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Oxazepam: 7 things you should know

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Nov 20, 2019.

1. How it works

  • Oxazepam may be used for the short-term treatment of anxiety.
  • Oxazepam is thought to work by enhancing the effects of GABA - an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Medicines that enhance GABA tend to calm and sedate.
  • Oxazepam belongs to the class of medicines known as benzodiazepines.

2. Upsides

  • May be used short-term (less than four months) to relieve symptoms of anxiety in anxiety-related disorders.
  • May also be used short-term for the relief of symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal.
  • May be used short-term for its calming effects to relieve tension, agitation, and irritability.
  • Less sedating and shorter-acting than some other benzodiazepines.
  • Oxazepam has fewer side effects compared with diazepam; however, its anti-seizure activity is not as strong.
  • Generic oxazepam is available.

3. Downsides

If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:

  • Mild drowsiness is common during the initial treatment with oxazepam; however, this is usually short-lasting, although a dosage reduction may be required. People should not drive, operate machinery, or perform tasks that require mental alertness if affected. Alcohol should be avoided because it can enhance these effects.
  • Dizziness, headache, and vertigo are other common side effects.
  • Oxazepam may rarely cause a drop in blood pressure, especially when going from a lying down or sitting position to standing. This may increase a person's risk of falls. This effect may be more likely to happen in elderly people.
  • Other rare side effects include rashes, nausea, lack of energy, edema, slurred speech, tremor, hepatic and sexual dysfunction; and the dosage of oxazepam may need reducing. Blood counts and liver-function tests may be needed periodically.
  • Withdrawal symptoms (tremor, abdominal and muscle cramps, vomiting, sweating, rarely seizures) may occur if oxazepam has been taken long-term or at higher-than-recommended dosages and is then stopped abruptly; discontinue slowly on a doctor's advice. Even after regular dosing, mild withdrawal symptoms (such as low mood, insomnia) may occur if oxazepam is discontinued abruptly.
  • Oxazepam should not be used during pregnancy because it has been associated with an increased risk of birth defects. Oxazepam is incompatible with breastfeeding.
  • Paradoxical reactions (the opposite of what is expected), such as over-excitation, anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia, and rage have been reported, mainly in people with other mental health concerns. Seek medical advice if these occur.
  • May not be suitable for some people including those with glaucoma, respiratory disease, kidney or liver disease, or those with a history of substance abuse or addictive disorders.
  • Oxazepam is addictive and can cause dependence. May not be suitable for people with a history of substance abuse or addictive disorders. Legitimate supplies of oxazepam should be kept out of sight of potential drug seekers.
  • May interact with several other medicines, including opioids and other drugs that have sedation as a side effect. See prescribing information for a full list of interactions.

Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.

4. Bottom Line

Oxazepam may be used short-term to relieve anxiety; however, it is addictive and withdrawal symptoms may be experienced on discontinuation.

5. Tips

  • Short-acting, so needs to be given three to four times daily if anxiety-relief is required for the whole day.
  • Habit forming and should only be used by the person it was prescribed for. Do not share with anyone else.
  • Take only as directed by your doctor. Do not increase the dosage without your doctor's advice. Side effects from oxazepam are more likely with higher dosages.
  • Oxazepam may increase your risk of falls, particularly if you need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet. Remove any fall hazards from your house (such as loose rugs) and slowly get out of bed when getting up in the middle of the night.
  • Seek immediate medical advice if you experience any unusual side effects from oxazepam such as aggressiveness, hallucinations, or bizarre behaviors.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before buying other medications over the counter to check that they are compatible with oxazepam.

6. Response and Effectiveness

  • Oxazepam has a slower onset of action (30-60 minutes) than some other benzodiazepines (such as diazepam).
  • Peak effects are reached in two to three hours and the effects usually wear off within six to eight hours which means oxazepam typically needs to be taken three to four times a day when used for anxiety.

7. Interactions

Medicines that interact with oxazepam may either decrease its effect, affect how long it works for, increase side effects, or have less of an effect when taken with oxazepam. An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of the medications; however, sometimes it does. Speak to your doctor about how drug interactions should be managed.

Common medications that may interact with oxazepam include:

  • anti-anxiety medications, including other benzodiazepines, such as diazepam and lorazepam
  • anticonvulsants such as valproate
  • antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, imipramine, nortriptyline
  • antihistamines that cause sedation, such as diphenhydramine
  • barbiturates
  • duloxetine
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as selegiline, isocarboxazid, or phenelzine
  • opioid analgesics such as codeine, oxycodone and morphine
  • oral contraceptives
  • muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine
  • probenecid
  • scopolamine
  • sleeping pills, such as zolpidem
  • some medications used to treat mental illness, such as clozapine and thioridazine
  • theophylline.

Alcohol may worsen the side effects of oxazepam such as drowsiness and dizziness.

Note that this list is not all-inclusive and includes only common medications that may interact with oxazepam. You should refer to the prescribing information for oxazepam for a complete list of interactions.


Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use oxazepam only for the indication prescribed.

Copyright 1996-2020 Revision date: November 20, 2019.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.