Many people take Xanax with or without a prescription to relieve feelings of anxiety. Though Xanax is thought to be safe when taken within a doctor’s recommendations, abusing it can degrade physical and mental health. Many individuals become dependent on Xanax and develop an addiction to it with prolonged abuse.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine medication prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. It slows down the central nervous system (CNS), reducing a person’s breathing rate and brain function so they can relax.
The sense of calm produced by Xanax is the result of increased activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical responsible for regulating excitement. This helps to reduce the physiological reaction to anxiety. The sedative effects of Xanax aid some people in falling asleep, as well as remaining emotionally balanced throughout the day.
Similar to Ativan (lorazepam), another anti-anxiety medication, Xanax is fast-acting. While some anti-depressants can take weeks to make a difference, Xanax relieves anxiety right away. This means that it has a high potential to be abused in a variety of ways.
How Do People Abuse Xanax?
Xanax (alprazolam) is intended to be used for temporary relief of anxiety or panic attacks. A Xanax prescription should be carefully followed to avoid the risk of dependence and addiction. Taking Xanax in higher doses, more frequently or for longer than prescribed is considered abuse.
Individuals with a Xanax prescription may take more of the drug for it to have a stronger effect. They may also decrease the time between doses against their doctor’s recommendation to avoid experiencing “rebound anxiety.” While the quick onset of Xanax is desirable, the drug has a short half-life. A dose of Xanax may wear off before the next one is due, causing anxiety levels to increase.
A person does not have to have a Xanax prescription in order to abuse it. Some people use Xanax to self-medicate their anxiety symptoms, even if they have not been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Others take Xanax in high doses to experience a sense of euphoria.
Xanax may be abused through several modes of intake, such as:
- Oral: The most common way to take Xanax is the way it was intended. Since Xanax is a fast-acting drug, it gets into the system quickly and is most effective when orally consumed.
- Sublingual: Dissolving Xanax tablets under the tongue causes the drug to reach the bloodstream faster, as it does not have to go through the digestive system first. The effect is similar to that of oral consumption.
- Snorting: Xanax tablets can be crushed into a powder and snorted (insufflated). This can be painful, cause damage to the nasal tissue and is less effective than oral consumption.
- Smoking: Some people smoke Xanax off heated tin foil or sprinkle crushed pills onto marijuana before smoking it. This can harm the lungs and raise the risk of overdose from polydrug use.
- Injection: Though Xanax does not dissolve in water, it can be converted to a liquid form with propylene glycol for injection. This is also less effective than taking it orally and can damage the veins, cause infection and transmit disease through unsanitary needles.
Side Effects Of Xanax Abuse
Long-term Xanax (alprazolam) use and abuse can impair a person’s memory, coordination, and overall cognitive functioning. Abusing Xanax has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It may also cause changes to a person’s sex drive, menstruation, appetite, and weight.
Adverse side effects can occur with regular Xanax use, even if prescription guidelines are followed. Taking more Xanax increases the risk of negative effects.
Side effects of Xanax abuse include:
- dry mouth
- nausea and vomiting
Over time, Xanax can actually worsen anxiety and insomnia, as the brain stops working efficiently and becomes dependent on Xanax to spur the action of GABA. Tolerance also causes Xanax to have a lessened effect. This may lead to someone taking the drug in excess to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which is very dangerous.
If someone takes repeated, overlapping doses of Xanax (alprazolam), the drug builds up in their system. Xanax may remain present in the body anywhere from eight to 59 hours. The more Xanax a person consumes, the higher their chance of reaching toxic levels that cause an overdose.
The same situation can occur when Xanax is mixed with other drugs. Polysubstance abuse with depressants and stimulants alike can multiply a person’s risk of overdose.
When Xanax is combined with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol, opioids or additional benzodiazepines, an individual’s breathing rate can drop to dangerous levels. Severe respiratory depression can cause brain damage, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.
When a person mixes Xanax with a stimulant, such as cocaine or Adderall (amphetamine), it can be hard to tell how impaired they are from either substance. The differing effects create the illusion that a person is less intoxicated than they are, causing them to take more than they normally would. This can easily lead them to take too much and overdose.
Purchasing Xanax on the street or online poses a unique risk for overdose because there is no guarantee that the pills are actually Xanax. Several deaths in the United States have resulted from counterfeit Xanax pills containing fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid drug.
Xanax Dependence And Withdrawal
Prolonged use and abuse of Xanax (alprazolam) induces tolerance, which means that the same dose produces weaker effects. Tolerance can lead to physical dependence. When someone is dependent on Xanax, their body craves the drug and experiences withdrawal symptoms without it.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- dysphoria (general unease)
- muscle cramps
- nausea and vomiting
Withdrawing from benzodiazepines like Xanax can be life-threatening. Seizures are especially dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can result from the disruption of GABA regulation in the brain. GABA levels are drastically increased with Xanax abuse and may drop very low when Xanax is no longer present.
Some people may experience a post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which consists of withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks, months or even years after a person stops taking Xanax. This syndrome occurs in 10 to 15 percent of people who have abused benzodiazepines for a prolonged period.
Signs Of Xanax Addiction
If an individual has become addicted to Xanax (alprazolam), they will take it despite how it affects their quality of life. Addiction can destroy physical and mental health, deplete finances and ruin relationships.
A person suffering from Xanax addiction may become distant and secretive. They may take Xanax as a way of coping with everyday life and insist that they need it to get through the day. Evidence of their lack of control over drug use is likely to show through their attempts to rationalize their behavior.
Since Xanax is a prescription medication, it is not always easy to get. Someone who is addicted to Xanax may go to great lengths to obtain it. They may go “doctor shopping,” or visit several doctors to get multiple prescriptions. They may get it from a friend, on the street or online without a prescription.
When a person is severely addicted to Xanax, the drug takes over their life. It becomes the most important thing, all they can think about and their primary goal is to get more of it. Even when Xanax has paradoxical negative effects (increased anxiety and insomnia), they continue to take it, not because it makes them feel better, but because they cannot stop.
Find Treatment For Xanax Addiction
Our treatment programs for Xanax (alprazolam) addiction at The Bluffs begin with medically supervised detoxification. Since the withdrawal process can be dangerous, medical detox programs keep individuals under observation while they go through withdrawal.
These programs may provide medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and are often accompanied by nutritional support and counseling to prepare someone for formal treatment. Following detox, individuals are medically assessed and work with a therapist to create an individualized plan for an inpatient treatment program.
Our addiction treatment programs use many treatment methods, like counseling and behavioral therapy, to help individuals alter their thoughts and behavior. We do not only deal with the addiction but also how it has affected an individual’s life and how their lifestyle has contributed to the addiction.
We offer dual-diagnosis treatment, which examines co-occurring mental disorders. If these issues are not addressed in a treatment program, they are likely to contribute to relapse in the future. Many people suffering from addiction to Xanax are also struggling with an anxiety disorder, and dual-diagnosis treatment aims to heal both.
The inpatient environment provides a setting wherein individuals have access to constant support through the healing process. By implementing a variety of evidence-based treatments targeted at individual needs, we work to give each person the best chance at recovery.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed — Label: Xanax - Alprazolam Tablet