Can Xanax Help Me Get a Grasp on My OCD Symptoms?

People, who struggle with anxiety conditions, like OCD, tend to look for ways to combat or control their intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and ritualistic behaviors (compulsions). One such option is medication. Medications are often the “go-to” treatments for a host of mental health conditions because they are fast-acting and accessible. Some people take medications in conjunction with OCD therapies, while others take them alone.

Still, it is important to understand that most medications, regardless of their purposes, come with side effects and complications. So, finding the right OCD medication is crucial. One of the most prescribed anti-anxiety medicines on the market is Xanax (alprazolam). Although Xanax appears to be extremely effective for reducing anxiety symptoms, studies suggest that it could do more harm than good when used for OCD symptoms.

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What Are Benzos?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines, also referred to as “benzos,” are not usually prescribed for OCD, because they have been deemed ineffective for this cause. Studies also suggest that “benzos” like Xanax may not be a safe OCD treatment. Although most mental health providers do not support using “benzos” to treat OCD symptoms, researchers have found that approximately 38% of people with OCD have used them at one time or the other.

What Are the Most Common “Benzos” Used to Treat OCD Symptoms?

Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are typically used to treat anxiety symptoms. OCD is an anxiety condition, which is why some psychiatrists and medical doctors prescribe it to people, who are struggling with OCD. The problem is “benzos,” like Xanax, can worsen OCD symptoms, making them a poor OCD treatment option.

Although not recommended, the most common “benzos” used to treat OCD symptoms are:

  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Valium
  • Klonopin

What is Xanax?

Xanax (alprazolam) is one of the most prescribed anti-anxiety medications in the world. As prefaced above, Xanax is a benzodiazepine (“benzo”) and anxiolytic (a drug that reduces anxiety). However, it is also used as a muscle relaxant, sedative, hypnotic, and anti-convulsant.

Xanax is a “go-to” anti-anxiety medications because it works quickly. In fact, it is possible to get mild relief in as little as 10-15 minutes – with most people noticing a noticeable difference in their anxiety within 60 minutes.

This medication is used for all types of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, everyday anxiety, panic disorder, panic attacks, phobias, etc. Xanax is designed to bind with GABA receptors in the brain. When this occurs, it produces anxiolytic properties that help calm anxiety. Most people, who take Xanax, do not experience allergic reactions, which is why it is commonly prescribed for anxiety.

Many psychologists believe that Xanax is either prescribed erroneously or prescribed too much – when therapy, lifestyle changes, and self-help tools are just as effective. This medication is almost always prescribed by a psychiatrist or medical doctor. Understand, however, that Xanax should never be the first-line treatment for anxiety or OCD.

Rather, it should be the last resort – after you have tried several less invasive OCD treatments (i.e., online OCD treatment programs, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy, and/or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), exercise, healthy foods, herbal or vitamin supplements, keeping busy, journaling, practicing yoga or stress management techniques, engaging in mindfulness meditation, etc.) without success.

Note: Even though many people find it easier to pop a pill in their mouth to combat anxiety, the best results involve using medication and therapy.

Is a Prescription Required?

Yes, a prescription is required, however, Xanax can also be purchased illegally off of the street.

Xanax is offered in pill form in the following dosages:

  • 0.25mg
  • 0.5mg
  • 1mg
  • 2mg

Keep in mind that higher doses of Xanax may take longer to fully metabolize in the body.

The lowest Xanax dosage (.25mg) is usually recommended in the beginning to see how your body responds to it. Afterward, the dosage can be gradually increased until you hit that “sweet spot” (or relief). The maximum “safe” Xanax dosage is 10mg daily.

Some people may take .05 (5x) a day, while others may take 5mg (2x) a day. Some doctors prescribe smaller increments like 1mg a couple times a day. The maintenance dosage is usually 3 to 6mg orally, per day, preferably in the mornings.

Note: Xanax is normally broken down into 2, 3, 4, or 5 doses, per day, but this varies depending on the doctor and individual.

My Doctor Prescribed Xanax for My OCD Symptoms – Are There Any Side Effects I Should Be Aware Of?

Yes, there are some side effects that you should be aware of, such as:

  • Mental Confusion
  • Upset Stomach, Abdominal Pain, and/or Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache/Migraines
  • Slowed Breathing
  • Fainting
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness or Vertigo
  • Dry “Cotton” Mouth
  • Memory Loss
  • Weak or Shallow Breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Impulsivity
  • Increased Energy
  • Insomnia or a Decreased Need for Sleep
  • Racing Thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Talkativeness
  • Double Vision
  • Jaundice (Yellow Skin or Eyes)
  • Changes in Sex Drive
  • Poor Motor Skills & Coordination
  • Lack of Concentration
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Sedation
  • Depression
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
  • Allergic Dermatitis
  • Ataxia
  • Flushness (a warm sensation in the body)
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Nervousness

Should I Be Worried About Taking Xanax?

