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Depression and Xanax: Does Xanax Make Depression Worse?

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 27th, 2021

James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Xanax for the treatment of panic disorders and anxiety. Therefore, doctors usually do not prescribe Xanax for patients diagnosed with depression, but, sometimes, they do.

In the 1990s, studies showed that Xanax was an effective remedy for major depressive disorder. Physicians prescribed twice the dose for depression that they prescribed for anxiety, and it appeared to work very well.

The decision to write prescriptions for high doses of Xanax was a controversial move because Xanax is highly addictive at higher dosages when the patient is taking it for a length of time that is longer than three months. In addition to that, Xanax is a sedative, so it tends to cause depression in patients. It also makes the depression worse if a patient is already experiencing depressive symptoms.

How Does Xanax Work on Depression?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine that is known as a mild tranquilizer. Therefore, it slows the central nervous system and brain down so that the body relaxes by increasing the amount of GABA. This reduces anxiety, but it also tends to put people to sleep. Other people may experience euphoria and a feeling of well-being.

The increase of GABA in the brain means that there is an increased number of GABA neurotransmitters that are also known as “natural tranquilizers.” The body is the one that is making the tranquilizers; Xanax only causes the body to increase its production.

As a depressant of the central nervous system, Xanax helps control the emotions when they are behaving erratically, and in the process, the drug can cause euphoric feelings. If it works too well, it will produce depressive symptoms.

If Xanax was prescribed for those experiencing depression first, the users might begin to have depressive symptoms again after they stop taking it.

In 1996, 8.1 million people filled a prescription for benzodiazepines. In 2013, 13.5 million people filled prescriptions for benzodiazepines. This is a 67% increase.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder, and it is one of the most common disorders. Depression requires treatment when people cannot carry out their daily activities because of their depressive symptoms. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depression consists of at least 14 days of a loss of interest in daily activities accompanied by a depressed mood. Depressed people may have difficulties eating, sleeping, and concentrating. They may also feel worthless and have low levels of energy.

Approximately 17.3 million adults experienced at least one depressive episode in 2017. This is 7.1% of the adult population of the United States. More women than men experienced depression, with 8.7% of the ladies and 5.3% of the men reporting feelings of depression that year. As much as 13.1% of this population was between the ages of 18 and 25.

Depression may result from a chemical imbalance in the brain, a hormonal imbalance, or because of substances.

When substance use is the cause of depression, the condition typically disappears when the person gets treatment for the substance use disorder. Even so, some people may experience depression even after they stop taking Xanax. As a matter of fact, depression is a side effect of Xanax. When people experiencing depression begin to take Xanax, their depression tends to get worse.

America’s Other Prescription Drug Crisis

The rules for prescribing benzodiazepines include the instruction that physicians must only give patients prescriptions for Xanax, for example, for a period of two to four weeks. If the case warrants it, physicians may prescribe benzodiazepines for a longer period. Benzodiazepine prescriptions are part of America’s “other prescription drug crisis.”

Benzodiazepines have a high potential to cause a physical addiction, and it isn’t easy for people to conquer their addictions. That’s the reason that the DEA recommends that physicians only prescribe these drugs as short-term remedies for anxiety or depression. In addition to the danger of causing addiction, benzodiazepines also react badly when they are mixed with alcohol and opioids.

Is There a Link Between Xanax and Depression?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine, and benzodiazepines suppress the central nervous system. A side effect of this suppression is depression, so Xanax does have the tendency to cause depression. Therefore, if someone is already experiencing depression, this person should not take Xanax.

Even though benzodiazepines may cause depression, many physicians are still prescribing them for vulnerable patients. Benzodiazepines are efficient remedies for depression if the patient takes them for less than six weeks. What has been happening over the years is that physicians continue to refill these prescriptions for much longer periods of time.

Anxiety disorders and panic disorders are conditions for which physicians prescribe Xanax. It is very common for patients to present themselves in a doctor’s office and to complain of both anxiety and depression. In fact, anxiety is a symptom of depression. Conversely, people begin to experience depression because of their anxiety symptoms.

Xanax may help those experiencing anxiety and depression, but they may continue to take the medication long past the 12-week mark. These people may try to stop taking Xanax, but as they do stop, they may notice that they are beginning to feel depressed again. Because of this return of symptoms, they go back to Xanax; however, the truth may be that the withdrawal symptoms are the reason that they feel the way that they do.

