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How Xanax Works and Affects Brain and Body

xanax mechanism of action

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How Does Xanax Work? Acting as a minor tranquilizer, Xanax, trade name for alprazolam, depresses the Central Nervous System (CNS) to induce a sense of calm and tranquility. As a short-acting anxiolytic, Xanax is used in the treatment of agitative disorders such as anxiety and panic disorders. What does Xanax do for anxiety? For a person suffering from anxiety, alprazolam offers a calming and sedative effect to “calm the nerves” and reduce the feelings of anxiety. It does this by affecting how the brain responds to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Through this modulation, the person can function in the same environment but with a heightened ability to cope with anxiety.

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Table of Contents

How Does Xanax Work in General?


Book on a table with a page written alprazolam and showing its chemical formula

Alprazolam, a triazole benzodiazepine, is considered a high-potency fast-acting tranquilizer with a range of effects and side effects. Due to its ability to bind to benzodiazepine sites on GABA (A) receptors, the substance provides positive allosteric modulation of these receptors to increase the binding of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a potent inhibitory neurotransmitter found in the brain. How fast does the Xanax work? The result, occurring within an hour, is overall decreased the excitability of the entire nervous system.

Mechanism of Action

When a person takes a dose of Xanax, it breaches the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain. By selectively binding to benzodiazepine sites on the GABA (A) receptors, the substance increases the binding affinity of GABA. How long before Xanax works? As more GABA binds, within an hour, the CNS experiences an overall slowdown in excitability and neuronal activation.

What Does Xanax Do to Your Brain?

Xanax – How It Works

Xanax has a broad range of effects on the entire Central Nervous System. These effects include anxiolytic effects, sedative effects, relaxant effects (skeletal muscles), hypnotic effects, anticonvulsant effects, antidepressant effects and amnestic effects. Due to this, alprazolam has effects ranging from emotional reactions to short-term and long-term memory, to the ability to think clearly and properly coordinate limbs. As such, it is considered potent and a source of danger if abused.

Psychoactive Properties

Alprazolam is considered a psychoactive substance because of its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and have a direct effect on the brain. Psychoactive substances are especially dangerous because they temporarily alter the normal functioning of the brain.

However, with long-term use, alprazolam can permanently alter the brain, inducing long-term effects such as impaired concentration, sexual dysfunction, loss of coordination, anterograde amnesia, psychosis and other neurocognitive disorders.

How Long Does Xanax Take to Work?

How Quickly Does Xanax Work?

Alarm clock on a blue surface with Xanax pills beside it.

Several factors influence how quickly alprazolam works when ingested. The primary factor is the mode of ingestion. Primarily ingested in pill form, it can take between one and two hours to reach peak effects. This does, however, also rely on a secondary factor which is whether the drug is administered as a rapid/immediate release, extended release or a delayed release tablet. As this affects its bioavailability in the body, it can reduce or increase the time it takes for alprazolam to work.

How Long for Xanax to Take Effect?

Alprazolam will take about an hour to take effect. If the person taking has undergone drug titration and is taking a dose that is adequate for them, this will be the case. However, non-medical use can bring a rapid onset of effects if a higher dose is taken. Drug preparations also vary and affect drug plasma levels after ingestion. To find out how long alprazolam will take to affect, a person should consider consulting their doctor to factor in all affective issues before calculating this outcome.

Does Xanax Work for Everyone?

Like any other medication, a host of factors determine whether alprazolam will be effective in the person being treated. Factors such as age, severity, and type of condition, other drugs being taken, and comorbid conditions must be considered. Prior substance abuse is also a major factor in determining whether to pursue a Xanax course of treatment.

Xanax Pros and Cons

Pros: Alprazolam has been efficiently used in the long-term treatment of anxiety and other panic disorders with few to no side-effects. Tapering off has also been found to be relatively easy with manageable side effects. This has resulted in alprazolam becoming one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States.
Cons: The rapid-onset, high-potency properties of the substance increase the potential for misuse in long-term users. Relatively rapid tolerance and dependence is also a risk factor associated with alprazolam. Xanax side effects can also be debilitating to the user both in the short and long term.

Use Xanax with Extreme Caution

Xanax is an effective and life-altering drug for those struggling with fatal conditions such as anxiety and panic complexes. Its ability to treat these debilitating conditions effectively, while noteworthy, does not minimize the dangers of taking it. Persons considering taking alprazolam must approach it with extreme caution due to the possibility of quick tolerance and subsequent dependence. It is also worth noting that persons prone to abusing alprazolam may also find their way to abusing more-potent benzodiazepines as well. Use of Xanax must, therefore, be done under strict medical supervision and with full cognition of its inherent dangers.

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Medically Reviewed By Michael Espelin APRN
Nena Messina

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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