Dr. Samoon Ahmad, a practicing psychopharmacologist and psychiatrist at the Integrative Center for Wellness, discusses the short- & long-term effects of Xanax on the brain in a featured Business Insider video.

“I know plenty of people who say they have anxiety and take Xanax—look how calm it makes them. It’s so relaxing, it’s like getting a nice high!  I’m sure I’d do better on my exams, too. And since it’s medication, it’s not like it’s a drug that can hurt me. Plenty of people get prescriptions from their doctors, so it can’t be that bad, right?”

It’s easy for adolescents—teenagers, college-age, and even adults—to view prescription medications as harmless substances. And while medications like Xanax or other benzodiazepines are intended to provide symptom relief for patients who struggle with health issues such as anxiety or panic disorders, like any drug, there are side effects. For patients with a prescription, this means they’ve discussed their personal lifestyle and unique health history with a doctor or specialist to determine that Xanax (or another medication) is right for their situation. Careful monitoring of mental and physical symptoms help to prevent physical and psychological dependency on the drug. However for recreational users, this is not necessarily the case.

How does Xanax abuse affect someone who hasn’t been prescribed the medication? Let’s take a look.


Xanax is the name of a particular medication of the benzodiazepine class—a collection of drugs with psychoactive properties that work on the nervous system. These medications are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and even insomnia.

Benzodiazepines like Xanax work on a specific type of receptor in the brain ( GABA receptors) to inhibit neural activity and slow the user down. They provide the user with a sense of calmness, easing away those anxious feelings, or acting like a sedative or muscle relaxer. Though the drug’s effects are typically only felt for 3-4 hours, for patients who exhibit anxious tendencies, the quick-acting sedative feeling caused by Xanax is a way to get severe symptoms under control quickly.

Short-Term High, Long-Term Consequences

Feeling as if you’re on edge, sweating, and a sense of restlessness that won’t go away are all possible symptoms of an anxiety or a panic attack. However, for those who are simply taking Xanax recreationally, these could also be signs of withdrawal.

While you may only feel the effects of Xanax for a short period of time, the drug can last in your system for up to 8 hours. Once the positive effects of the medication wear off, the withdrawal symptoms can develop into an addiction, with the user seeking more of the drug to regain that good-feeling “high”.  This can lead to tolerance and subsequent addiction, where a user needs more of the drug more frequently to achieve that desired effect. In the long run, Xanax abuse can lead to cognitive problems and memory loss, among other side effects.

Since specific drugs and medications affect individuals differently, it’s important to work with your doctor or a specialist to make sure your medication is right for your situation and keeps you feeling healthy, not dependent on any drug, especially not for a recreational “high”. Your individual health story is unique, which is why a holistic approach to well-being—including prescription medications—is key.  

If you have questions about your experiences with anxiety or a medication such as Xanax, call us to schedule an appointment to discuss your health story today.