Suicide and Xanax

Xanax can cause serious side effects, including:

  • Lack of coordination or balance
  • The ability to hurt others
  • Attempted suicide
  • Differences in mood or behavior
  • Difficulties speaking
  • Confusion
  • Problems with memory
  • Depression
  • Yellow eyes or skin
  • A very bad rash
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath

Anyone experiencing the side effects listed above must notify their physicians immediately.

Xanax and Alcohol Together

People can experience suicidal thoughts from Xanax, but if they are taking Xanax and other substances, the likelihood of experiencing the side effects listed above increases. As a matter of fact, when people drink alcohol and ingest Xanax at the same time, they increase the likelihood of experiencing side effects for both substances.

Researchers believe that the addition of alcohol into the mix increases the amount of Xanax in the bloodstream. When the mix with the bloodstream occurs, this increases the high that people experience, and it also increases the side effects.

Although alcohol is a depressant, it improves some people’s moods. It can also increase the feelings of sadness in other people. Alcohol is also a substance that makes people feel less inhibited, and when it is consumed with Xanax, people may be willing to do many things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do. One large study demonstrated the fact that when depressed adults ingested alcohol, they reported having suicidal thoughts.

Xanax and Opioids

Several people are also combining Xanax with opioid medications. In 2016, 16% of the overdose deaths were due to opioids and benzodiazepines. The reason that it is especially dangerous to take opioids with Xanax is that both opioids and Xanax are depressants. This means that they both cause users to become sedated, and they both suppress breathing. When these effects occur, it often leads to an overdose.

The combination of Xanax and opioids is dangerous, but physicians are still prescribing both medications for the same patient, and the number of users taking both is growing. In 2001, 9% of patients received prescriptions for both benzodiazepines and opioids. In 2013, this number increased to 17%. This study found that those taking both benzodiazepines and opioids were more likely to need to go to the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital because of a drug-related incident.

In addition to the danger presented when people combine these medications, there is also the increased risk that misusing Xanax adds to the equation. For example, some people crush their Xanax pills so that they can snort them. This increases their risk of overdosing on the drug.

Insomnia and Depression

One of the most common signs of depression is the patient’s inability to fall asleep, and Xanax can also cause insomnia. This is especially true if the person is misusing Xanax. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the best treatments for insomnia, and it has the effect of reducing the number of suicidal thoughts that patients have.

Dependence or Addiction?

People have been known to develop a dependence on Xanax. When they begin to misuse the drug, this is the likely outcome. For example, people begin to take Xanax in a manner in which their doctors did not prescribe, and they become addicted. They may take larger doses than their doctors prescribed, or they may take it more often than prescribed.

Because Xanax can result in a physical addiction or dependence, withdrawal symptoms may occur when people stop taking the medication without consulting their physicians first. These withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Tingling, numbness, burning, or pain in the feet or hands
  • Vomiting
  • Cramps or twitching in the muscles
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Problems concentrating
  • Difficulties falling asleep or waking up throughout the night
  • Sweating
  • A difference in the sense of smell
  • An increase in sensitivity to light or noise
  • Blurry vision
  • Headache
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Seizures

Getting Help

Admitting that you need help with your addiction to Xanax and other substances is the first step to getting back to the happy life that you used to have. Because of the physical dependence upon Xanax and other substances, it will be extremely difficult for you to conquer this obstacle on your own. Many people need help with ending their drug use, so you are certainly not alone.

When the withdrawal symptoms start, they make it very difficult for you to refrain from using the drugs again, but at Granite Recovery Center, we can help you endure the detoxification process in our treatment program.

Detoxification is when the body metabolizes the toxins that the drugs left in your system. When all of the drugs are out of your system, withdrawal symptoms will no longer be able to entice you to continue to take the drugs. Then, you will have the greatest chances of conquering your psychological addiction to Xanax and other substances. At Granite Recovery Center, we offer an inpatient treatment program and an outpatient treatment program for this purpose. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

You may have been prescribed Xanax to treat anxiety or depression, and this is what led to your dependence or addiction to the substance. These are known as “co-occurring” disorders, and we can treat you at the Granite Recovery Center if you need to enter into a dual diagnosis program. Our medical professionals will diagnose and treat any mental health conditions that you have, and our counselors and therapists will treat you for your substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one need help with an addiction to substances, contact us today.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.