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Everything You Need to Know About Xanax Addiction
At first, Xanax may seem like a miracle cure—exactly what you or your loved one needs to cure anxiety, insomnia, or another disorder. The sedative-induced calm is a welcome relief from the stress of recent months or even years.
Over time, however, the miracle cure no longer brings freedom. Instead, as you or your loved one becomes dependent on the drug, it starts to seem like a new type of prison. What happened? Is this dangerous? And is a healthy future, free of prescription medication, really possible?
Read on to have your questions answered and learn everything you need to know about Xanax addiction.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a prescription medication used to treat anxiety disorders. It’s one of the most common anti-anxiety drugs prescribed in the United States and it’s also one of the most abused. Xanax is classified as a benzodiazepine, part of the larger group of Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants.
Recreational use has grown over the past decade aided by pop culture’s glorification of Xanax and other benzodiazepines. These prescription medications are highly addictive and dangerous. Benzodiazepine addiction is a serious problem with rates of misuse holding steady during the past five years.
Almost 5 million people ages 12 and older in the United States reported abusing Xanax in the past year. Unfortunately, misuse can quickly turn into an addiction. If you or a loved one struggle with an addiction problem, Xanax rehabilitation is available.
A Definition of Xanax
Xanax is the brand name of the medication alprazolam. It’s a benzodiazepine medication, a sedative-hypnotic drug that suppresses the CNS. Clinicians most often use it to treat anxiety but it also helps manage panic disorders, stress reactions, and sleep disorders. Some other drugs in the benzodiazepine class include:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Estazolam (Prosom)
Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed medications when treating patients with anxiety. It interacts with the CNS and slows brain activity to relax a person’s racing thoughts. This causes drowsy, calm effects that make it an effective medication for anxiety and sleep disorders.
These effects also make it a popular drug of choice for recreational use. Users enjoy the calm euphoria that comes with heavy benzodiazepine use. This is why doctors are encouraged to use Xanax as a short-term part of treatment.
Much like opioids, benzodiazepines are a highly addictive drug. Long-term use leads to dependence and puts patients at risk of developing a benzodiazepine use disorder. Dependence and abuse leave people susceptible to experiencing withdrawal symptoms when quitting use. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe.
What are the dangers of Xanax addiction?
Even without addiction, there are several dangerous side effects of Xanax, including disorientation, slurred speech, loss of coordination, memory problems, anxiety, feelings of sadness or emptiness, loss of interest or pleasure, trouble performing routine tasks, and depression.
Those who become addicted to Xanax often become so consumed with getting their medication that they let all other responsibilities, such as work, school, and family, fall to the wayside.
Addicts who increase their dosage or combine it with other drugs or alcohol put themselves at a higher risk of overdose, which can be fatal. The CDC reported that alprazolam (Xanax) was one of the top 10 drugs associated with overdose deaths in the US from 2010 to 2014.
Other Names for Xanax
Xanax has many street names or slang terms used to refer to it. They’re a popular drug in pop culture with many artists referencing the drug in their music and some even going as far as using it as part of their stage name.
The drug’s popularity has led to a wide range of slang names and street terms. Some other names for Xanax include:
- Blue footballs
- White boys
- Bicycle parts
- Benzos (short for benzodiazepines)
“Bars,” one of the most common terms used to refer to Xanax, comes from the shape of the medication. Brand-name Xanax is shaped into long, thin white bars split into four sections. This isn’t the only form that the medication comes in, though. There are other manufacturers that produce a few dozen other types of alprazolam tablets, each with a different appearance.
What is Xanax Made Of?
Xanax is the brand name of the medication made from a drug called alprazolam. The chemical structure consists of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring, along with a triazole ring. There are a few different types of benzodiazepines on the market.
Alprazolam medications come in two types of tablet forms: regular release and extended-release. Regular release tablets come in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg. The extended-release tablets come in different dosages: 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg, and 3 mg. Some manufacturers make alprazolam in liquid form, too.
Brand name Xanax only comes in tablet form. They’re the long, white bars most often associated with benzodiazepines. You may hear rappers referring to “bars” in their music; they’re referring to the brand-name form of alprazolam.
Chemistry of Xanax
Xanax, or alprazolam, is a powerful and potent anti-anxiety medication. It is a highly effective drug which makes it one of the most prescribed medications when treating anxiety disorders. The drug works by increasing activity at gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA neurotransmitters limit neural activity which slows the brain and CNS.
