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Buspirone vs. Xanax: Similarities, Differences, and Dangers

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When medications are prescribed for similar reasons, some people compare and contrast them to learn whether one is better or more effective than the other.

You may be doing that if you are comparing the similarities, differences, and dangers of buspirone and Xanax, two medications commonly prescribed for anxiety.

Anxiety affects nearly 40 million U.S. adults, reports the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), so finding relief is a priority for many people who have it. 

Below, we look at both drugs and offer information that can help you decide which one you want to take. 

Consult with a doctor or another medical professional to make the best decision for you.

Buspirone and Xanax: What Are They?

Buspirone

Buspirone is an anxiolytic medication prescribed to help people manage the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It was once called BuSpar before it was discontinued, but it is still available in generic form. 

It depresses the central nervous system and helps people manage anxiety symptoms without the strong effects or addiction potential of benzodiazepines (benzos), a class of potent medications. 

Buspirone comes in tablet form and can be taken orally two or three times daily with or without food. People who use it should take the medication, in the same manner, to ensure that the body absorbs it as intended.

Xanax

Xanax (alprazolam) is a powerful benzodiazepine medication that is also prescribed to people with anxiety disorders and those with anxiety related to various phobias. They may also be prescribed to address panic disorders or sleep disturbances. 

Xanax comes in pill or liquid form of varying dosages. People who use Xanax typically begin to feel its calming effects within 15-60 minutes after taking it. These effects can last for a few hours as the drug works. It has a half-life of about 11 hours in healthy adults and exits the body quickly once it is processed.

Similarities and Differences of Buspirone, Anxiety


While Buspirone and Xanax are prescribed to treat conditions stemming from anxiety, they share some things in common, including that they are both prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. They are also both legally available through a doctor’s prescription.

They do have differences that users should be aware of, especially if they are trying to determine which is the better option for them. Here are some of the differences between them:

They Affect Different Chemicals in the Brain

Xanax, like most benzodiazepines, binds with gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain.

Buspirone affects serotonin receptors, which help regulate mood, sleep, learning, anxiety, and stress. According to Mayo Clinic, “Buspirone is thought to work by decreasing the amount and actions of a chemical known as serotonin in certain parts of the brain.” 

Xanax, like other benzodiazepines, suppress the central nervous system. They work by binding to certain gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain to slow down nerve cell activity. 

Their Side Effects Are Different

Buspirone and Xanax are in different classes of drugs, so their side effects are different, as MedicineNet notes.

A person taking buspirone may experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness 
  • Lightheadedness
  • Excitement
  • Insomnia

A person taking Xanax may experience side effects that are different from those of buspirone, and some of them are the opposite of those that occur with the use of that drug. They are:

  • Drowsiness, sleepiness (versus buspirone, which causes insomnia)
  • Tiredness (versus buspirone, which causes nervousness, excitement)
  • Memory problems
  • Speech problems
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss or weight gain
xanax-vs-buspirone

According to some sources, they both can cause dizziness.

Buspirone Can Be Prescribed for Depression While Xanax Is Not

Some doctors may prescribe buspirone as part of a treatment for depression. According to GoodRx, buspirone can be prescribed to use along with an antidepressant for people with GAD. According to the website, buspirone can help enhance antidepressants’ effects and may be an alternative for people who have unsuccessful results with antidepressants or unwanted side effects. 

Despite this treatment, users are strongly advised not to take a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), or any drug with MAOI activity with buspirone as doing so can lead to high blood pressure, per Mayo Clinic.

Xanax, on the other hand, is typically not used in the treatment for depression “because there are several newer and safer medications available,” Healthline notes. It also says Xanax use for depression is controversial and that it can either cause depression in people or worsen the condition because of its sedative effects.

Buspirone Is Typically Not Habit-Forming, But Xanax Is

A key difference between buspirone and Xanax is that Xanax is habit-forming when used regularly and can lead to addiction. Because its addiction potential is very high, Xanax is usually prescribed for short-term treatment of no more than two weeks.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), buspirone’s abuse potential is lower than that of other medications prescribed for anxiety, such as benzodiazepines. This likely contributes to their ability to be taken long-term without the risk of substance abuse or addiction. 

