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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
While we all experience anxiety every once in a while, if it’s so severe or frequent that it interferes with your ability to function, you may benefit from treatment.
One treatment is a medication called oxazepam. Oxazepam can help you feel calm, but there are things you should know about this medicine before starting it.
What is oxazepam?
Oxazepam is a prescription drug that is used to treat anxiety disorders. It’s sold as a generic drug and under the brand name Serax.
Oxazepam belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines––the same family as drugs like Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam). These medications work by boosting the activity of a brain chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). Boosting GABA slows down the central nervous system and helps you feel calm (Bounds, 2021).
Oxazepam is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to manage anxiety disorders and provide short-term relief from symptoms. It can also help with anxiety associated with depression. Oxazepam can also be used to treat anxiety and tremors in people going through alcohol withdrawal (Singh, 2021).
Oxazepam can be used off-label to treat social anxiety, night terrors, or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Even though the drug isn’t explicitly approved for these purposes, a healthcare professional can prescribe it in these instances if they decide it’s the right treatment (FDA, 2018).
Healthcare professionals may also prescribe oxazepam off-label to help with insomnia, particularly for people who have difficulty staying asleep rather than falling asleep (Singh, 2021).
Oxazepam is an oral medication that comes in various forms. Capsules come in doses of 10 mg, 15 mg, and 30 mg, and tablets are available in 15 mg. The typical dose of oxazepam to treat anxiety ranges from 30–60 mg per day, but the right dose for one person may be different than for someone else. (FDA, 2001).
Your healthcare provider may adjust the dose based on symptoms, side effects, and any other medications you’re taking. Oxazepam is meant for short-term use. Be sure to follow the dosing prescribed by your healthcare provider, and do not take the drug more often than prescribed.
Anxiolytics: uses, side effects, and risks
Oxazepam side effects
Side effects of oxazepam can include (FDA, 2001):
Other, more rare side effects can include:
- Slurred speech
- Swelling (edema)
- Changes in sex drive
- Issues with balance and coordination
Drowsiness during the first few days on oxazepam is common but usually goes away. If it doesn’t go away, speak with a healthcare provider who may adjust your dosage.
More serious adverse reactions are possible, such as severe drowsiness, slowed breathing, coma, and, in rare cases, death. These reactions can happen if you take too much of the medication (more than prescribed by your healthcare provider) or if you mix oxazepam with medications that cause drowsiness or affect breathing.
Signs that you’ve taken too much can include feeling tired, confused, or slurring speech. If you’re having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention.
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Some of the serious adverse reactions of benzodiazepine medications like oxazepam are more likely to happen when mixing them with medications that cause drowsiness or affect breathing.
Examples of drugs that increase this risk are (Jones, 2012):
- Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- Opioid painkillers (such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, or tramadol)
- Muscle relaxants
- Drugs for sleep or anxiety (such as barbiturates)
Combining oxazepam with alcohol can also have serious side effects and cause trouble breathing. Talk to a healthcare provider for medical advice about alcohol consumption if you take oxazepam (FDA, 2020).
Let your healthcare provider know about any medications or supplements you’re currently taking, as they may interact with oxazepam.
There are numerous warnings for all benzodiazepine drugs, including oxazepam. These warnings include (DailyMed, 2021):
Risk of abuse and addiction
Even if you take oxazepam as prescribed, it’s possible to become addicted. You may start to feel like you depend on it––physically and mentally. This can lead to taking the drug more than prescribed, which raises your risk of drug abuse or an overdose.
Risk of withdrawal
Taking oxazepam can lead to physical dependence. Your healthcare provider can work with you to lower, and eventually stop, your treatment. Stopping oxazepam too suddenly can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures, which can be life-threatening.
How to overcome anxiety: 6 strategies
You should not take oxazepam if you have had a prior allergic reaction to it or any other benzodiazepine. If you have a history of substance abuse, make sure to tell your healthcare provider so you can fully discuss the risks and benefits of taking oxazepam. Additionally, be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have plans for either.
Adults aged 65 and older have a higher risk of adverse effects when taking benzodiazepines and should take them cautiously, usually in lower doses. Because oxazepam can cause drowsiness or dizziness, avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until you’re aware of how you react to it (FDA, 2001).
- Bounds, C. G. & Nelson, V. L. (2021). Benzodiazepines. [Updated Nov 14, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470159/
- Jones, J. D., Mogali S., & Comer, S. D. (2012). Polydrug abuse: a review of opioid and benzodiazepine combination use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 125(1-2), 8-18. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3454351/
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2021). DailyMed – oxazepam capsule, gelatin coated. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=a0d5a4c1-ec79-42e6-8e8f-ae4d144edb43
- Singh, R. & Abdijadid, S. (2021). Oxazepam. [Updated May 25, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544349/
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2001). Serax (oxazepam) Capsules and Tablets. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2001/15539s52lbl.pdf
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2018). Understanding unapproved use of approved drugs “off label.” Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/patients/learn-about-expanded-access-and-other-treatment-options/understanding-unapproved-use-approved-drugs-label
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2020). FDA requiring Boxed Warning updated to improve safe use of benzodiazepine drug class. FDA Drug Safety Communication. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/142368/download