Yes and no…

It depends on why you are taking it, how long you have been taking it, your body chemistry, and other factors.

Xanax works. It has been prescribed for anxiety conditions and panic attacks for decades. And, there has been tremendous research conducted on its effectiveness and safety. As a result, researchers have concluded that it is beneficial for anxiety sufferers. Even the generic versions of Xanax have a high success rate. So, for all intents and purposes, Xanax works extremely well for most anxiety conditions – and continues to provide anxiety relief for many years.

So, what is the problem?

Well, one of the problems is Xanax is often prescribed as the sole anxiety or OCD treatment, without considering other options or combining it with OCD therapy. The best-case scenario, at least with anxiety, is to combine Xanax with CBT, ERP therapy, and/or ACT. If there is no backup plan, and the medication is suddenly stopped for some reason, the anxiety and OCD symptoms will return, probably worse than before.

Also, it is important to understand that taking Xanax for anxiety and OCD symptoms can lead to prescription drug addiction (a psychological and physical dependence on the medication). In other words, your body could get used to the effects of Xanax. When this occurs the effects of the medication diminish, requiring more of it to get the same effects – anxiety-relief. For some people, this typically occurs after about 6 months, while for others, it may take a couple of years.

But, regardless, at some point, Xanax will likely stop working altogether. Understand that when you start taking Xanax your body quits producing GAMA (it no longer needs to produce it because you are getting it from the medication), causing you to become dependent on it.

Once you become dependent on Xanax, you need more of it to cope with your anxiety and manage your OCD symptoms. At this point, your body does not know how to deal with your anxiety and OCD any other way. As a result, your first inclination is to return to the medication. But if you are unable to get the medication, there is a possibility your anxiety and OCD symptoms could worsen.

Xanax can also cause severe withdrawal symptoms, such as alcoholism, panic attacks, memory loss, aches and pains, high blood pressure, headache/migraines, gastrointestinal distress (i.e., nausea, upset stomach, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, and/or diarrhea), insomnia, rigid muscles, profuse sweating, nightmares or night terrors, extreme mood swings, anger and aggression, hallucinations, delusions, seizures, and/or suicidal ideation.

Thus, you must be slowly weaned off the medication if you need to stop taking it. Gradual cessation of the medication can decrease the likelihood that you will experience withdrawal symptoms or an OCD relapse.

Conversely, suddenly stopping Xanax can be life-threatening. Keep in mind that the purpose of Xanax is to “depress” or “slow down” your central nervous system (CNS), leading to “slower” breathing and heart rates, a lower body temperature, etc. When this medication is abruptly eliminated from your system, it can cause a host of problems, such as seizures, mental confusion, coma, or death.

It is also important to alert your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Severe Lung or Breathing Conditions (i.e., COPD, Sleep Apnea, Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, COVID, etc.)
  • Liver or Kidney Disease
  • Personal or Family History of Substance Abuse or Addiction
  • Glaucoma

Also, alert your doctor if you are taking the following products because they may interact with Xanax, thereby, altering its effects:

  • Kava
  • Sodium Oxybate
  • Ketoconazole or Itraconazole (Azole Antifungal Agents)
  • Serzone (Nefazodone)
  • Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
  • Erythromycin or Clarithromycin (Macrolide Antibiotics)
  • Tagamet (Cimetidine)
  • Propoxyphene (Opioid)
  • Oral Contraceptives (Birth Control Pills)

Note: Do not take Xanax if you are pregnant or breastfeeding because it could harm your baby.

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How Long Does Xanax Stay in the Body?

The amount of time Xanax stays in the body can range from 30 hours to 6 days. However, this timeframe largely depends on your body chemistry, age, ethnicity, liver function, metabolism, medicine interactions, length of time taking it, weight, dosage, and the reason for the medication. For most, the sedative effects usually wear off between 6 and 12 hours.

Note: Researchers suggest that the half-life of Xanax, ranges from 6 to 27 hours – with the average being 11 hours.

What Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms Should I Look Out For?

It is important to not stop taking Xanax without talking with your doctor first, because doing so can serious withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Mild Dysphoria (Uneasiness and Restlessness)
  • Insomnia or Sleeplessness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Excessive Perspiration (Profusely Sweating)
  • Tremors (“The Shakes”)
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations

Note: Even though long-term Xanax use has been linked to serious health issues, it is important to consult with your doctor before stopping it. Withdrawing from Xanax can be dangerous without strict supervision. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience the withdrawal symptoms listed above.

