How Is the Prescription Medication Oxazepam (Serax) Used?

Oxazepam is used to treat anxiety and other mental disorders.
Oxazepam is used to treat anxiety and other mental disorders. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

The medication oxazepam (brand name Serax, among others) is used for short-term relief of anxiety, tension, agitation and irritability. It's also used to treat anxiety associated with depression and with alcohol withdrawal. It works particularly well to control anxiety and irritability in older patients, and often is prescribed for that.

Oxazepam is an older medication, having first been marketed in 1965.

Since it's been around so long, it's available almost exclusively as a generic drug — brand name versions like Serax are difficult or impossible to find. However, the generic versions of the medication should work as well as prescription versions.

Oxazepam is a benzodiazepine. As with all medications in that class of drugs, you can become addicted if you use the drug too frequently or for too long. Oxazepam works slowly compared to other benzodiazepine drugs.

What Side Effects Should You Expect with Oxazepam?

As with all prescription drugs, oxazepam has potential side effects, some of which may be serious.

The most common possible oxazepam side effect is drowsiness or lethargy when you first start to take the medication. If this is too big a problem or lasts for more than a few days, talk to your doctor about reducing your dosage (that almost always solves the problem).

Less common side effects of oxazepam include:

  • headache
  • tremor
  • swelling
  • dizziness
  • vertigo (trouble with balance)
  • slurred speech
  • nausea
  • changes in your sex drive

When starting oxazepam, you shouldn't drive or perform any other potentially hazardous activities until you know how you will react to the medication. Combining oxazepam with alcohol or other substances that depress the central nervous system could result in serious complications.

Safety Compared to Other Benzos

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, animal tests showed oxazepam to be significantly safer in terms of toxicity than either Librium (chlordiazepoxide) or Valium (diazepam), two other benzodiazepines.

These tests also showed that commonly used doses of oxazepam are much lower than doses that can cause dangerous side effects.

However, oxazepam should not be prescribed for patients with psychosis or with any history of addictive behavior, due to the risk of addiction or other serious side effects. Those using it for alcohol withdrawal symptoms should be monitored closely during therapy.

Oxazepam in Pregnancy and Nursing

Because other drugs in the benzodiazepine family have been shown to cause birth defects, you should not take oxazepam while pregnant. If you accidentally become pregnant while taking it, talk about discontinuing it with your doctor.

Oxazepam will pass through into your breast milk, and therefore should not be used by nursing mothers unless you and your doctor decide the expected benefit of the drug outweighs the risk to the baby.

Withdrawing from Oxazepam

Abrupt discontinuation of oxazepam or any other benzodiazepine, especially after extended therapy, can cause mild to severe withdrawal effects.

Because of this problem, you should try to use the medication for as little time as possible, and discuss with your doctor how to taper your dosage off gradually. Never discontinue the drug suddenly.

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