Xanax, otherwise known as alprazolam, is an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication developed by Upjohn Laboratories of Kalamazoo, Michigan in the late 1960s. It was originally created to be a superior sleep aid with muscle relaxant qualities and with ongoing research, representatives of Upjohn realized its effectiveness on anxiety, panic and mood disorders.
During that time, other antidepressants were on the market (tricyclic antidepressants), proving to be harsher and more toxic. The market for benzodiazepines was sinking at the time so Upjohn attempted to reposition its benzodiazepine as a drug-specific for “panic disorder” which was being diagnosed.
Upjohn presented a new drug application to the FDA called Xanax, as an antidepressant, producing about 50 double-blind studies, proving that alprazolam was better and less toxic than other drugs available at the time. The Upjohn Company (now part of Pfizer) filed for and was granted a U.S. patent for Xanax in 1969. Xanax (alprazolam) was eventually released to the drug market in 1981.1
Xanax Used to Treat Panic Disorder
The FDA did give Upjohn approval, but then changed their minds and decided Upjohn could not launch Xanax as an antidepressant but as an anti-anxiety medication that “does not produce depression.”
Because Upjohn had already spent millions of dollars on studies of Xanax to establish that panic was really an independent disease, the FDA did not require them to compare it to placebos or other anti-anxiety medications available at that time (Valium, Librium, etc.).
By the early 1990s, Xanax had become one of the hottest drugs in psychiatry, prescribed by many psychiatrists in good faith that they were practicing scientifically and that Xanax offered unique hope in the epidemic of panic disorder sweeping the nation. Among insiders, panic jokingly became known as “the Upjohn illness.” Xanax is currently the most prescribed benzodiazepine in America.2
Xanax is a derivative of an antidepressant and also has a benzodiazepine molecule, which works to suppress the overreaction of the central nervous system. This group is called triazolobenzodiazepines (Xanax and Halcion). For many years, thousands of doctors around the world have been prescribing Xanax for the treatment of several anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and acute stress disorders. Many patients who suffer from anxiety and depression and are treated with Xanax for long periods of time, experience the antidepressant effects.
Chronically depressed patients, who begin to “feel good,” continue to take it and primarily do not develop a tolerance. Whenever they discontinue the use of Xanax, these patients become depressed again and may need help for Xanax addiction.
Patients who are treated for anxiety and panic attacks are more prone to Xanax relapse once the Xanax or alprazolam is discontinued. The most common effective dose used is 0.25 mg, taken three or four times a day. However, many patients do well with Xanax when taking it on an as-needed basis.
Xanax Side Effects
Xanax works by relaxing muscles and easing restlessness and anxiety. However, Xanax can also cause rebound symptoms. Rebound symptoms are those that mimic the original symptoms the Xanax was prescribed to treat, but they return in greater severity when the medication is stopped.
Other common side effects of Xanax use include the following:
- Mood swings or irritability
- Loss of interest in sex
- Dry mouth
- Erectile dysfunction
- Poor coordination
- Shortness of breath
- Slurred speech
- Lack of focus
- Memory problems
- Lack of inhibition
Xanax can also impair driving and is associated with an increase in falls and broken bones.3
1 “FDA Approves Pharmacia and UpJohn’s Xanax.” World History Project. Accessed Aug. 29, 2018.
2 “Alprazolam.” American Chemical Society, 29 Aug. 2018.
3 “Xanax Addiction: Symptoms, Getting Help, Detox, Treatment, and More.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 June 2018.