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What is Oxazepam?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Oxazepam is a prescription medication most commonly given to patients with severe anxiety or withdrawal symptoms due to alcohol or drug use. It works by depressing electrical signals in the central nervous system (CNS), producing a sedative effect. Oxazepam is generally safe when it is taken exactly as prescribed by a physician, though major health complications and addiction can develop if the drug is abused. Patients are encouraged to schedule regular checkups with their doctors while taking the medication to minimize the risks of negative effects and ensure treatment is successful.

Drugs called benzodiazepines, which include oxazepam and diazepam, increase levels of a chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it slows down activity in the CNS. People who have anxiety attacks, physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, and sleeping problems often find relief when GABA levels are increased.

A physician or psychiatrist can prescribe oxazepam after carefully reviewing a patient's symptoms and medical history. The medication can potentially cause adverse reactions if it is taken in combination with certain other drugs or if a person has a chronic liver or kidney disorder. Most patients are prescribed small initial doses, usually about 30 milligrams a day, to see if they respond well. Dosage amounts are gradually increased over the first two weeks until the maximum effective dose is discovered. Rarely are patients instructed to take more than 120 milligrams of oxazepam in a single day.

Oxazepam may cause unwanted side effects, such as dizziness, muscle weakness, drowsiness, and nausea. Most side effects are mild and go away after taking the drug for a week or two. Less commonly, a patient may experience hallucinations, mental confusion, slowed heart rate, and fainting spells. Any negative effects should be reported to the prescribing doctor so the medication can be adjusted or swapped for another anxiety drug.

There are risks of addiction and overdose when taking oxazepam, especially if it is not used under the guidance of a doctor. A person may develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug after only a few doses. Signs of an acute overdose may include extreme sleepiness, amnesia, confusion, and loss of balance. Coma or sudden death can occur if detoxification treatment is not available following an overdose. When patients take the drug responsibly, however, they can usually enjoy major symptom relief without suffering serious complications.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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