Natural alternatives to Xanax, a popular anti-anxiety drug, are not only effective, but avoid this medication’s serious side effects and addictiveness.
Anxiety is the most common mental disorder in the United States. (1)
The top two medical treatments for anxiety are anti-anxiety medication and psychotherapy.
If you talk to your doctor about your anxiety, it’s very likely you will go home with a prescription for Xanax or similar medication.
Xanax: The Most Popular Anti-Anxiety Medication
Xanax is a brand name of the generic drug Alprazolam.
It belongs to a family of drugs called benzodiazepines that work as sedatives.
It’s not fully understood how benzodiazepines work, but it’s widely agreed that they enhance activity of the brain chemical GABA. (6)
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows brain activity, enabling you to relax.
Millions of prescriptions for Xanax are written every year.
It is the most popular anti-anxiety medication and the third most popular psychiatric drug overall. (7)
You can see in the chart below that the number of prescriptions for Xanax has increased significantly over the years.
There are multiple reasons that Xanax is so popular for treating anxiety.
First, it enters the brain quickly to deliver fast relief.
It has a shorter half-life than similar drugs and so gets out of your system faster.
But in spite of its popularity, this drug has some very serious drawbacks.
4 Reasons to Avoid Xanax
From the description above, Xanax may seem like a panacea for your anxiety, but there are compelling reasons to trade your Xanax for natural alternatives if at all possible.
Here’s a look at the biggest problems with Xanax and similar anti-anxiety medications.
Xanax Has Serious Side Effects
Xanax has a long list of side effects that range from unpleasant to life-threatening.
- feeling weak, dizzy, drowsy, or confused
- digestive upset
- muscle weakness
- change in appetite
- diminished sex drive
- blurred vision
- mental confusion
- lethargy and brain fog
More serious side effects include:
- depression and suicidal thoughts
- change in urination
- chest pain
- hives, breathing difficulty
Note: If you take Xanax and experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor immediately.
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Xanax Is Highly Addictive
One of Xanax’s worst side effects warrants its own discussion.
Xanax is highly addictive.
Generally, you can safely take Xanax for a few months.
But after this point, two things happen.
First, it often stops working as you build a tolerance to it.
This tolerance is a common hallmark of an addictive substance. (10)
Second, by this time addiction has set in and it becomes extremely hard to quit.
Alarmingly, benzodiazepines, including Xanax, are among the hardest drugs to kick, along with hardcore drugs like heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. (11)
Ironically, withdrawal symptoms that occur when quitting Xanax include anxiety and panic attacks — the very reasons it’s prescribed in the first place!
Other withdrawal symptoms are restlessness, insomnia, nausea, blurred vision, muscle tightness, and irritability. (12)
Some worst-case scenarios include hallucinations, delusions, and seizures.
Xanax Does Not Mix with Alcohol and Other Drugs
Xanax does not mix well with other substances.
It should not take taken with alcohol or other drugs, either prescription or recreational.
When you consider that 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, this means that the majority of people should not be taking Xanax. (13)
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report on drug-related emergency room visits, Xanax and other benzodiazepines are responsible for over 123,000 emergency room visits every year.
Over half of these visits are due to interactions between Xanax and alcohol or other drugs. (14)
These reactions range from serious to fatal.
There are over literally hundreds of prescription medications that should not be taken along with Xanax.
You can see the list at Drugs.com.
Demographics That Should Never Take Xanax
Large segments of the population should not take Xanax under any circumstance. (15)
Women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or are breastfeeding should not take Xanax.
Taking Xanax while pregnant increases the risk of birth defects.
It can also cause your baby to become addicted in utero and face withdrawal immediately after birth.
Xanax is not appropriate for children or teens and should not be prescribed to teens since they commonly abuse this drug. (16)
There’s growing evidence that Xanax is particularly dangerous for seniors.
It increases their risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s. (17)
And since seniors often take other medications, they are at greater risk for interactions.
Disturbingly, benzodiazepine use is higher among seniors than in any other age group. (18)
And finally, because Xanax is highly addictive, you should not take it if you are prone to addictions of any kind.
Natural Xanax Supplements
Note: If you currently take Xanax or any other anti-anxiety medication, do not stop taking it or attempt to wean yourself off it on your own. In addition, do not add any of these supplements to your treatment regimen without talking to your doctor first.
Clearly, there are many good reasons to avoid Xanax if at all possible.
Fortunately, Xanax is not the only viable option for anxiety.
There are many natural Xanax alternatives proven to reduce anxiety effectively and safely.