This may be particularly helpful to people who need to treat their anxiety disorder without risking becoming dependent on a potent medication like Xanax.

Still, Mayo Clinic advises that long-time buspirone users check in with their doctor to make sure the medication is working the way that it should and that they are not experiencing unwanted side effects.

Dangers: Users Need to Be Careful With Both Medications

While buspirone may not be as potent or potentially habit-forming as Xanax is, users should avoid doing certain things with both medications. There are dangers to consider, particularly when they are misused or taken with other substances.

For example, they are the same in that they should not be paired with other substances, such as alcohol or other central nervous system depressants, such as opioids. They should not be used with barbiturates, another class of sedatives, or other drugs. This includes antihistamines or allergy medications and any over-the-counter medications. It also includes herbal supplements and vitamins.

Pairing either of these medications with others outside of a doctor’s prescription is risky and can lead to adverse reactions and overdose.

As advised earlier, consult with a physician before you use any drug or change your drug treatment.

Another danger to consider is what can happen when people overdose on both medications. A person who overdoses on buspirone may exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stomach pain
  • Oversedation 

A person who overdoses on Xanax may have the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
    Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleep disturbances

Severe overdose symptoms are:

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Chest pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Coma 

If an overdose has occurred, call 911 and seek emergency medical treatment right away.

Is Buspirone More Effective Than Xanax or Vice Versa?

If you are considering whether to take buspirone or Xanax, you should review these options carefully under a doctor’s care. You must consider various factors before using. There are many medications on the market to treat anxiety and other conditions that can accompany it, so these must be taken into consideration, too.

If you are being switched from Xanax to buspirone, you want to do so under a physician’s care. They can oversee gradually weaning you off the medication, which is the safe way to end the use of the drug. Long-time Xanax users should not suddenly end their use as it can bring withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, life-threatening seizures, and even rebound anxiety, which can be worse than the initial anxiety that led to treatment in the first place.

If you are being switched from buspirone to Xanax, you also should not quit the drug abruptly. Because the drug is not addictive, doing so may not bring on life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Still, withdrawal symptoms can occur, including increased anxiety. This is one withdrawal symptom the two drugs have in common.

Getting Help for an Anxiety Disorder

If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety and needs help, call us today to learn of our mental health program that can help you get a handle on anxiety and find the right medications to treat your anxiety. We also can help you find the right therapies and counseling to help you work through your disorder.

Most people feel anxious from time to time, but anxiety that lingers and causes disruption in your life and makes it difficult to function, should be addressed as soon and as safely as possible.

As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) writes, “For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.” 

A worsening anxiety disorder can lead people to abuse substances to self-medicate against their disorder, which can lead to bigger problems down the line. Addiction is one of them, and if that happens, a person likely will need professional help to overcome that disorder along with the anxiety disorder that caused them to use it in the first place.

Let us know how we can help you. Give us a call or reach us online to connect with a team member who can listen to you and help you find the guidance you have been looking for.

Sources

ADAA. (n.d.). Facts & Statistics. from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Drugs.com. Buspirone. (December 10, 2019) Sinha, S. MD. from https://www.drugs.com/buspirone.html

Drugs.com. Xanax. (February 2, 2021). Durbin, K. MD. from https://www.drugs.com/xanax.html

Buspirone (Oral Route). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/buspirone-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20062457?p=1

Buspirone (buspar). (n.d.). from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Buspirone-(BuSpar)

Buspirone vs. Xanax (ALPRAZOLAM) side Effects, Uses, Dosage. (2019, October 25). from https://www.medicinenet.com/buspirone_vs_xanax/article.htm

Evans, Alex. “Is Buspar Effective for Anxiety? Here's What You Should Know- GoodRx.” The GoodRx Prescription Savings Blog, 22 Oct. 2019. from www.goodrx.com/blog/is-buspar-effective-for-anxiety-side-effects-cost/

Buspirone (oral Route) Precautions. (2021, February 01). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/buspirone-oral-route/precautions/drg-20062457

Xanax for Depression: What You Need to Know – Healthline. (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/xanax-for-depression

National Institute of Mental Health. (2018, July). Anxiety Disorders. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

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