Xanax Side Effects: Short-Term & Long-Term Dangers

Last Updated: January 19, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Xanax, also known as Alprazolam, is a prescription benzodiazepine that many people use for anxiety, panic disorders, and moderate depression. Still, medications do not always precisely target the problem on hand. They affect the body in many ways and sometimes cause problems ranging from mild to severe and life-threatening. Like all drugs, there are some unwanted Xanax effects. These Xanax side effects are not always welcome. In fact, alprazolam side effects can occur practically in every organ system, including the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory, genitourinary, and dermatologic systems. Although this drug is commonly used, many people also question whether taking Xanax while pregnant is safe.

Xanax Side Effects On the Brain

Alprazolam is one of the most frequently prescribed pharmacologic therapies for anxiety, insomnia, and panic disorder. The drug acts by enhancing the action of a calming neurotransmitter.

It is a highly addictive substance that can quickly lead to dependence and addiction if taken without medical supervision. While this medication has proven efficacy in treating anxiety and other mental health disorders, there are some unwanted Xanax side effects associated with it. Moreover, fake Xanax bars, which can be laced with Fentanyl or other dangerous substances are gaining popularity. They can significantly worsen the adverse reactions.

Some Of the Most Common Effects Of Xanax On the Brain Include:

  • Sedation and drowsiness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Impaired memory
  • A headache, lightheadedness, and dizziness
  • Difficulties with cognition
  • Abnormal voluntary movements
  • Attention problems
  • Problems with balance
  • Lethargy and excessive sleepiness
  • Abnormal sensations (paresthesias)

Some of the less common Xanax effects on the brain include amnesia, coordination problems, autonomic manifestations such as fainting upon standing up, and intellectual impairment.

Xanax And Dementia

The effects of Xanax and other drugs from the benzodiazepine class can appear long after the last dose is taken. According to a BMJ study, benzodiazepines increase the risk of development of dementia in users. Harvard Health has noted that benzodiazepines such as alprazolam can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease by increasing the chances by 32% for users using the drug for 3 to 6 months and up to 84% taking the drug longer than 6 months.

Side Effects of Xanax on Other Organ Systems

It is not surprising that a medication prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder has a powerful impact on the human brain. However, Xanax effects on the body cannot be ignored. Alprazolam can produce unwanted effects in some organ systems.

The Most Common Are Listed Below:

  • General: fatigue, weakness, sluggishness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), feeling cold or warm
  • Psychiatric: irritability, insomnia, decreased libido, confusion, agitation, disinhibition, nervousness, depression, agitation
  • Gastrointestinal: alterations in saliva production, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth, abdominal pain, dyspepsia
  • Metabolic: changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss, anorexia
  • Cardiovascular: tachycardia (fast heartbeat), chest pain, palpitations, hot flush, chest tightness, low blood pressure
  • Genitourinary: difficulties with urination, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction, incontinence
  • Dermatologic: rash, excessive sweating, dermatitis, itching
  • Respiratory: nasal congestion, upper respiratory tract infection, allergic rhinitis
  • Ocular: blurred vision, photophobia
  • Musculoskeletal: muscle stiffness, cramps, rigidity, twitching, pain
  • Immunologic: infection, influenza, allergy

Short-Term Alprazolam Side Effects

The unwanted short-term Alprazolam side effects occur due to many reasons, such as non-adherence to the prescribed schedule or non-compliance with dosage. People are most likely to experience these adverse symptoms when they first begin taking the medication, when the dosage is changed, or when they stop taking the drug and Alprazolam leaves the body.

It is worth remembering that every individual has a unique reaction to a medication, including alprazolam. Besides, Xanax side effects depend on its interaction with other prescription drugs, food, and over-the-counter preparations.

The Most Common Alprazolam Short-Term Effects Include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Increased saliva production
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Changes in sex drive
  • The trouble with cognition or difficulty concentrating
  • Slurred speech or sounding intoxicated
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Dry mouth

Some of the more severe Xanax effects and dangers include alterations in mood, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, difficulty speaking, slurred speech, impaired coordination, and memory problems. It is essential to seek immediate medical help if one is experiencing any severe side effects of alprazolam.

Woman suffering from xanax side effects.

Sometimes an unintended symptom of medication is favorable. This is demonstrated by the interesting relationship between alprazolam and blood pressure. Anxiety can cause a person’s blood pressure to rise dramatically over a short period. Therefore, in individuals suffering from anxiety-induced hypertension, alprazolam can indirectly lower blood pressure by treating the underlying anxiety.

Long-Term Effects Of Xanax

Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam, are potent substances that can result in serious health consequences if taken in large doses over a long period of time. Xanax long term effects are most pronounced if an individual takes the drug in large quantities, on a rapid schedule, or for a prolonged duration. Abruptly starting or restarting the medication is also dangerous.

Some Of the Common Long-Term Effects Of Xanax Include:

  • Delirium
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Impulsive or aggressive behavior
  • Depression

Alprazolam overdose can lead to effects and dangers such as weakness, blurred vision, slurring of speech, respiratory depression, and coma.