You’ll notice that the majority of these work like Xanax — by increasing the calming brain chemical GABA.
Amino Acid Xanax Alternatives
Amino acids are building blocks of proteins, and two are among the top natural alternatives to Xanax.
They can be found in food, but often not in sufficient amounts for therapeutic value.
Both are readily available as over-the-counter supplements that can be taken for anxiety.
Taurine is an amino acid found mainly in seafood and poultry. (19)
It exerts numerous effects on the brain’s GABA system.
Related on Be Brain Fit —
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Taurine stimulates the release and formation of GABA. (20)
Taurine is considered very safe and, in fact, naturally occurs in high concentrations in the brain. (24)
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L-theanine is an amino acid that is rare in nature.
It is found almost exclusively in “true” teas from the Camilla sinensis bush — black, white, oolong, and green teas.
It is highly regarded for its ability to induce a desirable state of mind that’s been described as “calm attentiveness” or “focused relaxation.”
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How L-Theanine Benefits Stress, Anxiety and Focus
Not only does l-theanine relieve anxiety by increasing levels of GABA, it brings about a relaxed brainwave state similar to that achieved during meditation. (25)
In one study, participants were given either l-theanine or Xanax and subjected to artificially induced stress.
Participants who received l-theanine had lower baseline anxiety than those who took Xanax. (26)
Moderate anxiety symptoms often improve within 30 minutes after taking l-theanine and the effects can last up 10 hours. (27)
While you can get l-theanine from drinking tea, it’s not practical to rely on tea to reduce anxiety.
A typical supplemental dose for anxiety would be 200-400 mg, but a cup of tea only contains 25 mg.
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Herbal Alternatives to Xanax
It’s recently been discovered that many traditional relaxing herbs work, in part, by increasing GABA.
These herbal remedies have been used for centuries as both sleep aids and to bring about a state of relaxation.
But of all the naturally relaxing herbs, two are specifically helpful for anxiety.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a traditional relaxing tea that’s been an important part of South Pacific culture for thousands of years.
It’s also available as an over-the-counter herbal remedy for anxiety, stress, and insomnia in the US and many other parts of the world.
Like many other relaxing herbal remedies, it works at least in part by increasing GABA. (34)
One study pitted kava against two popular anti-anxiety drugs (Buspirone and Opipramol) and found that kava worked as well as either of them. (35)
You may come across warnings that kava can cause liver damage, but this an unfounded, overblown fear.
The US National Institutes of Health reports that the risk of liver damage from taking a kava supplement is less than one in one million. (36)
This makes it dramatically safer than Xanax and most other prescription drugs.
However, if you have any liver problems, we suggest you err on the side of caution and avoid kava.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a Chinese herb whose name means “fountain of youth.”
Traditionally, it was used to treat anxiety, depression, and mental fatigue.
While the “kola” part of its name suggests that it contains caffeine, it is an important relaxing herb that contains no caffeine whatsoever.
If your anxiety keeps you up at night, gotu kola can help that too.
It has been used as a natural sleep aid for thousands of years. (39)
Psychobiotic Xanax Alternatives
Strange but true: What goes on in your gut affects your brain and your anxiety levels.
Psychobiotics are probiotics that offer specific mental health benefits, including alleviating anxiety. (40)
A review of 38 studies found that taking psychobiotics can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. (41)
One way psychobiotics work is by synthesizing neurotransmitters, including GABA. (42)
To date, over two dozen strains of bacteria that produce GABA have been discovered.
So far, Lactobacillus brevis and Bifidobacterium dentium have been found to be the best GABA synthesizers. (45)
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Psychobiotics: Use the Gut-Brain Connection for Mental Health
Interestingly, prebiotic foods that encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria can also reduce anxiety. (48)
So the next time you feel anxious, skip your favorite junk food and grab a food high in prebiotic fibers instead.
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Vitamin and Mineral Xanax Alternatives
Vitamins and minerals may not sound heavy-duty enough to take the place of Xanax, but if you are lacking certain core nutrients, your brain can’t function at its best.
While all vitamins and minerals are essential for ideal mental health, here are a few that stand out for anxiety.
B Complex vitamins
B complex is a group of 8 essential vitamins and they all play a significant role in your mental health and ability to deal with stress.
Many people experience significantly fewer anxiety symptoms when taking B complex supplements. (51)
Here are some of the ways individual B vitamins contribute to anxiety relief.
Vitamin B12 deficiency affects almost 40% of the US population and can be quite serious. (56)
If left untreated, it can lead to permanent brain damage. (59)
Vitamin C is the most popular vitamin supplement of all and is usually taken for preventing colds and reducing allergy symptoms.
