
- Disrupted concentration
It’s also important to note that Xanax is meant to be used on a short-term basis, but its propensity to quickly produce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can make it uniquely tempting to misuse.
Xanax Overdose Symptoms
“Xanax can be overdosed on its own, by taking over the amount prescribed, or [by] consuming alcohol while on the drug,” Bruno says.
In addition, combining other medications with Xanax increases the risk of a fatal overdose. “Most deaths occur when Xanax is combined with the consumption of an opioid, since both types of drugs sedate users and suppress breathing, the main cause of these fatalities,” Bruno says.
“Symptoms of a Xanax overdose include changes in consciousness, confusion, drowsiness, lack of coordination, loss of consciousness, and sleepiness,” Bruno says.
In addition to losing coordination and consciousness, there are more dangerous symptoms that can occur. “More severe symptoms of Xanax overdoses include seizures, hallucinations, difficulty breathing/respiratory depression, abnormal heart rhythm, and coma,” Holly Schiff, PsyD and Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
In addition, there are several conditions that indicate a person shouldn’t take Xanax, including glaucoma, sleep apnea, and chronic lung disease.
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