Have you ever taken Xanax? For millions of Americans, alprazolam has been the drug of choice for anxiety. Learn why Xanax may not be the best drug for you!
What is Xanax? Generically known as alprazolam, this anti-anxiety medication is in a class known as benzodiazepines. “Benzos” are used to treat a variety of conditions in medical practice, but anxiety and panic disorders are among the top of the list. The catch: this class of medications also has a great potential for abuse!
How does Xanax work? Without getting into detail, Xanax (alprazolam) works by slowing certain brain neurotransmitters to slow the brain’s reaction to stress. Unlike most other drugs in its class, this drug is very short acting. Therefore, alprazolam is used for short-term relief of anxiety or panic attacks. Unfortunately, the shortest acting drugs in this class also have the most potential for abuse.
Withdrawal from alprazolam of any drug in its class can be fatal. With that being said, it continues to be among the top abused drugs in America. Although intended to be used on an “as needed” basis, many patients seem to be taking the medication daily, multiple times per day. When taken multiple times per day, the individual may become physically and mentally tolerant to its effects. This is when alprazolam becomes particularly dangerous. Stopping abruptly can induce fatal withdrawal.
Are there other drugs like Xanax? Yes. Currently, there are about 15 FDA approved benzodiazepines on the market including Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, and Restoril. All of these work similarly to alprazolam but differ in their length of duration. Since these choices are longer acting, they have less potential for abuse and addiction.
Is alprazolam properly prescribed? Treatment of anxiety and panic disorders can be tricky. Believe it or not, drugs used for depression are usually first-line in treatment of general anxiety disorders. All prescribing is at the discretion of the physician. Physicians may prescribe alprazolam for use on an “as needed” basis, but it’s common to see patients taking alprazolam 3-4 times a day for months at a time. If you are one of these patients, please be mindful of other medications with less abuse potential. There are longer-acting medications in the same class which would be more suitable for use.
Just how popular is Xanax? According to rxlist.com, alprazolam rates 39th on the list for top dispensed medications. Out of all the other benzodiazepines, alprazolam ranks 1st in number of prescriptions dispensed. Is alprazolam over-prescribed? In my opinion, if a drug in this class is warranted for treatment, alprazolam should be a last-resort choice.
Overall, please be mindful of your medications. I encourage all individuals to research their medications, develop a great physician-patient relationship, and be proactive in their medical care!
Sources: Physicians Desk Reference, American Family Physician, WebMD (emedicinehealth), rxlist.com