Xanax vs Buspar

Listen to the article instead of reading through it.


For patients grappling with anxiety disorders, certain drugs that affect the levels of specific neurochemicals in the brain can help manage symptoms and bring about equilibrium. Xanax and Buspar are two such medications commonly prescribed for these conditions. They each impact different neurotransmitter systems, but both aim to diminish feelings of anxiety and promote a calm state in patients. Xanax is classified as a benzodiazepine, which works by increasing the function of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down activity in your nervous system thereby promoting relaxation. On the other hand, Buspar (buspirone) functions as an agonist on serotonin receptors- specifically 5-HT1A. This particular receptor has been associated with anti-anxiety effects; hence buspirone's action on it helps alleviate anxiety symptoms without causing sedation or dependency issues often linked with benzodiazepines like Xanax.

What is Xanax?

Alprazolam (the generic name for Xanax) is a drug that belongs to the benzodiazepine class of medications, known for their sedative and anxiolytic properties. Alprazolam was first approved by the FDA in 1981. It works by enhancing the effects of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), inducing a calming effect on individuals suffering from anxiety or panic disorders. This medication has an immediate onset of action.

On the other hand, Buspirone (sold as Buspar among others) is a unique anti-anxiety agent belonging to azapirone chemical class with serotonin receptor agonist properties. Approved in 1986 by FDA, it lacks sedating qualities typical of most anxiety drugs and does not cause physical dependency like benzodiazepines do such as Xanax which makes it more suitable for long term management of anxiety disorders. Unlike alprazolam, buspirone doesn't directly interface with GABA receptors but primarily acts upon serotonergic systems while having minor influence on dopaminergic pathways resulting in fewer side effects associated with dopamine manipulation.

What conditions is Xanax approved to treat?

Xanax is approved for the treatment of different anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder, with or without agoraphobia
  • Anxiety associated with depression

How does Xanax help with these illnesses?

Xanax, also known as Alprazolam, is commonly prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. It works by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA inhibits activity in the brain's neurons, helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and fear by slowing down nerve cell activity. Xanax thus increases GABA's effects, further reducing neuronal excitation.

On the other hand, Buspar or Buspirone functions differently; it affects serotonin levels but doesn't work via GABA pathways like Xanax does. Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in mood regulation amongst several other physiological processes such as sleep patterns and appetite control.

Buspar is thought to interact with specific serotonin receptors in the brain which can help moderate anxious thoughts and feelings without causing excessive sedation or dependence issues often associated with benzodiazepines like Xanax. Hence while both drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders, they work through different mechanisms and have distinct side effect profiles.

What is Buspar?

Buspar is the brand name for buspirone, a medication that works by acting on serotonin receptors in the brain. Buspirone belongs to a class of drugs known as azapirones and it was first approved by the FDA in 1986. Unlike Xanax (alprazolam), which is a benzodiazepine, buspirone does not depress CNS activity but rather has anxiolytic effects through its action on serotonin. This means that it's less likely to cause sedation or physical dependence, common side effects associated with benzodiazepines like Xanax. Its distinct mechanism of action also results in fewer interactions with other medications and alcohol making it safer for use in patients who are taking multiple medications or those struggling with substance abuse issues. Furthermore, buspirone’s impact on serotonin can be beneficial for treating generalized anxiety disorder, particularly in individuals who haven't responded well to typical benzodiazepine treatments such as Xanax.

What conditions is Buspar approved to treat?

Buspar is acknowledged by medical professionals for the management of:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a condition characterized by persistent and excessive worry about various things.
  • Short-term relief of symptoms of anxiety, such as fear, tension, irritability, dizziness, pounding heartbeat, and other physical symptoms.

How does Buspar help with these illnesses?

Buspirone, commonly known as Buspar, is an anxiolytic medication that operates by stimulating serotonin type 1A receptors on the brain. It does not have a sedative effect like many other anti-anxiety medications and it doesn't work immediately like Xanax. Instead, its effects build over time which helps to moderate anxiety levels more consistently. Unlike Xanax, which increases dopamine in the body and can lead to dependence or addiction with long-term use, Buspar does not carry this risk because it has minimal impact on dopamine levels. Therefore, for those who are concerned about the potential for dependency or are looking for a longer term solution to manage their anxiety symptoms without immediate relief need of panic attacks may find Buspar more suitable than typical benzodiazepines such as Xanax.

How effective are both Xanax and Buspar?

