In the United States, the most-often prescribed psychiatric medication is Xanax (alprazolam). When taken according to medical advice, Xanax can be safe and effective in treating conditions like panic disorder and anxiety. Xanax increases the amount of GABA (a neurotransmitter) in the brain to induce a feeling of calmness and relaxation.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a Schedule-IV medication and a member of the benzodiazepine family of drugs. In October 1981, Xanax was approved by the FDA. Other medications in this category include clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), flurazepam (Dalmane), and lorazepam (Ativan).
In addition to regular Xanax tablets, the medication is available as an extended-release tablet, a melt-in-your-mouth tablet, and a concentrated liquid to be taken by mouth.
Four doses of Xanax tablets are available and can be identified as follows:
- 0.25 mg. tablet (white, scored, oval-shaped), inscribed with “XANAX 0.25”
- 0.5 mg. tablet (peach, scored, oval-shaped), inscribed with “XANAX 0.5”
- 1 mg. tablet (blue,, scored, oval-shaped) Inscribed with “XANAX 1.0”
- 2 mg. tablet (white, multi-scored, oblong-shaped) Inscribed with “XANAX” on one side, “2” on the other side
Uses for Xanax
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), Xanax can help quiet abnormal excitement in the brain. It is often prescribed to control short-term anxiety that may be situational related, but is often used to control chronic anxiety disorder.
In addition to anxiety and panic attack, the NIH approves Xanax for treatment of premenstrual syndrome, depression, and Agoraphobia (fear of entering open or crowded places). Agoraphobia can be accompanied by panic attacks, but both conditions can occur independently. Xanax has also been used in the treatment of cancer and epilepsy.
Tell your medical care provider of all medications you are taking before beginning Xanax use (including over-the-counter medications). Inform your doctor of any level of alcohol consumption, and be aware that it is contraindicated to consume alcohol while taking benzodiazepine drugs. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, inform your doctor before taking Xanax. Inform your doctor if you are breast feeding.
Do not make changes to your Xanax dosage without consulting your doctor. Increasing the dosage of Xanax arbitrarily may increase your likelihood of developing a drug dependency or overdosing. Talk to your doctor before discontinuing the medication to avoid withdrawal symptoms by planning a slow, tapered withdrawal. The dosage generally should not be decreased by more than 0.5 mg. at three-day intervals.
Some symptoms of withdrawal that have been reported are:
- Fatigue, Headache, Blurred vision
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety, Depression
- Abnormal erratic movements
- Headache, nausea, vomiting
- Excess sweating, diarrhea, weight loss
- Decreased salivation/decreased appetite
- Irritability, Confusion
- Impaired coordination, poor muscle tone
Overdosing with Xanax can lead to impaired coordination, confusion, tiredness, subdued reflexes, comatose state, and death. Take Xanax only according to medical advice under the close supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.
Medicare Coverage of Xanax
On January 1, 2013, it became required for Medicare Part D prescription plans to cover alprazolam for patients with cancer, epilepsy, or chronic mental health conditions.
Coverage for Xanax depends on what type of Medicare benefits you have. Currently, 95% of patients with Medicare Advantage Plans or Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage will find that Xanax or its generic form (alprazolam) is a covered benefit.
Medicare Advantage Plans that include coverage of prescription medications are called Medicare Advantage with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD). About 88% of Medicare recipients have MA-PD coverage. To find out if your Medicare Advantage Plan or your Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage includes Xanax, check the formulary (list of covered medications).