Xanax (Alprazolam) is a sedative tranquilizer medication in the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. When legitimately prescribed, Xanax can be effective for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure management because of the way it enhances the GABA (gamma – aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for calming effects and sedation, which promotes sleep.
Although millions have used Xanax responsibly, many people suffer from Xanax addiction and engage in abuse of this drug, which often leads to devastating consequences.
Dangers of Xanax Addiction
Unlike other drugs like opioids and stimulants (cocaine, meth, and crack), there is no rush of euphoria associated with Xanax, or any benzodiazepine. This drug does not stimulate dopamine in the brain. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, Xanax literally slows the brain and body function of a user, and when abused, it can lead to respiratory depression and failure, causing death. Xanax is a potent and short-acting benzodiazepine, which means it packs a powerful punch in a short period of time.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2.2 million Americans reported non-medical use of (or abuse) benzodiazepines like Xanax in 2010. Individuals who abuse Xanax run a significant risk of overdose and death, especially when this drug is used with other depressant drugs like heroin, narcotic painkillers, and alcohol. Because all of these drugs are CNS depressants, mixing any two or more of them can lead an individual to a fatal overdose. It is very common for people to abuse Xanax with other drugs, and the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), reports that across all demographics aged 12-55 and older, benzodiazepines like Xanax were a secondary drug of abuse in 74%-85% of all treatment admissions in 2008.
The dangers of mixing benzodiazepines with other depressant drugs seem to be overlooked in many of these cases, as prevalent as they are.
However, for polysubstance abusers (those who abuse more than one substance), Xanax abuse is common across all lines of drug abuse and addiction. For most individuals who abuse Xanax with other drugs, the desired outcome may vary, depending on the individual, and can include the following:
- Abuse of, and addiction to depressant drugs often results in insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns. This can lead individuals to seek out a “sleep aid” in the form of Xanax. And while the initial intention may be to get a better night’s sleep, Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine that wears off in 4-6 hours, which is not long enough to maintain sleep, prompting more usage of the drug which leads to higher tolerance, and so the progression of addiction continues.
- Many individuals who abuse depressant drugs are attracted to the sedative effects of said drugs, and perhaps not so much the rush of euphoria. For these individuals, the more sedation they can achieve, the better. This leads to increased dosages of Xanax in conjunction with any other depressant drug being abused.
- Individuals who abuse stimulant drugs like cocaine, meth, and/or crack often use Xanax to “come down” from their high, so as not to be so “speedy”, or ease the effects of withdrawal from stimulant drugs. One of the most common withdrawal symptoms from these drugs is anxiety, and Xanax can be effective in managing it. However, without a medical detox where a longer acting, less potent benzodiazepine can be prescribed, Xanax use for this purpose can be very dangerous as it wears off much faster, and when it does, it may produce rebound symptoms like increased anxiety.
Effects of Xanax
Although Xanax may be effective in treating some forms of anxiety, preventing seizures, and inducing sleep, its abuse can lead to devastating and dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors in individuals. Since Xanax is among the more potent benzodiazepines, its effects are usually easily noticeable by others, and include such things as:
- Slurred speech
- Droopy eyelids
- Overly relaxed muscles
- Staggering while walking
- Involuntary eye movement
- Impaired cognition and concentration
- Lack of coordination
There are many other effects of Xanax, including reduced heart rate, and shallow breathing. In some cases of Xanax abuse, it can have a paradoxical effect, resulting in increased energy and often-extreme agitation and hostility. When Xanax is used or abused over a prolonged period of time (usually 6 weeks or longer), it leads to dependence and addiction. Once dependent on Xanax, there is new struggle for those who abuse it in the form of withdrawal symptoms. Like all CNS depressants, the withdrawal symptoms from Xanax can be grueling, and in many cases, life threatening without a medical detox. Some of the effects of Xanax withdrawal include:
- Severe anxiety
- Increased heat rate
- High blood pressure
- Extreme agitation and hostility
- Grand mal seizures
- Muscle cramps and twitching
- Heightened sensory perception
Without a medical detox, seizures and convulsions from Xanax withdrawal can be deadly. Generally, in a medical detox facility, an individual who is addicted to Xanax will be transitioned to a less potent and long-acting benzodiazepine, and then slowly tapered from that. Over the course of several days or weeks (depending on the individual response and severity of addiction), the long acting benzodiazepine dose will be reduced to the point at which the individual can safely withdraw from the remainder of the dosage, to be drug-free. Because the half-life of Xanax is short, relative to other benzodiazepines, the withdrawal symptoms tend to have more of a sudden onset. For a longer acting benzodiazepine like Valium, which stays in the system much longer, sudden discontinuation would produce a more gradual withdrawal, whereas Xanax is expelled from the system within a day, and cessation would cause an abrupt onset of withdrawal symptoms. Typically, Xanax withdrawal lasts approximately 10 days, but this varies on an individual basis.
Overcoming Xanax Addiction
Since the majority of people who need treatment for Xanax also need treatment for a primary drug of abuse, the detox process can be long, complicated, and grueling. However, this is the first, and often the hardest step on the path to recovery. When an individual is ready to get sober, it is important to seek a medical detox for Xanax. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to very severe and life threatening, and this largely depends on the individual, the severity of his or her addiction to Xanax, and how much and often he/she has been taking. Often, the severity and length of withdrawal symptoms are commensurate to the length of time, frequencies, and dosages of Xanax the individual has been taking.
Once Xanax detoxification has been completed, there is still much work to be done in addiction treatment, and relapse prevention. In the cases of individuals who have been prescribed Xanax for a legitimate medical purpose like anxiety or insomnia, it will be necessary to address the causes of the symptoms that led to Xanax use in the first place. As such individuals who have become addicted to Xanax should not return to using it, they must also have some way of managing his/her symptoms, in order to maintain a higher quality of life. It can be difficult to manage symptoms of anxiety and insomnia without the use of Xanax or other benzodiazepines, but there are numerous holistic methods of treatment that can be considered with health care professionals.
The benefits of addiction treatment are numerous, and all are intended to achieve one goal: relapse prevention. Within the various efforts to accomplish this goal are:
- Healthy eating habits and lifestyle
- Individual and group therapy
- Understanding one’s own personal triggers
- Addressing internal traumas and issues
- Vitamin, mineral, and amino acid supplementation regimens for optimal health
- Aftercare and resources for ongoing recovery support
- Learning and improving coping and survival skills
These various aspects of treatment can be implemented through a variety of different therapies and courses, which vary depending on the addiction treatment program.
If you, or a loved one are struggling with Xanax addiction, it is imperative to get help immediately as both the addiction and sudden discontinuation of Xanax can be fatal without professional assistance. Please call us and speak with one of our counselors about your situation. We will talk with you to help you determine the best course of detox and addiction treatment, based on the needs, preferences, and belief system of the individual in need of help. Xanax addiction can be treated, and the symptoms for which it may have been prescribed can be managed, and help is only one phone call away. With the wide array of treatment options available, we will work with you to find the one that is most effective and promotes the most healing and comfort for recovery from Xanax addiction. Please don’t wait for help; call us now.