But it also has some powerful anti-anxiety properties. (60)
Low levels of vitamin C have been linked to both anxiety and depression. (61)
There’s a strong link between a lack of magnesium and anxiety. (64)
Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s been called “nature’s Valium” because of its ability to make you feel more relaxed.
Magnesium stimulates GABA receptors in the brain. (65)
It also helps anxiety symptoms by stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing chronic brain inflammation.
There are many magnesium supplements to pick from, but most barely enter the brain, where the magnesium is needed to impact anxiety.
That’s why we recommend magnesium l-threonate which more readily enters the brain than other forms of magnesium. (66)
Zinc is an essential mineral found in high concentrations in the brain. (67)
It is a cofactor required to create GABA and balance its activity. (68)
It’s also needed to synthesize serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with a positive mood and happiness. (69)
Zinc deficiency is alarmingly common.
An estimated 2 billion people are deficient worldwide. (70)
Suboptimal levels of zinc have been linked to anxiety, depression, and numerous other mental disorders. (71)
Surprisingly, simply taking a multivitamin supplement can make you more resilient to stress. (72)
Research shows that taking a high-quality multivitamin can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve general well-being. (73)
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There are many reasons you may be lacking in one or more essential nutrients.
Our modern lifestyle is rife with nutrient drains including sugar, processed foods, caffeine, stress, toxins, and drugs (both prescription and recreational).
What About GABA as an Alternative to Xanax?
You’ve surely noticed a common thread among these Xanax alternatives — the majority work by increasing GABA.
So you may be wondering whether taking a GABA supplement directly would make sense.
While GABA supplements are available, their effectiveness is in question.
The scientific consensus has been that these supplements cannot work because GABA molecules are too large to enter the brain. (74)
Yet many people swear that GABA works for them!
What could explain this?
New theories are emerging to explain why GABA supplements may work in spite of this obstacle.
The only way to know if a GABA supplement will work for you is to give it a try.
Lifestyle Alternatives to Xanax
Just as anti-anxiety drugs don’t work for everyone, no one supplement is 100% effective either.
If you try some of these ingestible natural Xanax alternatives and don’t get the relief you’re looking for, don’t get discouraged.
There are still some other things you can do.
Any supplement you take to relieve anxiety has an uphill battle if you continue to consume caffeine since it inhibits GABA. (78)
The American Psychiatric Association recognizes caffeine-induced anxiety as a genuine disorder. (79)
The link between caffeine and anxiety is so strong that it’s been recommended that caffeine intake assessment be included as part of psychiatric exams. (80)
Many people find that cutting back on caffeine, or eliminating it completely, is one of the most effective anti-anxiety measures they can take.
If you don’t want to quit caffeine completely, switch from coffee, soda, or energy drinks to tea.
The presence of calming l-theanine in tea softens the effects of caffeine, making it a better choice than other caffeinated drinks.
Get Physical Exercise
Physical exercise helps anxiety in two major ways.
Interestingly, research confirms that the exercise you do today provides a buffer against anxiety for years to come, even after you stop doing it. (83)
Anti-Anxiety Techniques to Try Instead of Xanax
Taking pills, either drugs or supplements, can get tedious and expensive so few people want to rely on them forever.
Here are some of the mind-body techniques that address underlying causes of anxiety. They may ultimately free you from taking Xanax or any other anti-anxiety pills: (84)
- autogenic training
- breathing exercises
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- guided imagery
- hypnotherapy (including self-hypnosis)
- progressive muscle relaxation
- tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique)
- tai chi, qigong, yoga
Related on Be Brain Fit —
We have provided only a quick summary of each natural Xanax alternative in this article. Search our site to find in-depth articles on most of these supplements and mind-body techniques.
Natural Xanax Alternatives: Take the Next Step
Xanax is one of the most popular anti-anxiety medications, but it has a significant dark side.
It has a long list of side effects and interactions, is highly addictive, and should be avoided by large segments of the population, including many women, seniors, children, teens, and anyone struggling with an addiction.
For these reasons, many people search for natural alternatives to Xanax.
There are amino acids, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and even probiotic supplements that can alleviate anxiety.
Most work via the same mechanism as Xanax — they increase the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
Taking supplements isn’t the only way to reduce anxiety without drugs.
Exercise, caffeine reduction, and many mind-body techniques can help eliminate your reliance on anti-anxiety pills of any kind.
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- Boost your memory and your ability to learn.
- Increase your capacity to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions.