Benzodiazepines were designated to treat individuals who struggle with insomnia and anxiety. The drugs followed barbiturates, which were highly addictive medications that were slowly phased out of regular use. Two such drugs that have replaced barbiturates are Xanax and Librium, which are classified as benzodiazepines, and are anti-anxiety medications that we will compare below. While they share the same title as benzodiazepines, they do vary in how they work.
Xanax, which is also known as alprazolam, is among the most widely prescribed benzodiazepines in the world. It is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. In 2013, it accounted for nearly 48 million prescriptions in the United States, and it is considered to have high misuse liability. Librium is also used to treat anxiety, but it is commonly used to manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal due to its muscle relaxant properties.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are psychoactive substances and some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. They possess several different characteristics, such as hypnotic, anti-anxiety, and muscle relaxants. It is typically used for short-term treatment of acute symptoms. Benzodiazepines are considered safe, but medical professionals have debated about their long-term use. They argue whether it’s the right choice due to adverse side effects, as well as the possibility of dependence and addiction.
The medical use of drugs includes treating generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, seizures, panic attacks, and alcohol withdrawal.
When someone uses Librium or Xanax, it produces a sense of calm and slows down how messages are sent in the brain. When brain activity slows down, it reduces anxiety symptoms. Some of the general side effects of benzodiazepines use can include:
- Vision problems
- Coordination problems
Long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to a road of dependence and withdrawal symptoms. If you stop using the drugs cold-turkey, it can cause severe or fatal withdrawals.
Benzodiazepine overdose is not typically fatal unless other drugs are used in conjunction. If Xanax or Librium are combined with barbiturates, alcohol or opioids, it can lead to grave consequences.
What is Librium?
Before we can compare the differences between Xanax and Librium, we must look at what makes Librium.
Librium is a brand name for a drug called chlordiazepoxide, which was first patented in 1958 and approved for medical use in 1960.
It is a benzodiazepine used for short-term treatment of insomnia, anxiety, and in some cases, acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
It also has properties as a muscle relaxant, which can be used to treat substance injuries and disorders that cause muscle spasms. It has a medium to long half-life when compared to other benzodiazepines, and for that reason, it has a relatively long duration of action.
It was not designed to be used long-term due to its potential for dependence and addiction. Librium is classified as having a high potential for abuse.
When Librium is consumed, it works to slow down activity in the brain by interacting with GABA receptors. It produces anxiolytic effects, which helps put anxiety symptoms at bay.
When an individual is prescribed Librium for alcohol withdrawal, they will start with high doses on their first day. It will be followed by a gradual taper to ensure there are no withdrawal symptoms. For anxiety, the dosage will depend on the severity of the disorder and the person.
Is Librium Addictive?
Librium is generally safe to use as a doctor prescribes, but it can cause some side effects related to addiction and substance use problems. Chlordiazepoxide is a federally controlled substance and classified as a Schedule IV drug. That means it’s considered to have moderate abuse potential despite its accepted medical uses.
After a period of consistent use, Librium can cause chemical dependence, which is when your body gets used to the drug and adapts to its presence in your nervous system. When you stop taking Librium after becoming dependent on it, it could cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Depressants can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Shaky hands
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle cramps
Dependence may also cause drug cravings. It’s important to note that dependence is not the same as addiction. However, they are often related. Addiction is a disease that affects a part of your brain called the reward system. This is the part of your brain that’s responsible for motivation and pleasure. It encourages you to repeat healthy tasks. Addiction occurs when your reward center treats a drug like a healthy activity that needs to be repeated.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine medication. It works by depressing the central nervous system (CNS) and is a Schedule IV non-narcotic drug. Xanax is prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks, and currently is being researched for its effectiveness in treating nausea for cancer patients.
Xanax can also be used to treat agoraphobia and those with depression or premenstrual syndrome. Similar to other benzos, it is used recreationally to achieve a sense of euphoria, reduce mild anxiety, or relax.
Is Xanax Addictive?
Like Librium, Xanax is a federally controlled substance and classified as a Schedule IV drug. It’s also capable of causing dependence after a period of regular use or misuse. Xanax is one of the most commonly abused benzodiazepines in the United States. It may be taken for its alcohol-like intoxicating effects, or it may be mixed with other drugs to create a unique experience. Drug dealers also create counterfeit Xanax pills that are hard or impossible to tell apart from real Xanax just by looking at them. Using Xanax as a recreational drug can cause substance use disorders and addiction.
Is Xanax or Librium a Narcotic?
“Narcotic” is a term once used to describe drugs with numbing or paralyzing properties. However, the term has evolved over the years to describe opioids. Today, it’s primarily used in law enforcement circles to describe prescription and illicit opioids, especially heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. Opioids work as pain relievers in the body, but they can also cause sedating effects. As benzodiazepines, Xanax and Librium are in a separate drug category. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants. While they are not opioids and wouldn’t be considered narcotics by today’s understanding of the word, they do cause drowsiness, sleepiness, and sedation. Numbness isn’t common with most benzodiazepines.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are chemically distinct, but they can create similar effects in the body. Both can have depressant effects on the central nervous system, including sedation and hypnosis. If Xanax or Librium are mixed with narcotics, they can potentiate one another. Potentiation is a phenomenon in pharmaceuticals that refers to two or more drugs with similar effects that combine to make their effects more intense. When benzodiazepines are combined with narcotics, they can combine to cause heavy sedation, loss of consciousness, respiratory depression, oxygen deprivation, coma, and death.
Librium vs. Xanax: Key Differences
One of the main objectives of Librium is to relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The focal point around Xanax use is to treat anxiety. The second most common use of Xanax is to treat depression. Librium is unique from Xanax due to the pace in which it works on the central nervous system, which is much slower than other benzos. It has a half-life of 24 to 48 hours, and it won’t reach its peak level until several hours after it’s ingested. The Xanax half-life only ranges from six to 20 hours, which makes it a short-to-intermediate-acting benzodiazepine.
A significant difference between the two drugs is dosage, where they differ vastly. A Librium dosage starts at 5 milligrams and can reach up to 25 milligrams. Xanax, the dose is much lower, where it begins at 0.25 milligrams, and may only reach up to two milligrams.
Another comparison that can be made is that both have the potential for addiction and abuse. Xanax, however, is abused more often because it works quicker and has a short half-life. Generally speaking, drugs that produce rapid effects are more likely to be abused. Since Xanax is more commonly prescribed, it can also play another role in why it is more frequently abused.