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History Of Xanax

Xanax is the brand name for the drug alprazolam. It is a benzodiazepine substance, meaning that it works against anxiety (or it is an anxiolytic) and is classified as a sedative. Today, it is prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and is among the most widely used of all the benzodiazepines.

Medically, people are supposed to use Xanax to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders. However, some tend to abuse it to feel better and take the edge of daily life.

Although Xanax is one of the mainstream medications, few people know its history as well as who discovered it. Although many have tried it, only a few know that it has become ingrained in daily life and popular culture. As such, you might assume that the drug has always been around - but this is not the case.

In this guide, you will learn more about the history of Xanax, where it was created, and how it become so heavily relied upon by so many in the United Stated. Read on to find out more:

About Xanax

As mentioned above, Xanax is commonly prescribed for the treatment of panic disorders and anxiety. Also known by its chemical name - alprazolam - it works as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. It was first developed in Kalamazoo, Michigan by Upjohn Laboratories in the late 1960s.

At the time, it was designed as a superior sleeping aid but with muscle relaxing effects. However, Dr. David Sheehan researches other effects of the drug and found that it also had an impact on mood and panic disorders, as well as anxiety.

At the time, there were other antidepressants on the market - including Tricyclic antidepressants - that were proving to be more toxic and harsher meaning that patients were averse to using them.

Eventually, the market for benzodiazepine medications started shrinking. To counter this trend, Upjohn started repositioning its benzodiazepine creation as an effective drug that could work against panic disorders.

Eventually, the company applied for approval from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for their new drug. They named the formulation Xanax and presented it as an antidepressant using 50 double blind studies that proved that it (alprazolam) was less toxic and much better than the other drugs that were available in the market.

Upjohn ultimately got FDA approval. However, it decided that Xanax could not be marketed as an antidepressant. Rather, the FDA recommended that Upjohn market their new formulation as an anti-anxiety drug that could not lead to depression.

However, since Upjohn had invested millions of dollars on Xanax studies to establish panic as a separate disease, the FDA did not ask them to compare it to the other anti-anxiety drugs available at the time (including Librium and Valium) or to placebos.

30 years later, in the 90s, Xanax had already become one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in psychiatry. It was also regarded widely as a miracle cure for the panic disorder that was sweeping across the country. Insiders in the industry additionally used to joke that panic was the Upjohn illness.

The Development Of Xanax

Psychiatric treatment started becoming more common in the 1960s. Since it was becoming more popular and mainstream to receive this form of treatment, researchers and academics started looking for solutions for insomnia that was caused by anxiety.

In 1956, the first benzodiazepine came on the market thanks to the efforts of Dr. Leo Sternbach who created Librium. His aim was to come up with an alternative that was theoretically safer and less addictive than the traditional tranquilizers used at the time - including barbiturates. Eventually, he also created a whole spectrum of medications, including Klonopin and Valium.

With the passing of time and new research findings, alprazolam was eventually created by Upjohn - which later merged with Pfizer. It was released under the brand name Xanax in 1981 after its use was approved for the treatment of panic disorder.

This new drug followed in the footsteps of Valium - a drug that was ranked among the most popular medications used in the 1970s in most of America. Although Valium was so popular, it was not used to treat panic attacks and other similar disorders. This allowed the manufacturers of Xanax to see a gap in the psychiatric treatment marketplace.

As mentioned above, alprazolam first received approval by the FDA on the 16th of October 1981. In November of the same year, it was also classified as Schedule IV drug in the Controlled Substances Act.

Historically speaking, therefore, Xanax was the first benzo to receive FDA approval for the treatment of panic disorders - a feat it achieved in 1990. About 2 years after it was officially introduced into the market, the drug became a pivotal medication in the country.

Therefore, to sum up the history of Xanax, one could theoretically credit the earliest concepts of benzodiazepines to Dr. Leo Sternbach - although it is the Upjohn Company that came up with the specific formulation later known as Xanax or by its generic name alprazolam.

Dr. David Sheehan, however, was also involved in the discovery and development of this drug. He worked at Upjohn was among the initial researchers who showed how Xanax could be used in treating panic and mood disorders, as well as anxiety.

Xanax And Panic Disorder

To better understand the history of Xanax, you also need to have a short background on its effects on panic. The problem first started being diagnosed in the 50s and 60s and some antidepressants were released into the market to deal with it. However, most of them were toxic and harsh and the market for benzodiazepines was not performing as pharmaceutical companies had anticipated.

With time, however, Xanax was introduced and marketed as an effective drug in the treatment of panic disorders. At the time, existing antidepressants and benzodiazepines had not touched this concept.

Originally intended as a sleeping aid and muscle relaxant, the relationship between Xanax and panic disorders was not discovered until Dr. David Sheehan (and Upjohn) became involved. His research findings showed that alprazolam could be used to specifically treat panic disorders, and that it was more effective and less toxic than the other drugs in the market at the time.

Xanax was found to be so effective that it quickly became the most popular drug in psychiatry by the 1990s. It was commonly prescribed based on its ability to deal with the symptoms of panic disorder. The term "Upjohn illness" was eventually jokingly used to refer to panic itself.

Even today, however, Xanax is hardly ever prescribed by doctors as anti-depressant. Still, research shows that the drug has some effects in treating depression, especially when used in the long term.