The chemistry of Xanax is what makes it such an effective treatment for anxiety, panic disorders, and other stress-related conditions. Limiting neural activity keeps patients calm and relaxed both physically and psychologically.
At the same time, the chemistry of Xanax is also what makes it such an addictive drug. GABA neurons quickly adapt to its presence and soon require more to achieve the same limiting effect. Xanax is such a strong medication that people develop a dependence on it, whether or not they struggle with substance abuse.
Once GABA receptors adapt to Xanax, they are underactive once the person stops using it. This leads to withdrawal symptoms that develop as soon as a few days or hours after stopping use. These symptoms range from moderate to severe depending on dosage and the length of time they were used.
Is Xanax Legal?
Xanax is legal under certain circumstances. It is legal for use only as directed with a legitimate prescription from your physician or psychiatrist. It’s not legal to use more than you are prescribed, though. People with a history of addictive behaviors may struggle to adhere to the required dose.
It’s classified as a controlled substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Xanax is a Schedule IV drug, categorized alongside other prescription medications like Ambien, Ativan, Valium, and Soma. It can be used only for medical or psychiatric purposes.
Xanax is not legal when taken without a prescription. Even if you’re using it to manage a legitimate anxiety disorder, it’s considered self-medication. If you do not have a prescription it is not legal to take Xanax. Recreational use is also illegal, whether it’s an authentic or counterfeit product.
It’s also illegal to distribute a Xanax prescription. For example, if you have a prescription from your physician or psychiatrist, you cannot fill it and then give it or sell it to someone else. This is considered distribution of narcotics and comes with a heavy penalty.
3 Myths About Xanax
There are many different myths about Xanax. People repeat things they hear that aren’t true and spread misinformation that can potentially be dangerous. The following are only a few of the many myths about Xanax you may have heard.
1. Xanax is not an addictive drug
Xanax is very much an addictive drug. It’s actually one of the most addictive prescription medications available. There is such a high potential for dependence on Xanax that it’s recommended only as a short-term use medication.
2. Xanax is safe to use as long as you have a prescription
Xanax is safer for use when you have a prescription and are under ongoing supervision with your physician or psychiatrist. Saying it’s completely safe to use because you have a prescription is a myth, though. Using any amount of Xanax comes with at least some risk for dependence and possible long-term effects.
3. Xanax is the only treatment for anxiety
Some believe medication is the only way to treat anxiety but this is a myth. The truth is effective anxiety treatment requires a combination of approaches. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing anxiety disorders and they require an individualized approach.
Facts About Xanax
To combat the myths about Xanax it’s also important to know some facts about Xanax.
Xanax is the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medication
Xanax is not only a household name because of its recreational use and pop culture references, it sees much of its use for medical purposes, too. In fact, pharmacies dispensed more than 48 million Xanax prescriptions in 2013 alone.
Xanax addiction is a serious problem
Xanax specifically, and benzodiazepines in general, are serious substances. Xanax addiction is not an easy addiction to overcome. Withdrawals are intense and cause intense cravings that users often succumb to. Treating Xanax addiction usually requires a stay in a treatment facility.
Mixing Xanax with alcohol or other drugs can lead to fatal consequences
Xanax is dangerous enough on its own but mixing it with alcohol or other drugs can be deadly. Since it’s a CNS depressant, the medication slows functions like heart rate and respiration. Mixing it with other depressant substances can cause you to stop breathing or other dangerous and potentially fatal effects.
What are the signs of Xanax overdose?
According to WebMD, the signs of Xanax overdose may vary but can include loss of balance, confusion, slowed heart rate, difficulty breathing, extreme drowsiness, or coma. Xanax overdose can be fatal.
If your loved one is exhibiting signs of a Xanax overdose, call 911 for medical help right away.
What are the signs of Xanax withdrawal?
Xanax addicts have developed a physical and psychological dependence on the drug. Efforts to quit all medication immediately can spark a host of dangerous and painful withdrawal symptoms, including convulsions, seizures, mood swings, mania, psychosis, and paranoia.
Xanax withdrawal can be fatal, especially if a user attempts to undergo this process on their own. Self-treatment is strongly discouraged, as medical professionals can help make detox safer and more comfortable.
How is Xanax addiction treated?
Xanax should never be quit “cold turkey.” Instead, users need a medically supervised detox to ensure a safe transition with as few withdrawal symptoms as possible. Here at Hawaiian Island Recovery, we slowly wean Xanax addicts off of their medication in order to minimize discomfort and protect their health and safety.
Detox is just the beginning of an addict’s journey to health and sobriety. Next, a professional treatment plan is put into place to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to the addiction.
