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Can Xanax Cause Depression? The Link Between the Two

Xanax, while primarily used for anxiety, can potentially cause depressive symptoms, especially if misused or taken without medical advice. Its relationship with depression is complex, as it may exacerbate pre-existing anxiety-related depression.

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In some individuals and under certain circumstances, Xanax can cause symptoms associated with depression, especially if it is used outside of prescription guidelines or without the recommendation of a medical professional.

Xanax Use

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Xanax is a Schedule IV drug, which means that it does come with abuse potential even though it has legitimate medical use. Generally, Xanax is used to treat anxiety disorder as well as panic disorders by decreasing activity in the brain. The medication increases GABA in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of calm and relaxation. 

People who use Xanax find it helpful for intense anxiety. When used outside of prescription guidelines, Xanax can cause physical and psychological dependence. As with any medication, Xanax use also comes with the potential for side effects, such as depression.

Understanding Depression

Depression is associated with prolonged periods of sadness, which are outside the bounds of normal fluctuations in mood. People with depression frequently feel discouraged, disillusioned, hopeless, lethargic, unmotivated, and disengaged with life in general. If these sorts of feelings last longer than two weeks or start to interfere with your work and life, it may be due to a depressive disorder.

Depression can come as the result of certain life events, such as the end of a marriage or relationship, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or other factors. Depression is also believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. For many people, depression is not linked to a specific event or change.

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, from 2015 to 2019, widespread increases in depression occurred without a correlating increase in treatment for depression. 

Depression is often experienced by those with substance use disorders (SUD), including people who misuse Xanax. While substances can cause temporary feelings of euphoria and boosted well-being, cycles of substance abuse often intensify feelings of sadness, dejection, loneliness, isolation, and hopelessness — all of which are symptoms commonly associated with depression. As a result, substance abuse can often fuel depression, and depression can often fuel substance abuse.

How Does Xanax Cause Depression? 

Experts in the medical industry and on the subject of substance abuse have yet to find conclusive evidence showing that Xanax can directly cause depression. 

Although depression is often listed as a possible side effect of taking Xanax, it remains unclear whether or not Xanax itself can make an individual feel depressed or if the depression is a result of a condition for which Xanax was originally prescribed. 

Anxiety happens to be a major risk factor for depression. People with anxiety have a far higher risk of having depression than those who do not have anxiety. It is quite common for those who live with anxiety to also live with chronic depression. 

Because of this connection, it’s difficult to determine if Xanax causes depression or augments depression that is already there. It is possible that the anxiety that Xanax was meant to treat is contributing to the depression. Some individuals report improved depression after taking Xanax.

Depression & Xanax Use

It’s important to understand that Xanax is not prescribed for depression, though it can treat anxiety that is related to depression. 

Depression can be a symptom of anxiety, but it is also listed as a possible symptom that comes along with Xanax use as well as benzodiazepine withdrawal. In short, it’s the anxiety-like symptoms that Xanax is meant to treat, not depression-associated symptoms. 

Conversely, Xanax can also be bought illicitly on the streets. Those who experience depression often try to self-medicate with drugs. Substance abuse can result in depression and augment depression-related symptoms. 

People with any sort of mood disorder are more prone to substance abuse, and this includes misuse of prescription drugs like Xanax. An individual with a mood disorder is believed to be twice as likely to develop a drug addiction than someone without a mood disorder.

Factors That Influence Depression Risk While Using Xanax 

There are a variety of factors that can influence the risk of depression in Xanax users. First, the dosage and length of time using Xanax are strong determining factors. Those who use Xanax for longer and in higher dose amounts are far more likely to develop physical and psychological dependence, which can result in depression, especially when stopping use.

Certain genetic and biological factors can influence the likelihood of experiencing side effects. An individual’s mental health profile is also a determining factor in whether or not depression will occur with Xanax use.  

Using Xanax outside of prescribed guidelines can increase the chances of negative side effects, such as depression. Combining use with other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids, can result in a number of negative side effects, including depression, addiction, and overdose.

Are There Safer Alternatives to Taking Xanax? 

Benzodiazepines use comes with the potential for various risks and side effects, including depression and even suicidal ideation. If you are already prone to depression, discuss this with your doctor before you begin taking Xanax. They may determine an alternative medication or treatment approach may work better for you.

Healthy lifestyle habits can help to reduce anxiety and depression, even if you are taking medication to manage depression and anxiety. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga, and therapy, have all been shown to be beneficial in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Experts also recommend eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and practicing self-care to further promote mental health and overall well-being.

If you have been taking Xanax and have experienced symptoms of depression, talk to your doctor promptly. It may be a sign that a change is needed in your treatment plan.

If you have been misusing Xanax or any other substance to self-medicate depression or for any other reason, it’s a sign that you likely need professional help to stop. With comprehensive addiction treatment, including therapy and treatments customized to your needs, you can begin to build a healthy life in recovery. The end result can be a happier, more balanced state of mind.

Updated February 7, 2024
Resources
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  4. Benzodiazepine Toxicity. (June 2022). StatPearls.
  5. Hooked on Benzodiazepines: GABAA Receptor Subtypes and Addiction. (April 2011). Trends in Neurosciences.
  6. Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression. (October 2011). Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience.
  7. The Critical Relationship Between Anxiety and Depression. (May 2020). The American Journal of Psychiatry.
  8. Alprazolam for Depression. (July 2012). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
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  10. Mindfulness and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in the General Population: The Mediating Roles of Worry, Rumination, Reappraisal and Suppression. (March 2019). Frontiers in Psychology.
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