Both alprazolam (Xanax) and buspirone (Buspar) have established histories of success in treating patients with anxiety disorders, and they were initially approved by the FDA within a few years of each other. Since they act on different neurotransmitter systems, they may be prescribed under different circumstances. The effectiveness of alprazolam and buspirone in alleviating symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder was directly studied in several clinical trials; both drugs exhibited similar efficacy in managing symptoms as well as promising safety profiles.

A 2001 meta-analysis demonstrated that alprazolam is effective at relieving acute symptoms of panic disorder starting from the first week of treatment, though its side effect profile includes potential for physical dependency and withdrawal if discontinued abruptly. Alprazolam continues to be one of the most widely-prescribed anxiolytic medications worldwide due to its rapid onset action and proven efficacy.

On the other hand, a 2016 review indicated that while buspirone seems less potent than benzodiazepines like Xanax when it comes to immediate relief from acute anxiety episodes, it's nonetheless an effective option for long-term management with less risk for physical dependency or tolerance development. Buspirone is typically considered a first-line treatment option alongside SSRIs for chronic generalized anxiety disorder but not recommended alone for panic attacks or severe acute episodes due to slower onset action. However, it can still play an essential role due to its unique pharmacology: being non-sedating makes it suitable in cases where drowsiness would be particularly burdensome as a side effect.

abstract image of a researcher studying a bottle of drug.

At what dose is Xanax typically prescribed?

Oral dosages of Xanax range from 0.25–2 mg taken three times a day, but studies have indicated that 0.5-1 mg/day divided into three doses is sufficient for managing anxiety disorder in most people. Elderly or debilitated patients may be started on 0.25 mg two to three times daily. In either population, dosage can be increased after a few weeks if there is no response but not more than 4mg daily due to the risk of dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. On the other hand, Buspar's usual dose ranges from 15-60 mg per day given in two or three divided doses; it appears effective in reducing symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder with minimal side effects and almost no risk for dependency.

At what dose is Buspar typically prescribed?

Initiating treatment with Buspar typically begins at a dosage of 15 mg/day, divided into two or three doses. This can be increased to a maximum of 60 mg/day, depending on the individual's response and tolerability to the medication. The dose increments should happen every two to three days by an additional 5 mg per day as needed. It's important to note that it may take several weeks before you begin noticing an improvement in symptoms with Buspar. Therefore, patience is key when starting this new regimen as immediate results are not expected like they are with other anxiety medications such as Xanax.

What are the most common side effects for Xanax?

Common side effects from Xanax (alprazolam) and Buspar (buspirone) can include:

  • Drowsiness or feeling tired
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • Nervousness, anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea, upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Decreased libido (sex drive)
  • Muscle weakness, lack of balance or coordination
  • Feeling restless or excited -Sweating

It's important to note that not everyone experiences these side effects. Each individual might react differently to each medication. If you experience any unusual symptoms while taking either of these medications, it is recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider right away.

abstract image of a patient experiencing side effect

Are there any potential serious side effects for Xanax?

Buspar, like Xanax, can occasionally cause severe side effects that require immediate medical attention. These include:

  • Thoughts of harming oneself or suicide
  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as hives, difficulty breathing, swelling in your face or throat
  • Severe skin reactions characterized by fever, sore throat, burning eyes and skin pain accompanied by a red or purple rash that blisters and peels
  • Vision changes including blurred vision, tunnel vision or seeing halos around lights
  • Heart problems including rapid heartbeats or palpitations in the chest; shortness of breath may also occur along with sudden dizziness which gives a feeling similar to fainting
  • Symptoms indicative of low sodium levels - headache/confusion/slurred speech/severe weakness/vomiting/loss of coordination/feeling unsteady are all markers for this condition
  • A very rigid nervous system reaction could imply high fever/sweating/confusion/fast or uneven heartbeats/tremors and feelings similar to fainting.

If you notice any symptoms suggestive of serotonin syndrome such as agitation/hallucinations/fever/sweating/shivering/fast heart rate/muscle stiffness/twitching/loss of coordination /nausea/vomiting/or diarrhea while on Buspar treatment — seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

What are the most common side effects for Buspar?

Some potential side effects of Buspar include:

  • Nausea and headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and blurred vision
  • Feeling nervous or excited
  • Sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Dry mouth or stuffy nose
  • Stomach upset, constipation
  • Weakness or lack of coordination
  • Increased sweating or flushing -Sore throat, cough, -Fast heartbeat at times.