Dual diagnosis can be extremely helpful for those who first turned to Xanax to treat anxiety or depression, as this therapy can address both the addiction and the initial disorder. Many Xanax users find CBT, equine-assisted therapy, and wild dolphin therapy to also be helpful in their journey to recovery.
An inpatient stays in a treatment center allows Xanax users to gain the tools and confidence necessary for a life of sobriety after addiction. Here at HIR, our team of licensed professionals provides medically supervised detox, dual diagnosis, experiential therapy, and more.
To learn more about the experience a Xanax user can expect at HIR, watch this short video testimonial from our former resident Shannon. While in rehab, Shannon was weaned off of Xanax and developed not only freedom from addiction but also a renewed confidence and joy for life.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax works by depressing the central nervous system (CNS). Like other benzodiazepines, it slows the brain and neural activity to calm a person down. This makes the medication an effective tool to treat conditions like anxiety and panic disorders or insomnia.
It’s not an effective long-term solution, though. Xanax is a powerful medication that works well for treating acute symptoms of anxiety. It comes with too high of a potential for dependence and abuse for anything other than short-term use. Long-term use of Xanax or other benzodiazepines puts patients at a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder.
What Does Xanax Do?
The central nervous system is responsible for controlling most functions of a person’s mind and body. It’s made up of the brain and spinal cord and oversees many of the body’s involuntary functions. These include things like breathing, blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate regulation.
Xanax works by interacting directly with a person’s CNS. When benzodiazepines slow neural activity in the nervous system, they slow all of these involuntary body functions. Think of the effects of alcohol and then amplify them. That’s similar to what Xanax does.
People who use the medication, and especially those who abuse it, feel drowsy or sleepy. It slows breathing and heart rate and lowers blood pressure and body temperature. Xanax also limits reaction time and cognitive abilities.
How Does Xanax Make You Feel?
The way Xanax makes you feel depends on the way you use it. Most importantly, it’s going to feel different if you’re using it recreationally compared to using it to treat an anxiety disorder. People who use it as an anti-anxiety medication for prescribed purposes will have somewhat milder effects. Those who use it for recreational reasons use more of it for more intense feelings.
Regardless of how you use it, it’s still a strong medication with powerful effects. There are a few factors that affect the way Xanax makes you feel, including:
- Overall psychological state
If you’re taking it to treat an anxiety or panic disorder, Xanax will make you feel “normal.” The sedative effects of Xanax relieve both your psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety. It calms your nerves and reduces your overall anxiety so you can focus on learning to cope with your disorder.
If you use Xanax recreationally, or without a prescription, the effects are somewhat different. It still has the sedative, calming effects that it does for people with anxiety disorders. Since you don’t suffer from anxiety, though, these effects produce a euphoric, “high” feeling. Xanax makes you feel calm, quiet, relaxed, and often tired. Some even report blacking out when using high doses.
Does Xanax Interact With Other Medications?
It’s important to know that Xanax interacts with other medications. It has strong CNS effects which can amplify the effects of additional substances. Whether it’s a legal, over-the-counter medication or another illicit drug, Xanax will most likely interact with it. Some of the substances it interacts with include:
Avoid combining Xanax with any other medications whether they’re legal or not. Some drugs can also block the pathways that eliminate Xanax from your system. Over time, this may cause a toxic buildup in your system and lead to an accidental overdose. You also put yourself at risk of accidentally compounding the effects of these substances.
If you need to take something while on Xanax, consult your physician or psychiatrist before taking it. You want to make sure you aren’t taking anything that will lead to short-term or long-term effects on your mental or physical health.
Effects of Xanax
There are a few common effects of Xanax, including calmness, sedation, and possible euphoria. At the same time, the medication doesn’t affect everyone in the same way, though. The exact effects depend on a few factors such as:
- Overall psychological state
If you’re using Xanax to manage a mental disorder, the effects help you feel more even-keel or “normal.” People who use the drug recreationally experienced more pronounced effects of Xanax. Those treating a mental disorder with Xanax aren’t as likely to feel the same exciting “high” that recreational users seek.
The following effects of Xanax are the most common. Not everyone experiences all of the listed effects. Again, the factors above influence the way the medication affects you.
Calmness is one of the main effects of Xanax. It aims to relieve anxiety in people with severe anxiety or panic disorders. The medication reduces agitation and extreme emotional reactions to anxiety triggers.
Sedation is another effect of Xanax. Its sedative properties both aid with anxiety treatment and encourage sleep for those with sleep disorders.
Feelings of euphoria are another effect of Xanax. Euphoric sensations are usually limited to those who use the medication recreationally. Higher doses of the drug lead to these pleasurable feelings that keep people coming using it.
Additional Side Effects of Xanax
There are plenty more side effects of Xanax ranging from mildly uncomfortable to more severe. Different people experience different effects depending on the factors listed above. Some of these additional side effects of using Xanax include:
- Memory problems
- Problems with balance or coordination
- Slurred speech
- Dry mouth
- Appetite changes
- Muscle weakness
- Stuffy nose
Dangerous Effects of Xanax
There are also some dangerous effects of Xanax. People who use more than prescribed or those who use it without a prescription put themselves at risk of the following effects:
- Double vision
Medical Uses of Xanax
The medical uses of Xanax are very specific. It’s used as a tool to treat anxiety and panic disorders, and occasionally for sleep disorders. Xanax should only be used on a short-term basis because of its high potential for addiction.
Anxiety disorders include a range of conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Psychiatrists use Xanax to limit symptoms of severe anxiety disorders to increase the effectiveness of other treatment methods.
Panic disorders are conditions characterized by the presence of panic attacks. These panic attacks come on unexpectedly which causes incredible anxiety. Severe panic disorders limit a person’s quality of life when they start avoiding social situations or struggle to leave the house. Xanax is a helpful part of a well-rounded treatment program.
Anxiety and panic disorders are the two more common medical uses of Xanax. In some cases, it’s also useful for treating sleep disorders. Its powerful effects on the central nervous system aim to calm the user enough to help them fall asleep.
Recreational Use of Xanax
Recreational use of Xanax refers to any use that is neither prescribed nor approved by a psychiatrist. Some people start by taking more of the medication than they’re prescribed. Others seek it out for recreational use from the start. No matter how it begins, this type of use is not only dangerous and it’s also growing in popularity.
The effects of Xanax are powerful and often fast-acting, making it popular for recreational use. People of all ages turn to the recreational use of Xanax. It’s worrisome, though, because it’s easy for people to misjudge how much of the medication they take. It also causes incredible withdrawal symptoms by the time they reach the point of quitting.
Xanax as a Street Drug
Xanax as a street drug is available in multiple ways. Some purchase legitimate medications from a family member, friend, or acquaintance with a prescription. Others “doctor shop” which means they visit multiple doctors to receive more than one prescription at a time.
Many people purchase the drug from an illicit source, such as a drug dealer or online market. This is the most dangerous way to acquire Xanax as a street drug because of the growing amount of counterfeit medication available. Many dealers sell this illicitly-manufactured Xanax.
The drug is already dangerous when it’s a legitimate medication. Counterfeit Xanax undergoes no quality control. There is no guarantee of what’s in the drug. It’s often cut with other substances to increase profits, too. Xanax as a street drug comes with significant risk.
Contraindications of Xanax
Xanax is a useful medication for plenty of people in different situations. It calms those with anxiety and panic disorders, relieving their most severe symptoms. Xanax also helps people with sleep disorders get the much-needed rest they’re missing out on. Sometimes it’s not the best option for treatment, though.
Anyone with a sensitivity to benzodiazepines should avoid taking Xanax. People with a history of alcohol or substance use disorders shouldn’t take the medication, either. They’re at a much higher risk of abusing Xanax if they have had problems with substance abuse in the past.
Some of the following are a few other conditions that have contraindications with Xanax:
- Sleep apnea
- Asthma or other breathing problems
- Kidney problems
- Liver diseases
- Decreased lung function
- History of depression
- Suicidal ideation
People who have contraindications of Xanax should avoid taking the medication and find an alternative. Taking Xanax while having any of these contraindications puts you at risk for serious complications.
Side Effects of Xanax
There are many different possible side effects of Xanax. The medication affects people depending on a few various factors such as age, physical health, mental health, and more. Not everyone experiences every Xanax side effect listed below. Additionally, some side effects are more pronounced in certain individuals.
Xanax interacts with and slows the CNS, resulting in feelings of drowsiness in most people who take the medication.
Xanax’s effects on the central nervous system may make some people feel lightheaded when taking it.
One common side effect of Xanax is low energy because of its slowing effects on the brain and body.
Xanax’s interaction with the CNS may cause some people to feel dizzy or off-balance when taking the medication.
Some people experience depression as a side effect of Xanax if they’re predisposed to symptoms of depression.
Xanax is a powerful medication that may cause confusion in some individuals when they take it.
The strong effects of Xanax may cause some people to experience memory impairment, ranging from mild to moderate.
Abnormal Involuntary Movement
Xanax’s slowing of the central nervous system might cause abnormal involuntary movement, such as tremors or twitching.
Nausea and Vomiting
Taking Xanax may cause nausea, upset stomach, or vomiting in some individuals, especially when taken on an empty stomach.
Changes in Appetite
Another side effect of Xanax for some people includes changes in appetite, both increased and decreased appetite.
Can a Person Overdose on Xanax?
The most dangerous side effect is a Xanax overdose. Overdosing on Xanax happens when someone takes too much of the medication. It also more commonly occurs when someone mixes Xanax with alcohol or another drug. Since it has such powerful effects on the central nervous system, mixing other substances with Xanax heightens the risk of overdose.
Signs of a Xanax overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate
- Inability to stay awake
- Decreased coordination
- Impaired reflexes
If someone is showing signs of a Xanax overdose you should seek immediate medical attention. Call for emergency medical services and remain on the phone until responders arrive. Severe Xanax overdoses may be fatal if the person doesn’t receive treatment immediately.
Addiction to Xanax
Even though it’s a prescription medication, addiction to Xanax is possible. They’re an important tool for treating anxiety and panic disorders but also a target for extreme misuse and abuse. Xanax addiction is a growing problem throughout the United States. An estimated 1.8 percent of people ages 12 and older report misusing benzodiazepines in the past year.
Before explaining Xanax addiction, it’s important to note the difference between dependence and addiction. Not everyone who develops a dependence on medication is addicted to it. Dependence refers to the physical and psychological reliance the body develops over time. Even people who use the medication as prescribed may develop dependence.
Addiction is different. There are a few major differences between addiction and dependence. For example, someone with an addiction to Xanax uses the drug compulsively despite any negative consequences that result. They may also use more than intended and it often interferes with responsibilities like family, school, and work.
How does addiction to Xanax develop, though, and why is it such an addictive drug?
Is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax is one of the most highly addictive prescription drugs available. Both prescription and recreational users can find themselves hooked in as little as a few weeks. Six weeks of daily use causes dependency in 2 out of 5 people according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
This is why benzodiazepines are recommended only as a short-term treatment solution. They are a useful part of treatment plans for many but not if they cause another problem to develop. Avoiding dependence is crucial when using the medication to treat mental disorders. Xanax addiction is a serious condition that will worsen panic and anxiety symptoms.
Why is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax is addictive because of its strong effects on the central nervous system. It causes pleasurable physical and psychological reactions that keep users wanting more. People who use it consistently also build tolerance very quickly. This means they need to use more of the drug to achieve the desired result.
The combination of pleasurable effects and building tolerance makes Xanax addictive, along with other benzodiazepines. People eventually reach the point where they need to use them every day to function.
Can Xanax Cause Withdrawal?
After dependence or addiction develops, the body adapts to the regular presence of these drugs. When a person suddenly stops using them they experience reactions, both physical and psychological, called withdrawal symptoms. Xanax’s extreme effects on the central nervous system cause these withdrawals.
Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can be mildly uncomfortable or very severe. Quitting cold turkey usually causes at least some type of withdrawal symptoms. The intensity depends on the length of use, how much medication they use, their overall health, and more. Some of the possible Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms
- Increased pulse
- Difficulties concentrating
- Panic attacks
How Do You Treat Xanax Addiction?
The best way to treat Xanax addiction is at an addiction treatment facility. These facilities offer specialized treatment focused on helping people with substance use disorders achieve sobriety. There are multiple levels of care which makes treatment available to anyone who needs to separate from substances.
People with a Xanax addiction usually need to start with medical detox. Detox manages withdrawal symptoms and ensures the patient’s safety during their first few days in treatment. It lessens the intensity of withdrawals to make the detox process smoother.
After detox, people usually transition either to inpatient or outpatient treatment depending on their needs. Inpatient treatment is a residential program that provides 24-hour structure and support. Outpatient treatment is a more flexible option that removes the residential component, making treatment more accessible to a wider range of people.
Where to Treat Xanax Addiction
Are you or a loved one struggling and wondering where to treat Xanax addiction? The best way to treat addiction to Xanax is at a qualified addiction treatment facility like Hawaii Island Recovery. We offer caring, comprehensive drug rehab programs for anyone trying to escape the cycle of addiction.
Whether it’s your first time trying to get sober or you’ve been to treatment before, we’re here to help you. Reach out to us today and let us help you find your way out!