Is Abusing Xanax Linked To Dementia?

A new study suggests that benzodiazepines, including Xanax, may have a causal relationship with Alzheimer’s disease. Further information is needed to fully understand the connection, but this discovery does indicate a need for caution.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Xanax, the brand name for alprazolam, is a short-acting benzodiazepine. It is a depressant with moderate sedative effects that is used to treat anxiety disorders.

When it is misused, Xanax has serious mental side effects, but recent research suggests that the potential harm is even more serious than previously though.

According to a scientific study published by The British Medical Journal, using Xanax could cause an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Does Xanax Cause Alzheimer’s Or Dementia?

Dementia is a general term used to describe a host of conditions that cause mental decline. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific condition with clear criteria for diagnosis.

Overall, Alzheimer’s accounts for between 60 and 80% of all general dementia cases. In the case of benzodiazepine abuse, Alzheimer’s is the specific concern.

How Xanax Use And Abuse May Increase Risk For Dementia

The French Canadian study in BMJ suggests that there is a correlation between the use of benzodiazepines and an increased risk of dementia. With that said, the relationship between the two is not firmly established.

The study did feature a large sample size with a matched control group. The researchers did find that the type of benzo, the dose, and the duration increased the rate of correlation.

However, the evidence for direct causation has not been proven yet.

Despite the necessary caveats expressed by these scientists, their research does suggest that you should approach benzodiazepines like Xanax with caution.

If their use is necessary, the dose and duration should be limited as much as possible for your own safety.

Effects Of Xanax On The Brain

While the risk of Alzheimer’s needs further evidence, the direct effects of Xanax on the brain have already been well-documented.

Xanax works primarily on the gaba receptors. These receptors are inhibitory neurotransmitters that work by reducing neural excitability. This interaction results in an exaggerated calming effect.

As a result of these changes, Xanax can cause adverse effects, including, confusion, drowsiness, inattentiveness, and the inability to form new, complete memories during its use.

Large Doses Of Xanax

Xanax should not be taken in large doses.

As a relatively mild short-term benzodiazepine in comparison to other drugs in the same pharmacological family, Xanax comes with a relatively low risk of cognitive impairment.

These risks increase significantly with long-term use.

Symptoms Of Dementia From Xanax Abuse

Anxiety and sleep problems are two common side effects of early Alzheimer’s.

That is one of the reasons why the researchers behind the BMJ article are hesitant to claim a causal relationship between benzodiazepines and cognitive decline.

If you do develop Alzheimer’s disease as a result of Xanax abuse, you can expect a series of cognitive symptoms that will quickly progress.

These early symptoms include:

  • gaps in memory, learning, and understanding
  • personality changes and social withdrawal
  • changes in language ability and vision

Risk Factors For Xanax-Induced Dementia

Xanax-induced dementia is a concern, but the risks are relatively low as long as you use it as prescribed by your doctor.

The risks may be higher if you have specific risk factors.

Elderly People

The research published in the BMJ led to the recommendation that benzodiazepines should not be prescribed to the elderly unless absolutely necessary.

Given the changes to the brain that occur with age, older people may be more susceptible. Clinicians should consider the risks of prescribing Xanax to older adults.

Pre-Existing Cognitive Impairment

If you have a pre-existing condition that affects your cognitive function, you should avoid benzodiazepines if possible.

Common benzos include:

  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)


While you may be administered a benzo in an emergency situation one interaction is unlikely to have long-acting effects.

In a non-emergency situation, you can ask your doctor for medical advice related to your concerns.

Family History Of Alzheimer’s Disease

It is possible to develop Alzheimer’s with no family history, but there is a greater risk if a close relation has the disease.

If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, you should share that information with your healthcare provider.

Other Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues are also physical, meaning there are changes in the brain that we can actually observe.

Any disruption to your normal brain function has the potential to increase your risks when using drugs that alter your brain chemistry.

Benzodiazepines are commonly used for anxiety and panic disorders, but that does not mean they are necessarily the best fit for you.

By having an open conversation with your healthcare provider, you can better understand the risks and benefits provided by benzos in your case.

Treatment Options For Xanax Abuse

Xanax is potentially addictive and prone to abuse. A higher cumulative dose is connected to a much higher risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s risk.

The good news is that you don’t have to try to quit alone.

Qualified treatment centers use scientifically-backed approaches in inpatient and outpatient settings to help you find healthy coping mechanisms and support during Xanax addiction treatment.

Find Drug Treatment Services At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we rely on the most effective treatments to help you achieve your goals.

If you’re addicted to Xanax and worried about the future, contact our Massachusetts rehab center location today.

  1. Alzheimer’s Association
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus,abnormal%20excitement%20in%20the%20brain.
  4. National Library of Medicine,the%20cognitive%20impairment%20%5B28%5D.
  5. The British Medical Journal

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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