How does Xanax work?

Xanax works by slowing brain activity. More on Xanax in the brain and body, as well as how fast and long Xanax works here.

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Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine prescription drug that’s used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks. How much Xanax is safe is between 0.75 – 1.5 mg throughout the day.  Here we review how Xanax affects the body and brain, when Xanax starts to act and if you can improve on Xanax effect. More here with a place for your questions about Xanax at the end.

How does Xanax work in the body?

Xanax works by decreasing abnormal brain activity and results in a calming effect on the body. Although Xanax can sometimes trigger feelings of euphoria, it generally helps relieve anxiety and relax the body. How long Xanax stays in the system depends on occasional vs.chronic use, as well as personal metabolic differences.  The depressant qualities of Xanax result in:

  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • lightheadedness
  • unsteady balance

Xanax can also have unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, side effects. The most common side effects are drowsiness, stomach problems, and changes in mood, such as irritability. But even at normal doses it can sometimes cause more serious adverse effects, such as seizures, hallucinations, or suicidal thoughts. There’s no way to predict who will experience these adverse effects, but they’re more likely to occur when Xanax is taken in a way other than directed by a doctor.

How does Xanax affect the brain and nervous system?

Xanax is a central nervous system depressant. This means it slows brain activity. Xanax (alprazolam) works specifically by increasing GABA activity, curbing the brain’s “excitability” and allowing the brain to restore its natural balance. Although different classes of central nervous system depressants work in unique ways, ultimately it is their ability to increase GABA activity that produces a drowsy or calming effect.

Despite these beneficial effects for people suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders, benzodiazepines like Xanax can be addictive and should be used only as prescribed. Xanax should not be taken along with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines. It can cause excessive drowsiness and even be dangerous when mixed with other medications. Mixing alcohol with Xanax is especially dangerous: so much so that doctors recommend that you never mix the two.

How fast does Xanax work

Xanax reaches its peak level in the blood in 1-2 hours. At that point, Xanax has taken full effect. Sometimes people will crush and snort the powder from the tablets to try to get more immediate effects, but this is dangerous. Although snorting Xanax can result in near immediate delivery of alprazolam to the brain, snorting Xanax increases your risk adverse effects or even overdose.

How long does Xanax work?

Xanax stays in the body for an extended period, with a half life averaging around 11 hours. However, the alprazolam in Xanax is not completely effective for those full 11 hours. For people with severe anxiety, a dose of Xanax may be prescribed several times a day.

What makes Xanax work better

Immediate release Xanax takes effect quicker when it’s dissolved under the tongue rather than swallowed. The effects won’t last as long, but it can sometimes be the best way to beat an anxiety attack before it gets out of control.

Does Xanax work for everyone?

No, Xanax is not right for everyone. You can get addicted to Xanax or Xanax can trigger serious adverse side effects. Because alprazolam is a habit-forming medication, Xanax is not recommended for those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. In some people, Xanax can have serious side effects. People who experience problems while taking Xanax should talk to their doctor immediately about discontinuing the medication.

If you are looking for help with Xanax addiction, you can find answers to your many questions and learn what happens during rehab programs in our comprehensive guide to Xanax Addiction Treatment.

How Xanax works questions

Please leave us your questions or comments about Xanax use below. We try our best to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt reply. And if we don’t know the answer to your question, we will refer you to someone who does.

Reference Sources: Medline Plus: Alprazolam
PubChem: Alprazolam
ToxNet: Alprazolam
NIAAA: Neuroscience Pathways to Dependence
Utah Department of Human Services: CNS Depressants 

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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