Have you ever taken Xanax and wondered how it works? Even if you haven’t taken it, but you know someone who has or you’ve considered it yourself, you may find that you wonder how Xanax works. It’s not an uncommon question, largely because Xanax is such a widely used drug.

When exploring how Xanax works, it’s best to look at benzodiazepines in general, which is the class of drug to which Xanax belongs.

How Xanax Works

There are around 15 types of benzos that are approved for use as prescription medications by the FDA. They’re typically prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders as well as insomnia, and to be considered one of these drugs, the substance must have certain properties in addition to providing relief from anxiety. For example, these drugs also act as muscle relaxants, anti-convulsants and they have hypnotic effects.

What a lot of people either don’t understand or tend to ignore is the fact that benzos aren’t designed as a long-term treatment option for anxiety and other disorders. When you’re looking at how Xanax works, you’ll see that it’s a drug that’s prescribed and intended for short-term use for acute symptoms, such as rapid-onset anxiety or panic attacks. As you see how Xanax works, you’ll see that if it’s taken in a way other than this, there is the potential for abuse and dependency.

When someone takes Xanax or other benzos, they are central nervous system depressants. The central nervous system is what’s responsible for maintaining primary functions of our bodies including the regulation of heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and body temperature. When you take Xanax, it slows down these functions somewhat.

Also central to the discussion of how Xanax works is examining the role of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring communication chemicals in our brains that relay messages to our bodies.

When someone takes Xanax or other benzos, they stimulate the inhibiting neurotransmitter responsible for how calm or relaxed we feel, which is called GABA. GABA is meant to be our natural tranquilizer, but if you have anxiety or panic disorders, Xanax works by binding to these receptors and stimulating its production.

Essentially, Xanax works by slowing brain activity, which results in a calm, relaxed effect for the user.

When you experience excessive stress or anxiety it causes the brain to increase its neuron activity, and that activity is what leads to the resulting feelings of anxiety. How Xanax works is by diminishing this activity.

Also important to look at regarding how Xanax works are issues surrounding tolerance and dependency. Unfortunately, there is a misconception based on ideas of how Xanax works that you can’t become addicted or dependent on it, but that’s not the reality. Xanax is a Schedule IV controlled substance according to the U.S. government, meaning there’s a low likelihood of abuse, but as people increasingly rely on Xanax, medical providers are seeing there is actually a significant risk.

Also pertaining to the discussion of how Xanax works is how fast-acting it is. When you take Xanax, the effects aren’t immediate, but they are relatively quick. If you were to take a Xanax and it was your first time, you would likely feel the effects, which many people find pleasant, within about an hour. That’s another reason that how Xanax works can contribute to its likelihood of dependence. Faster-acting drugs tend to be more likely to be abused.

As mentioned above, how Xanax works is based on slowing down the brain and central nervous processes that occur in our body, and that then means some of the side effects of taking Xanax and other benzos can include drowsiness, slurred speech and lack of coordination. These side effects are similar to what happens with alcohol.

There is some belief that because of how Xanax works, it can not only create the potential for physical and psychological abuse, but there’s also the possibility that it could have long-term effects on memory, cognition, and learning.

There has been some evidence released, particularly in recent years, highlighting the potential particularly with heavy and long-term Xanax use for people to be at an increased risk of dementia.

Also critical to learning how Xanax works is to know the risk of overdose that can occur. There have been hundreds of thousands of people who have gone to emergency rooms often because of combining benzos like Xanax with other substances including alcohol or opioid pain relievers. Since substances like alcohol also act as depressants of the central nervous system, it can slow the body’s essential functions so much that the person goes into a coma or dies from an overdose.

All of these are key facts to know when you’re wondering how Xanax works and how it impacts the brain and the body of the user.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.