Xanax is the brand name for Alprazolam, a type of benzodiazepine. Commonly known as “benzos,” benzodiazepines are a group of powerful central nervous system depressants frequently prescribed to help with sleep difficulties and various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, agoraphobia and panic disorder.
In some cases, Xanax and other benzodiazepines are prescribed for a number of other conditions, including tremors, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), restless leg syndrome and nausea due to chemotherapy.
Xanax works very quickly, with effects peaking within an hour then gradually declining. Unfortunately, users who discover that anxiety soon returns are often tempted to take another pill to keep anxious feelings at bay.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax boosts levels of GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid), a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect in the brain and central nervous system by stopping or slowing down activity in certain neurons.
Xanax is intended to be used for short term treatments, as the medication is highly addictive. The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that approximately four in every 10 people who take the drug for more than six weeks will become addicted.
Stanford University School of Medicine recommends that Xanax be used for no longer than eight weeks, and advises that the drug shouldn’t be used as a treatment for everyday tension and stress.
How is Xanax Abused?
Most people take Xanax strictly as recommended by a health care provider and don’t become addicted. However, using the drug against physician advice, including taking more of the drug than prescribed or more frequently, greatly increases the potential for addiction.
Xanax is especially dangerous when combined with depressant drugs like alcohol or opiates, which may lead to coma or death. Similarly, mixing Xanax with cocaine or other stimulants speeds up the heart rate and may result in heart attack or other cardiovascular problems.
History of Xanax
Benzodiazepines were initially developed in the 1930s to replace barbiturates; as the powerful tranquilizers were believed to be more dangerous with a greater potential for fatal overdose. Benzodiazepines, however, weren’t introduced to the general public until the late 1950s. Librium (chlordiazepoxide) was patented in 1960, followed by Valium (diazepam) and others.
Xanax was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981 and was soon considered to be a wonder drug due to its rapid symptom relief, short half-life and long-term effectiveness. According to CESAR (the Center for Substance Abuse Research), benzodiazepines became the one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States by the 1980s. Xanax is classified as a Schedule IV Controlled Substance by the DEA.
How Does Xanax Addiction Occur?
Although all types of benzodiazepines are addictive, many people take Xanax and other benzos with no ill effect. However, some people develop tolerance when the brain becomes accustomed to the drug. Symptoms return and more of the drug is required to attain the same results.
Scientists aren’t sure why some people become addicted while others are able to take the drug safely, but research indicates there are several factors, including a strong genetic predisposition to addiction. Although not all people with an addicted family member are fated to become dependent on Xanax, the risk is higher than for people without a family history of addiction.
Individuals who have co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or addiction to other drugs are more likely to become addicted to Xanax. People who grow up in an unstable home environment are also at higher risk.
For many people, it is much easier to swallow a pill than to work through difficult issues with a counselor or therapist. Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict who will become hooked.
Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Abuse
Xanax is a powerful drug and indications of abuse can become apparent relatively quickly. However, signs and symptoms vary considerably depending on a number of factors, including length and frequency of use. A person who abuses Xanax may display the following symptoms:
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Addiction
- Heart palpitations and/or chest pain
- Headache (including migraines)
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Double vision
- Twitchy muscles, muscle pain
- Swollen feet and hands
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Emotional and Psychological Symptoms of Xanax Addiction
- Mood swings
- Manic behavior
- Disorientation and confusion
- Problems with memory and concentration
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Addiction
- “Doctor shopping” for prescriptions
- Borrowing or “losing” prescriptions
- Problems at work or school
- Loss of inhibitions
- Preoccupation with using, finding and getting off Xanax
Effects of Xanax Abuse and Addiction
Abuse of Xanax may lead to a number of serious adverse consequences, including hospitalization, legal problems, incarceration, broken relationships, divorce, financial difficulties and loss of employment.
While overdose deaths occur less frequently than deaths associated with barbiturates, Xanax is still a very dangerous drug and abuse should be taken seriously. For example, according to a DEA Intelligence Report published in 2015, some type of benzodiazepine was involved in nearly half of all drug-related deaths occurring in Pennsylvania the previous year. The report goes on to say that among those deaths, Xanax was the most commonly reported, at 40 percent.
NIDA (The National Institute for Drug Abuse) reports that because Xanax and other central nervous system depressants work by slowing activity in the brain, there can sometimes be a rebound effect, including seizures, when the drug is stopped.
The emotional and physical symptoms associated with withdrawal discourage many people from attempting to kick the habit. However, NIDA says that although withdrawal can be difficult, it is rarely life-threatening.
Xanax should be tapered gradually as it takes time for the substance to leave the system and for the brain to adjust to the absence of the drug. Although the process may seem agonizingly slow, cutting back little by little, with the help of a physician, is the best way to avoid serious problems. Never attempt to stop Xanax cold turkey.
Medical detox is helpful any time, but is especially important when withdrawal is severe, when other health conditions are present, or if previous attempts at stopping have failed. If you decide to detox at home, stay in close contact with your health care provider and make sure a family member or friend stays with you around the clock for the first few days.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms, which usually begin within 48 hours, may be mild or severe, depending on the size of the dose and the duration of use. Symptoms may include:
- Anger, irritability and aggressive behavior
- Severe depression
- Thoughts of suicide
- Severe insomnia
- Brain fog
- Tingling feet and hands
- Nerve pain
- Muscle cramps
Xanax and Pregnancy
Xanax should never be used by pregnant women, as benzodiazepines can be harmful to the fetus, especially during the first three months of pregnancy. Additionally, newborns may experience withdrawal symptoms, including serious respiratory difficulties.
The drug shouldn’t be used by nursing mothers, according to Stanford Medicine, as the drug can be passed to the infant in the breast milk.
Recovering from Xanax Addiction
If you think you may be dependent on Xanax, it’s important to address the situation as soon as possible. The longer the drug is used, the more difficult it is to stop. Although getting off the drug isn’t easy, it’s definitely possible to stop using Xanax.
Frequently, it’s necessary to address underlying issues such as depression or anxiety. Some people need help with addiction to alcohol or other drugs.
Most people need counseling or drug and alcohol treatment to learn how to modify negative thinking patterns and cope with stress. Often trauma is associated with addiction, and in these cases a contemporary addiction trauma treatment is beneficial as well. Many have forgotten how to have fun without benefit of Xanax or other addictive drugs. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, biofeedback and other relaxation techniques are often helpful for anxiety and insomnia.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction to Xanax, please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today for help. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available now.