One of the most frequently reported long-term side effects of Xanax on the brain is memory impairment. This deficit is usually mild and primarily affects short-term recollection, but can last for a long time. It is believed that the drug and memory loss are related due to an inability to concentrate and retain information while taking this drug.

Another long-term effect of alprazolam on the brain is sedation. This depressive action is amplified when benzodiazepines and alcohol are consumed together. For this reason, it is not advisable to drink alcoholic beverages while on treatment with sedative medications.

Taking Xanax While Pregnant

Taking Xanax during pregnancy is dangerous for the developing fetus. In fact, the FDA has even stated that Alprazolam can cause an increased risk of congenital abnormalities when it is given to a pregnant woman during the first trimester. This means that Xanax and pregnancy congenital disabilities can be correlated. Women who do not want their children to experience congenital disabilities should avoid taking alprazolam while pregnant.

Taking Xanax While Pregnant Can Cause All Of the Following Health Issues to Babies:

  • cleft lip or palate
  • lethargy
  • withdrawal
  • poor respiration
  • floppy infant syndrome
  • difficulty feeding

For this reason, pregnant mothers should always avoid taking alprazolam. One study of 542 pregnancies in which the mother took alprazolam resulted in 13 babies born with congenital anomalies and 47 spontaneous fetal losses.

Pregnancy and Anxiety

Alprazolam affects not just the baby but also the mother herself and should be avoided during pregnancy. It can manipulate the hormone levels of the expectant mother. This can increase prolactin levels and, consequently, milk production; excessive milk production can take its toll on the mother. Prolactin levels affect the progesterone levels inversely and cause mood fluctuations. However, women suffering from anxiety must contact their doctor to find another treatment for this disorder.

Pregnant woman is worried about her xanax abuse.

Anxiety and other disorders affect around 0.5 million pregnant women every year. Without appropriate treatment, anxiety itself can cause an early delivery or miscarriage. Although it is a miraculous time, this change can also be very stressful for the mother, physically and psychologically. Anxiety can lead to many behavioral and mental complications, therefore appropriate treatment is essential. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to the mother not taking care of her diet, missing doctor appointments, and even turn to alcohol or substance abuse to cope with the stress and anxiety.

Avoiding Xanax Side Effects

Alprazolam addiction can cause many side effects, ranging from mild to severe. They can become even more dangerous if a person tries snorting or smoking the drug instead of consuming it orally. Even patients sticking to the doctor’s prescription are at risk of developing these symptoms, and what is more – an addiction. Should any unpleasant symptoms occur – always inform your doctor about them. In some cases, an alternative treatment may be prescribed to avoid the risks. In addition, alprazolam has a devastating effect on the fetus and the health of a pregnant woman, therefore it must be avoided in pregnancy.

If an addiction to the substance has already developed, and one cannot stop its use despite the consequences, addiction treatment should be sought. There are various treatment centers across the world and the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Xanax feel like?

Xanax is a calming and sedating agent. Users experience a sedative effect rather than a high or euphoria, often associated with drugs such as cocaine. The users describe the feeling as relaxed, tired, and quiet. After abusing the drug, users may pass out or fall asleep for a few hours. In some cases, users report memory lapse where they do not remember anything from this blackout, which can be up to several hours. These effects worsen with a higher dosage.

Does Xanax cause weight gain?

Xanax users can sometimes feel drowsy, sleep more, and reduce activity or movement, which leads to their reduced energy consumption, which makes them gain weight. On the other hand, some users might lose their appetite and subsequently lose weight. The effects of Xanax on an individual vary according to the behavior they display. It also depends on their individual factors such as metabolism, which determine the length of time the drug shows its effects that govern the aforementioned behaviors.

Does Xanax cause constipation?

Yes, it can cause constipation as a side-effect. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms also include constipation. Sometimes, an alternation of constipation and diarrhea can be observed at this stage, which are symptoms of the condition called benzo-belly. Benzo-belly is a condition often associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal. It is triggered by certain foods in the diet, and with a regulated diet, it can be managed. However, there is no medication or treatment for benzo-belly symptoms, and users have to wait through the withdrawal period for the symptoms to reduce. It can be observed several weeks after the last dose of Xanax is taken. These symptoms, including constipation, can vary from person to person.

Does Xanax make you sleepy?

Yes, the sedating effect of alprazolam can make people sleepy. In fact, in the 1970s, doctors prescribed it for insomnia, but this practice is not continued anymore due to the addictive nature of the drug. It has been added to the list of inappropriate medicines to be taken for insomnia. One of the symptoms of Xanax withdrawal includes a return of a worse case of insomnia.

Does Xanax lower blood pressure?

High blood pressure and heart rate are among the common symptoms of anxiety. Alprazolam helps relieve these symptoms, i.e., it lowers blood pressure. Benzodiazepines have been found to be efficient for the treatment of anxiety. Alprazolam has been found to give good results in controlling blood pressure in anxiety patients.


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Published on: April 10th, 2018

Updated on: January 19th, 2021

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.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.