Over time, Upjohn was acquired by Pharmacia (a Swedish pharmaceutical company) before Pfizer Pharmaceutical came on the scene acquired both companies. Today, Pfizer is the official manufacturer and marketer of Xanax.

Similarly, benzodiazepines are currently the most commonly used drugs for anxiety - and among them Xanax is the most popular medication.

How Xanax Works

Alprazolam is derived from an antidepressant. It also contains benzodiazepine molecules that are effective at suppressing the CNS (central nervous system) and ensuring that it does not overreact. The group of drugs - including Halcion and Xanax - is commonly referred to as triazolobenzodiazepines.

That said, doctors around the globe have been prescribing Xanax for many years in the treatment of several acute stress disorders, panic disorders, and anxiety disorders. Most patients suffering from depression and anxiety receive this prescription and are required to use it for extended periods. However, this also means that they eventually start experiencing its antidepressant effects.

As a direct result, patients who are diagnosed as being chronically depressed and get a prescription for Xanax may start feeling good whenever they take it. This means that they might continue taking it without necessarily developing physical tolerance.

However, if they decide to stop using the drug, they may experience reverse depression. At this point, it means that they are in dire need of help for Xanax addiction. In fact, patients who take this medication for their panic attacks and anxiety are more prone to a relapse once it is discontinued.

Today, Xanax is a name used all around the world - except in some Latin American countries where it is commonly prescribed as tafil. A variety of other brand names are also used in other regions of the globe.

That said, the most common and effective dose given is 0.25 mg - to be used 3 or 4 times daily. However, most patients receive the benefits of Xanax relatively fast and easy, and doctors may recommend that they only use it on an as needed basis.

After Pharmacia acquired Upjohn, however, it continued the research on the drug and came up with Xanax-XR that is sold as a prescription in measurements of 1, 2, and 3 mg that should be used once daily.

Today, Xanax is commonly distinguished by the following characteristics:

  • A short half-life, meaning that it is eliminated from the body faster than most of the other benzodiazepines that are sold as prescriptions, including Librium and Valium
  • The immediate and almost instantaneous onset of its action

As a direct result, Xanax is widely used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. This is because it provides fast relief from the symptoms arising from these disorders. What is more, the drug does not show any decrease in its efficacy over time - even for people use it for a number of years.

Effectively, Xanax is similar to many other sedative and anxiolytic drugs in the sense that it works by binding itself to the GABA (or y-aminobutyric acid A) receptors inside the brain. By so doing, the drug will work to decrease the level of activity of in the brain.

It also activated the GABA receptors, meaning that it can reduce the feelings of panic and anxiety you may be feeling. However, the drug may additionally produce intense euphoria, especially if you take higher than normal doses. This may cause some users to start abusing the medication to achieve these desirable effects.

Xanax Abuse, Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction, And Withdrawal

Originally, the common belief was that benzodiazepines came with little to no potential for misuse and addiction. However, withdrawal symptoms and dependence are now widely associated with these drugs - including but not limited to alprazolam.

Therefore, when you stop taking Xanax suddenly - even if you have been using it exactly as your doctor prescribed and recommended - you may experience severe withdrawal symptoms. If this should happen, your doctor might gradually reduce your usual dose over a given period of time before ultimately discontinuing its use altogether.

On the other hand, if you become dependent on Xanax outside the direction and precise prescription of a doctor, you may experience pronounced withdrawal, which is symptomatized by the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Convulsions
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

In spite of the problems commonly associated with withdrawal and abuse, Xanax is still widely prescribed. This is because it is still one of the most effective medications for dealing with anxiety.

Additionally, laboratory studies and research are yet to suggest that its potential for abuse is lower than other alternatives that have been on the market longer. However, this does not necessarily mean that Xanax does not have any potential for misuse and addiction.

In fact, if you take inappropriate doses or use alprazolam for non-medical reasons, you might quickly create problems for yourself. For instance, when you become dependent on it, you may start seeking it out and buying it illicitly on the street for non-medical purposes.

Xanax And Law

Xanax is only available as a prescription medication in the US. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Authority) further classifies it as a Schedule IV controlled drug, meaning that it comes with a relatively low potential for dependence and abuse.

However, over the last few years, the rates of Xanax abuse has been increasing. This has led to greater efforts to restrict its use even further. Tennessee, for instance, has enacted rules that now require doctors and physicians to:

  • Check the drug history of their patients in the state-wide database before they prescribe medications like Xanax
  • Prescribe a 30-day supply (at the maximum) of Xanax at any given time

In the same way, pharmacists and doctors are now legally required to keep highly detailed records when dispensing or prescribing alprazolam. If you are found to have Xanax without a legal prescription, you might be subject to:

  • Getting incarcerated for up to 5 years, if it is your first offense
  • Spending a maximum of 10 years in prison for a second offense

The legal penalties apply irrespective of the quantity of the drug found in your possession. This means that even if you just have a single pill of Xanax, you can still suffer these penalties.


Overall, Xanax abuse is a growing problem that needs to be mitigated before it gets out of hand. If you know that you are addicted to it - or someone you love is dependent on the drug - the best thing you can do is seek testing, detox, rehabilitation, and treatment at an inpatient rehab center. This is because you may have already developed a substance use disorder that could wreck untold damage to your life, health, and body.








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