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What Is Xanax?
The prescription drug Xanax is a brand-name prescription medication. Xanax tablets contain the chemical Alprazolam, a member of the benzodiazepine class of drugs, primarily utilized in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
It is believed that excessive nerve activity may be the cause of anxiety and other psychological disorders. Studies have shown Alprazolam affects a neurotransmitter whose purpose is to suppress the activity of nerves. This is why Xanax is often employed to enhance this nerve suppression and provide short-acting relief to sufferers.
Xanax is used to treat the symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, and anxiety associated with depression. The drug can also be used for sedation prior to surgery, muscle relaxation, alcohol withdrawal, drug-associated agitation, and insomnia.
- Xanax (brand name)
- Alprazolam (generic)
Effects of Xanax Use
Benzodiazepines like Xanax act on the central nervous system (CNS), produce sedation and muscle relaxation, and lower anxiety levels. Because of its long-term side effects, prolonged benzodiazepine use requires tapering off the drug should you wish to safely discontinue taking it.
The short term side effects of Xanax may include:
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble concentrating
- Poor balance or coordination
- Blackouts (if taken with alcohol)
The long term side effects of Xanax may include:
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
- Decreased appetite
- Sudden change in behavior
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- Significant physical dependence
- Developing substance use disorder
Xanax Abuse and Addiction
Benzodiazepines are often abused due to their toxic effects and widespread availability.
As some of the most commonly prescribed central nervous system depressants in the United States, it is incredibly easy to gain access to them, along with similar drugs like Klonopin and Valium. Many people use benzos chronically, potentially leading to accidental or intentional overdoses.
Signs of chronic misuse or dependence can present as changes in appearance and behavior that affect relationships and work and cause abrupt changes in mood. Some may even develop symptoms that mimic what the drug is prescribed for in the first place, such as anxiety and insomnia.
Death and serious illness rarely result from Xanax abuse alone. Xanax is frequently abused by combining it with alcohol or other medications. This combination of Xanax and alcohol can be dangerous—even lethal.
Signs of a Xanax Addiction
Xanax abusers, like abusers of opioids, come in all shapes and sizes but generally display similar behaviors. The following symptoms can be red flags of someone suffering from substance use disorder due to abuse of Xanax.
- Using the drug in a harmful manner
- Withdrawal or problems with relationships due to drug use
- Neglecting duties due to drug use
- High drug tolerance (needing higher doses to achieve the same effect)
- Withdrawal symptoms when the drug is reduced or stopped
- Cravings for the drug
- Spending excessive time obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug
Existing behavioral health issues and the period of time necessary to become addicted can have a large effect on the severity of these behaviors, so it’s important to catch these symptoms as soon as possible.
A person could be struggling long before the signs of addiction become apparent.
Symptoms of a Xanax overdose may include:
- Suicidal ideation
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty breathing
While typical side effects of Xanax can include some of these symptoms, instances of acute symptoms can indicate a dangerous overdose.
When Xanax is stopped abruptly (aka “quitting cold turkey”), withdrawal symptoms can manifest as:
- Depersonalization, derealization
- Gastrointestinal reactions (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, decreased appetite)
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
More serious withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Delirium tremens (rapid onset of confusion)*
*These side effects are similar to the dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. This is because both benzodiazepines like Xanax and alcohol target the brain’s GABA receptors, causing relaxation. When these receptors no longer receive the chemical that is causing relaxation, the brain becomes overexcited and produces these effects.
In general, alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawals are considered the most dangerous. These risks can be reduced with a gradual taper off the drug. It is vital that this tapering is done under the supervision of a physician to ensure safe discontinuation.
Xanax Addiction Treatment
While it may be a difficult road, safe recovery from Xanax addiction is possible with a combination of family support and the aid of medical professionals. Identifying the signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one is the vital first step, followed by finding help from a doctor or finding a treatment program that’s right for your situation.
Xanax addiction withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, so it’s important that dosage is gradually decreased and a medical professional will monitor for any severe withdrawal symptoms. The duration of this period depends on many factors such as the dose or length of use.
Xanax detox is generally performed at an inpatient facility due to the seriousness of Xanax’s withdrawal effects. However, if the patient has a minor addiction and no previous history of seizures, they may be cleared to safely detox in an outpatient setting instead.
Xanax Addiction Treatment
While the detox process focuses on mitigating dangerous withdrawal symptoms, an integral part of maintaining recovery from Xanax addiction is the use of behavioral therapy.
There are a variety of approaches including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Rational emotive behavioral therapy
These methods, combined with careful tapering off Xanax and support from friends and family, will assist you in creating motivational incentives to modify your behavior. You will learn to better understand the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and behavior and your addiction.
Post-Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Many of those who exit inpatient care will pursue a continuing recovery program to maintain abstinence or stabilization and maintenance. Support groups can help assuage the shame that often comes along with addiction.
Alternative treatments that are non-addictive may also be implemented to assist in continued sobriety. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, beta-blockers, and anti-convulsants have all demonstrated efficacy in controlling anxiety and may be prescribed for future anxiety management.
Xanax Addiction Statistics
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2019, 16% of opioid-related deaths also involved benzodiazepines (such as Xanax.) Additionally, NIDA reports an increase of 67% in prescriptions for benzodiazepine medication since 1996.
In 2018, NIDA also gathered the following data:
Among past-year benzodiazepine misusers, 46.3% reported that the motivation for their most recent misuse was to relax or relieve tension, followed by helping with sleep (22.4%). About 5.7% reported “experimentation” as their main motivation for misuse, and 11.8% reported using them to “get high” or because of being “hooked.”
The data also showed that most misusers obtained benzodiazepines from friends or relatives, with only about 20% receiving them from their doctor.
Support for Friends and Family Members
Addiction to Xanax, like many other prescription drugs, can have a devastating effect on the lives of those around the addict. It’s important that your loved one receives the help they need before further harm can be done to them and to you.
Confronting a loved one can be difficult, painful even, but you’re not alone in this task. There are many treatment centers and providers ready to jump in and assist with Xanax addiction treatment.
The sooner you help find solutions for them, the sooner they can start down the road to recovery and a happy, fulfilling life.
Xanax Addiction FAQs
Why is Xanax so addictive?
Xanax is a fast-acting benzodiazepine that can cause pleasant feelings of euphoria and sedation, giving it the ability to create huge changes in the brain in a short amount of time.
Are there non-addictive alternatives to Xanax?
Yes, there are many alternatives including antidepressants (SSRIs) and anti-anxiety prescriptions such as gabapentin and buspirone. A licensed mental health care professional can show you the available options and find the right one for you.
Is mixing Xanax with alcohol dangerous?
Yes, incredibly dangerous. Both Xanax and alcohol are depressants, meaning they slow everything down from your speech to your heart rate. Combining them only exaggerates these effects to a potentially dangerous degree.
To make matters even worse, Xanax and alcohol are both processed by the same enzymes in your liver, causing both substances to stay in your body even longer—more time for something to go wrong.