These are not all the possible side effects but some that you may need to be aware of when considering Buspar as a medication option.

Are there any potential serious side effects for Buspar?

While Buspar is generally safe, it can cause a number of side effects in rare circumstances. If you experience any of these symptoms, cease use and consult with your doctor immediately:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction such as hives; difficulty breathing; swelling in your face, lips, tongue or throat
  • In extreme cases, chest pain or irregular heart rhythm may occur
  • Sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of the body)
  • New or worsening mental/mood changes such as thoughts about suicide
  • Shortness of breath
  • A very severe skin reaction that can affect parts of your body such as your liver or blood cells leading to serious health problems. Symptoms may include skin rash with blistering and peeling.

Please remember that while these side effects are possible they are also relatively rare. Most people taking Buspar will not experience these issues. However, if you do notice anything unusual after starting this medication it's important to contact a healthcare provider right away for evaluation and guidance.

Contraindications for Xanax and Buspar?

Both Xanax and Buspar, like many other anti-anxiety medications, may lead to an increase in depressive symptoms for some individuals. If you observe a worsening of your depression or an escalation in thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it is essential to get immediate medical attention.

Neither Xanax nor Buspar should be taken if you are currently taking or have recently ceased using monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). It's vital to always inform your healthcare provider about all the medicines you're taking; MAOIs will need about 5 weeks to completely exit your system before you can safely start taking Xanax or Buspar. This time allows for avoiding potentially life-threatening interactions between these drugs.

How much do Xanax and Buspar cost?

For the brand name versions of these drugs:

  • The price for 60 tablets of Xanax (0.5 mg) averages around $350, which works out to approximately $11–22 per day, depending on your dose.
  • The price for 60 tablets of Buspar (10 mg) is about $100, working out to roughly $3.33 per day.

Thus, if you are in the higher dosage range for Xanax (i.e., 2mg/day or more), then brand-name Buspar may be less expensive on a per-day treatment basis. However, cost should not be a primary consideration in determining which medication is right for you.

For the generic versions of Xanax (alprazolam) and Buspar (buspirone), costs are significantly lower:

  • Alprazolam is available in packs ranging from 30 to 180 tablets with doses ranging between .25mg and .5mg daily - prices approximate at about $4-$15 or so monthly translating into costs as low as $.14 up to $.50 per day.

  • Buspirone comes in packs that vary from 60 -180 tablets taken usually twice daily; costs can average anywhere between $4-$20 monthly equating to approximately $.13 up to $.66 cents daily depending upon individual dosages and frequency.

Popularity of Xanax and Buspar

Alprazolam, in generic form as well as brand names such as Xanax, was estimated to have been prescribed to about 18 million people in the US in 2020. Alprazolam accounted for just over 25% of prescriptions for benzodiazepines in the US. However, it appears to be most-commonly used medication for anxiety and panic disorders. The prevalence of alprazolam has been generally increasing since 2013.

Buspirone, including brand versions such as Buspar, was prescribed to approximately 12 million people in the USA in 2020. In the US, buspirone accounts for around15% of anxiolytic prescriptions (drugs that reduce anxiety), but unlike alprazolam or other benzodiazepines it is not habit-forming and does not cause physical dependence. Yet despite these advantages buspirone use has remained fairly steady over the last decade without significant increases or decreases.


Both Xanax (alprazolam) and Buspar (buspirone) have been used extensively for the management of anxiety disorders, with numerous clinical studies indicating they are more effective than placebo treatments. In some instances, these medications may be combined under careful physician supervision; however, this is generally avoided due to potential drug interactions.

Their mechanisms of action differ significantly: Xanax works by enhancing the effects of GABA, a chemical in your brain that produces feelings of calmness. Buspar acts on serotonin receptors and is thought to modulate dopamine activity but does not have direct effects on GABA.

While both drugs are available in generic form offering cost savings for patients paying out-of-pocket, their usage tends to vary based upon patient needs and side effect profiles. Xanax provides rapid relief from acute symptoms of anxiety but carries a risk of dependence with long-term use. Buspar typically requires one to two weeks before its full benefits can be felt but has less potential for addiction making it suitable as a longer-term treatment option.

Side effects between the two drugs also differ: common side effects associated with Xanax include drowsiness and cognitive impairment whereas buspirone may cause dizziness and headaches among others. Patients should closely monitor their response when starting either medication and seek immediate medical attention if experiencing severe adverse reactions or unusual changes in mood or behavior.