What is the Difference Between Zoloft and Xanax?

Prescription Drugs

What is the Difference Between Zoloft and Xanax?

Jennifer Hadley
By Jennifer Hadley
Apr 07, 2021
Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS
Medically Reviewed ByCarina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS
Woman taking her prescription in front of her medicine cabinet in her bathroom

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults. This means that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the country, impacting approximately 19% of the adult population. Although Zoloft and Xanax may both be prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorders, that’s essentially where the similarity between the two medications ends.

So what is the difference between Zoloft and Xanax? Here’s a look.

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What’s the difference between Zoloft and Xanax?

Differences between Zoloft and Xanax include:

  • Type of medication
  • Conditions treated
  • Length of use
  • Medication interactions

Type of Medication

Both Zoloft and Xanax have generic counterparts. The generic for Zoloft is sertraline. Zoloft and sertraline are medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). They work by helping to restore a healthy level of serotonin in the brain.

The generic for Xanax is alprazolam. Xanax and alprazolam belong to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines produce a calming effect on the nerves in the brain (central nervous system).

Conditions Treated

Both Xanax and Zoloft are FDA-approved for the management of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder. Both medications are nearly always used in conjunction with psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

In addition, Xanax may be prescribed off-label to treat conditions that Zoloft is regularly prescribed to treat including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder.

Zoloft is also prescribed to treat conditions such as:

  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Xanax may also be prescribed to treat:

  • Short term anxiety symptoms/panic attacks
  • Short term anxiety symptoms associated with depression

Length of Use

Xanax is typically prescribed for very short periods only. It is a fast-acting medication that may be taken as needed for panic attacks.

Xanax is labeled as a Schedule IV controlled substance under federal regulations. Visit here for more information on controlled substances and scheduling. It's important to consult with your health care provider when starting or changing your prescription medication, and discussing your health history with prescriptions.

Those who have taken Xanax or alprazolam for an extended period of time should not stop the medication abruptly. Talk with your healthcare provider before stopping this medication, to learn how to safely wean off of Xanax. Stopping benzodiazepine medication can result in serious withdrawal symptoms including seizures.

Zoloft is a daily medication, and it is not a fast-acting medication. To treat mental health conditions including depression and anxiety, Zoloft may be prescribed for months or years. Like Xanax, Zoloft should not be stopped abruptly, either. Your health care provider can help with a tapering off schedule.

Medication Interactions

Both Xanax and Zoloft have what is known as a boxed warning or a black box warning. This is the most stringent warning issued by the FDA for medications. Boxed or black box warnings indicate the possibility of serious side effects including severe injury or death. The risk of these severe side effects is due in part to interactions with medications or other substances.

Both medications warn of possibly dangerous interactions with:

  • Alcohol
  • St. John’s Wort supplements
  • Opioid painkillers
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Anticonvulsants

In addition, Zoloft should not be used with MAOIs, which is a specific class of antidepressants. Speak to your health care provider if you are also taking certain anticoagulants (blood thinners), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and SNRI or SSRI antidepressants that may also interact with Zoloft.

Your health care provider must know of all over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, and supplements you take. Other potential interactions may exist, so discuss all underlying health conditions and medications with your physician.

If you have any questions about medication interactions or possible side effects of medication, always feel free to ask your pharmacist, as well.

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Is Zoloft better than Xanax?

Xanax and Zoloft belong to different classes of drugs and are used to treat different conditions, so there is no way to perform a head-to-head comparison of the two medications. By design, Zoloft and Xanax work differently. Furthermore, both medications are typically used in conjunction with therapy, making it even more challenging to compare the two medications.

You and your health care provider, along with your mental health care professional will work collaboratively to determine the best medication. Therapy is typically the first-line treatment for anxiety and panic disorders.

Because of the risk of dependence, if medication is indicated, your health care provider will likely prescribe an SSRI such as Zoloft, before prescribing a benzodiazepine such as Xanax.

Price Differences Between Zoloft and Xanax

Both Zoloft and Xanax are available as generic medications. The generic form of each drug is much cheaper than the brand drug. Both generic medications can be less than $10/month using an RxSaver coupon at a national pharmacy.

Always Talk to Your Health Care Provider

If you are experiencing any mental health symptoms, seek help from your health care provider immediately. Your health care provider may begin you on a medication and may refer you to a mental health care professional to begin therapy. Anxiety and panic disorders should never be taken lightly. So if you’re struggling, reach out to your doctor or local urgent care right away.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You may also reach out to the Samaritans: Call or text (877) 870-HOPE (4673).

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley

Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS., is a pharmacist who earned her PharmD from St. John’s University in Queens, NY. She maintains an active practice, serving as a Board-Certified Pediatric Pharmacotherapy Specialist at a large metropolitan teaching hospital in New York City. Carina has also published in pharmacy journals and works as a consultant reviewing medical articles for publication.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.