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Halcion vs. Xanax: What Are the Differences Between the Two?

Halcion and Xanax are similar in many ways, but these medications are used differently. Halcion is more potent and usually only used to treat insomnia, while Xanax is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder.

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Halcion vs. Xanax

Halcion is a brand name for the drug triazolam. This is a short-acting benzodiazepine used to treat insomnia. It comes in the form of a tablet that is usually taken up to once a day as needed before bed.

Xanax  is a brand name for the drug alprazolam. This is a longer acting benzodiazepine than Halcion that is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax comes in the form of an oral tablet, with more varied dosing than Halcion. Alprazolam is also available in other forms as well for individuals who don’t want to take an oral tablet. 

Fundamentally, these two drugs share many similarities, as they are both benzodiazepines. This is a type of medication that works by slowing activity in the brain, producing a generally calming, sedating effect on users, at least when used as prescribed. 

For the most part, benzodiazepines have replaced the role that barbiturates historically served. Benzodiazepines are usually safer than barbiturates, although they still have some abuse and addiction potential.

Quick Reference Chart: Halcion vs. Xanax

 Halcion (Triazolam)Xanax (Alprazolam)
Drug TypeBenzodiazepineBenzodiazepine
Primary UseTreats insomniaTreats anxiety disorders and panic disorder
DosingUsually 0.25 mg once daily0.25 mg to 3 mg three times a day
Length of UseIdeally short-term useIdeally short-term use

Similarities & Differences

The following are some notable similarities and differences between these two medications:

Drug Basics

The primary active ingredients in these two drugs, triazolam and alprazolam, are both benzodiazepines. 

Triazolam, the drug in Halcion, has a stronger and more immediate effect but is shorter lasting. Alprazolam, the drug in Xanax, has a longer half-life, taking more time for the body to fully process it.


Halcion is primarily used as a short-term treatment for insomnia. Its fairly intense, immediate sedating effect means it will generally be too debilitating to be a useful treatment for anxiety and panic symptoms. In fact, it is so strong that it isn’t usually recommended for a person to take Halcion unless they intend to lie down within a few minutes and stay in bed for at least seven to eight hours. 

Xanax is primarily used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder. As a benzodiazepine, it can help calm the negative feelings these disorders can cause, with an effect that isn’t as potent as Halcion, so an individual can still generally go about their daily activities after taking it. It is also sometimes used to treat depression, agoraphobia, and premenstrual syndrome.

According to one study, both triazolam and alprazolam can be used as premedication before surgery, with the study seeming to show triazolam may be generally better for this purpose. Benzodiazepines are often used to make the surgery process less stressful. 

They can also sometimes cause amnesia, as this study showed triazolam was sometimes able to do (but not alprazolam). This can make the often alien process of being transported from a ward to the operating room less impactful on the patient, simply because they are unable to remember it.


For its primary purpose, as a sleeping aid, Halcion has a recommended dosage of 0.25 mg once daily, as needed, taken before bed. Some patients, such as those of small builds, can sometimes take half that dose. The maximum recommended dose is 0.5 mg once a day, which is only prescribed after a period of trying the medication at a smaller dose.

Xanax has more varied dosages, but it is generally taken at a dose of 0.25 mg to 3 mg three times a day, depending on whether a patient is taking it for an anxiety or panic disorder, the severity of their symptoms, and their body type. 

In the case of both medications, these drugs should only ever be taken as prescribed. If the current dose you are taking doesn’t provide the needed relief or is causing unwanted side effects, talk to a doctor before making any changes in how you take your medication.

Length of Use

Benzodiazepines are usually only recommended for short-term use, if possible. After a period of about two weeks, a patient will often become physically dependent on a benzodiazepine, even if only taking the drug as prescribed. This means they will experience undesirable side effects due to withdrawal if they then try to stop or significantly reduce how much of the drug they’re taking.

Benzodiazepines are sometimes used on a long-term basis, but only if a better alternative isn’t available, and the relief the medication provides outweighs the potential harm and increased abuse and addiction risk associated with taking the medication for a longer period. 

Note that physical dependence isn’t addiction, although many people who have a drug addiction are also dependent on that same drug. It’s still best to avoid physical dependence since it greatly increases the likelihood of benzo abuse and addiction.

Side Effects

Both of these medications are associated with similar side effects, which can include the following:

  • Appetite fluctuations
  • Changes in sex drive 
  • Constipation
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Urination problems
  • Shakiness
  • Lethargy
  • Dry mouth
  • Head pain
  • Increased salivation
  • Irritability
  • Joint pain
  • Faintness
  • Nausea
  • Talkativeness
  • Exhaustion
  • Weight changes

Halcion will cause severe drowsiness in a user. Because it’s only supposed to be taken at night, many of these side effects will often be more obvious in people using Xanax, which can be used during the day. 

Dangers & Warnings

Both of these medications should only be used as prescribed. Abusing them can cause a variety of issues, including serious lapses in memory and severe drowsiness. 

Halcion especially should only be used if you intend to go to bed shortly. It should never be used if you expect you may need to drive or otherwise operate heavy machinery within seven to eight hours.

Both medications have some level of abuse and addiction potential, causing a euphoric, sedative high if misused. They can cause respiratory depression, which has the potential to become life-threatening, especially if you mix their use with other drugs that have a similar effect, such as alcohol or opioids. 

On a similar note, benzodiazepines can react dangerously to some substances, including certain medications and herbal supplements. Talk to a medical professional before taking these medications with these types of substances. Avoid any recreational substance use when taking these medications.

These medications can sometimes cause sudden changes in mental health, especially if misused. This may lead to memory problems, a feeling of being outside your own body, difficulty concentrating, and changes in mood. It can even worsen depression or lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately.

In rare cases, some people may have an allergic reaction to their medication, which may cause serious, life-threatening symptoms that make breathing difficult. 

Updated March 21, 2024
  1. Alprazolam. (May 2021). National Library of Medicine.
  2. Benzodiazepines. (November 2022). StatPearls.
  3. HALCION, CIV Dosage and Administration. Pfizer.
  4. Triazolam. (May 2021). National Library of Medicine.
  5. Use of Triazolam and Alprazolam as Premedication for General Anesthesia. August 2015). Korean Journal of Anesthesiology.
  6. Xanax Dosage, Forms, and Strengths. SingleCare.
  7. A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal. (March 2018). Journal of Addiction Medicine.
  8. Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse. (September 2015). Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.
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