What Is It Like to Take Xanax for OCD?

According to many OCD sufferers, Xanax has a sedating or calming effect on their anxiety, which in turn, eases their OCD symptoms (obsessions and compulsions). However, Xanax users also report that the medication makes them feel more tired than usual.

These individuals report that Xanax “quiets” their minds, so they have fewer intrusive thoughts, urges, mental images, etc. The soothing sensations that Xanax produces in the body can cause some OCD sufferers to fall asleep or pass out for a couple of hours. However, this is rare once your body becomes acclimated to the medicine.

In severe cases, some OCD sufferers have reported memory loss or “blacking out” for a while. These individuals are typically unable to recall what happened during this time. Keep in mind, however, that the higher the dose of Xanax, the stronger the effects.

Listed below is a real account of what it is like to take Xanax for OCD:

Armin

“My doctor prescribed Xanax to me to help with panic attacks and “emergency” situations. She prescribed (10) 1mg. Tablets a month, and they really seem to help when I am having a rough day. It does not make me feel “high” or “drugged,” it simply calms my nerves and returns to my personal baseline.

I also take Prozac and it has helped me a lot. Prozac, Xanax, and OCD therapy has really changed my life, so I feel better. It is also helped my relationships. I used to drink alcohol but I had to stop it about a year ago because it made my anxiety and OCD symptoms worse. So, I had stopped drinking before I was prescribed Xanax.

In my opinion, the temporary “happy feelings” I got from drinking did not stop me from being stuck in my home (avoidance), unable to interact with people in a healthy way, constantly needing reassurance from friends and family, and being prevented from living my best life. In other words, there is not an alcoholic beverage in the world that is worth more than my sanity.

Of course, I can still have a drink or two every once in a while, once you start taking Xanax, however, I would talk to a doctor before doing so. I truly believe this medication helps with anxiety and OCD.”

Lima

“Xanax makes everything better…until it doesn’t. Eventually, tolerance sets in. If it was not for that I would likely still be taking it and all would be well. I have been off and on Xanax for 17 years. Then, I was switched to Klonopin and was on that for 3 years. It did not work so I was switched back to Xanax for my OCD symptoms. It worked for a little while then all hell broke loose and my anxiety and OCD symptoms returned like a runaway train.

I felt horrible. I became paranoid, angry, moody, and just plain irritable. And, this is while I was taking the medication. I felt like I wanted to die. Then, I became addicted to Xanax. I could not get off of it. I craved it. So, now I am grappling with Xanax addiction and severe anxiety and OCD symptoms. Do not go this route. Try something else like SSRIs (antidepressants). They work better for OCD anyway.”

Can Xanax Cure My OCD?

No, Xanax is not a magic pill.

Xanax “dulls” but does not “cure” OCD. In other words, if you stop taking it, your anxiety will likely return with a vengeance. Xanax is linked to side effects, tolerance, and addiction. Because Xanax “dulls” your anxiety and OCD symptoms, it only masks the symptoms. What does that mean? It means your OCD symptoms are still lurking in the background – ready to pop back out at moment’s notice.

What is Better for OCD Symptoms – SSRIs (Antidepressants) or “Benzos” Like Xanax?

Well, most experts and researchers agree that the most effective way to treat OCD is with a combination of SSRIs (i.e., Paxil, Luvox, Prozac, Zoloft, etc.), therapy (i.e., CBT, ERP therapy, and/or ACT), lifestyle changes, and self-help tools (i.e., Impulse Therapy).

What Are Other Ways That I Can Control My Anxiety and OCD Symptoms?

Well, the easiest and quickest way to see improvement in your anxiety and OCD symptoms is to make lifestyle changes, like changing your diet, and getting more exercise and sleep. However, some natural remedies may also help ease your symptoms. These natural remedies may include vitamin and herbal supplements, acupuncture, CBD, removing caffeine, sugar, salt, fatty and processed foods, and eliminating alcohol, nicotine, and drugs from your system, drinking more water.

Self-help tools may also be beneficial for OCD sufferers. These self-help tools may include practicing stress-management techniques like journaling, deep breathing exercises, hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, and/or yoga, which may provide some anxiety and OCD relief. Another highly effective anxiety and OCD treatment option is Impulse Therapy. Impulse Therapy is an online OCD treatment aid that can help you get a grip on your symptoms so you can have a “normal” and healthy life – free of non-stop obsessions and compulsions.

Our self-help OCD therapy course has helped 1000s of OCD sufferers since 2018.

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Jennifer S

Author

DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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