Valium vs. Xanax: Differences, similarities, and effects

Valium and Xanax are brand names for two types of medication for anxiety. The generic name for Valium is diazepam. The generic name for Xanax is alprazolam.

Many anxiety symptoms result, to some extent, from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medication can help change this imbalance.

Sedatives slow down certain functions in the body. This can help a person sleep or make them feel calmer.

The best choice of medication and the dosage and duration of treatment will be different for each individual.

Similarities and differences

Valium and Xanax are different medications. A doctor should help a person decide which is most suitable.

People can take either medication as tablets or liquid, but adults usually only receive a prescription for pills.

An individual tends to take Valium or Xanax one to four times per day, but the dosage will depend on the person’s needs and on the medication, due to the differing lengths of action.

The following are some key facts about each:

How they work

Both medications work with a chemical in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).

GABA reduces activity in parts of the brain that control memory, emotions, logical thought, and functions such as breathing.

Valium and Xanax increase the effects of GABA. This makes the muscles relax, reduces anxiety, and causes drowsiness.

These medications are not suitable for everyone. A doctor will ask about existing conditions before prescribing Valium or Xanax.

People with the following medical conditions usually cannot take Valium or Xanax:

  • breathing problems or lung disease
  • severe kidney or liver disease
  • sleep apnea
  • muscle weakness
  • previous drug or alcohol addiction
  • depression
  • glaucoma

Children cannot generally take Valium or Xanax. Older adults can, but they usually receive a reduced dosage.

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding usually cannot take Valium or Xanax because the drugs can interfere with the baby’s development.

These medications can also pass into breast milk and can cause harmful side effects.

Both drugs can cause drowsiness. A person should usually not drive or operate machinery while taking either medication.


Valium and Xanax are different, though they can treat similar issues. A doctor considers a range of factors before recommending either.

Xanax can treat more severe cases of anxiety, and it requires more doses throughout the day. Withdrawal from both medications can be severe.

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