What is anxiety?

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. It’s something hard-wired into our genes as a survival characteristic. Because we can foresee possible problems and danger ahead, we naturally move more cautiously until we have passed through. The disorder comes when we begin to see problems where none exist. Anxiety is useful when it helps us defend ourselves. It gets in the way when we are worried all the time for no particular reason.

How does Xanax help?

This is a fast-acting drug to relieve anxiety and reduce the risk of panic attacks. It changes some of the chemistry of the brain so we grow more calm. In some ways, it works like some of the sleeping pills and muscle relaxants by encouraging us to rest and relaxing tense muscles.

What is the problem?

The majority of people find Xanax works fast and well. When we have been through a bad patch with anxiety out of control, the sense of relief following Xanax is a temptation. Why should we go back to the anxiety when we have Xanax? This is understandable except Xanax is only intended to be taken over the short term. In fact, Xanax is one of the most misused drugs. As you take it, your body slowly adjusts. This is called tolerance and, over time, Xanax becomes less effective. This pushes people into increasing the dosage and, before too long, you are dependent on a drug that is increasingly ineffective but will cause serious withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop.

What is the best treatment strategy?

You have to see Xanax as a first step to producing an overall reduction in anxiety levels and the number of panic attacks. This means counseling and therapy are the key long-term treatments. Even though many of you may not have health insurance, or the health plans do not cover counseling in all cases, the strategy is to learn practical coping strategies for everyday situations. With new skills, you can face life without becoming dependent on Xanax.

Why take Xanax at all?

To get the most benefit out of counseling and therapy, your head must be in the game. That means using Xanax to calm and relax you. Only then will you get the best out of the therapy sessions. A further difficulty is the shortage of therapists. There can be quite long delays before you can get an appointment. Using Xanax to keep you calm while you wait is useful — but not for too long. Remember the risk of dependence if you take Xanax for too long.