Bipolar Disorder Treatment Medications How Oxazepam (Serax) Is Used for Anxiety By Marcia Purse Marcia Purse Marcia Purse is a mental health writer and bipolar disorder advocate who brings strong research skills and personal experiences to her writing. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 16, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print BSIP/UIG/Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Side Effects Precautions Safety Compared to Other Benzodiazepines During Pregnancy and Nursing Withdrawal 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 alcohol withdrawal and cocaine withdrawal. 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 works slowly compared to other benzodiazepine drugs. 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. Benzodiazepines: Addiction and Dependence Side Effects As with all prescription drugs, oxazepam has potential side effects, some of which may be serious. The most common side effect seen with the use of oxazepam is drowsiness or lethargy, especially 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 (which almost always solves the problem). Less common side effects of oxazepam include: HeadacheTremorSwellingDizziness or lightheadednessVertigo (trouble with balance or the sensation that the room is spinning)Slurred speechNauseaChanges in your sex drive Benzodiazepines Uses, Indications, and Side Effects Precautions When starting oxazepam, you shouldn't drive or perform any other potentially hazardous activities until you know how you will react to the medication (and even then you should practice caution). Combining oxazepam with alcohol, opioid medications, or other substances that depress the central nervous system could result in serious complications, even death due to suppression of the breathing center in the brain. How Depressants Affect the Central Nervous System Those with a history of psychosis should not be prescribed oxazepam. Likewise, the medication should be avoided in anyone with a history of addictive behavior. An exception, of course, is when the medication is used for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. When oxazepam is used for alcohol, cocaine, or other substance abuse withdrawal, a person should be closely monitored for the duration of the time the medication is used. Benzodiazepines, including oxazepam, should also be avoided entirely in the elderly and in people with dementia. Safety Compared to Other Benzodiazepines Oxazepam is significantly safer in terms of toxicity than either Librium (chlordiazepoxide) or Valium (diazepam), two other benzodiazepines. Commonly used doses of oxazepam are less likely than equivalent doses of other benzodiazepines to cause dangerous side effects. During 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 to your doctor. This medication should be stopped as soon as possible in pregnancy, but due to the possibility of withdrawal, this should only be done under the guidance of your physician. 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. Withdrawal Abrupt discontinuation of oxazepam or any other benzodiazepine, especially after extended therapy, can cause mild to severe withdrawal effects. For those who have been using oxazepam for some time, withdrawal can be very serious, and even fatal. 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. Bottom Line Oxazepam can be a useful medication for the acute treatment of anxiety or alcohol withdrawal, and since it may have fewer side effects than some of the other benzodiazepines, may be a good choice in certain circumstances. At the same time, it's important to understand that benzodiazepines are strong medications with a potential for abuse and serious side effects, both due to the side effects of the drug alone or in combination with other drugs, and due to withdrawal side effects when it is discontinued. 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. U.S. National Library of Medicine. DailyMed. Oxazepam capsule. Singh R, Abdijadid S. Oxazepam. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Serax (oxazepam). Saarelainen L, Taipale H, Koponen M, et al. The Incidence of Benzodiazepine and Related Drug Use in Persons with and without Alzheimer's Disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;49(3):809–818. doi:10.3233/JAD-150630 LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Oxazepam. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012. McElhatton PR. The effects of benzodiazepine use during pregnancy and lactation. Reprod Toxicol. 1994;8(6):461–475. doi:10.1016/0890-6238(94)90029-9 Soyka M. Treatment of benzodiazepine dependence. N Engl J Med. 2017;376(12):1147–1157. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1611832 Additional Reading U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Oxazepam. Tampi, R., and D. Tampi. Efficacy and Tolerability of Benzodiazepines for the Treatment of Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. American Journal of Alzheimers Disease and Other Dementias. 2014. 29(7):565-74. By Marcia Purse Marcia Purse is a mental health writer and bipolar disorder advocate who brings strong research skills and personal experiences to her writing. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.