Xanax is marketed as a safe and effective anti-anxiety medication, but it is widely abused.
People who abuse Xanax often receive it as a prescription and neglect to follow their doctor’s orders on how much to take or how often to take it. Xanax abuse can quickly lead to physical dependence and addiction.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax is a brand name of alprazolam, a benzodiazepine drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Because of its sedation effect, some people use it for insomnia as well.
Xanax slows the central nervous system by enhancing the effect of gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA), a chemical that calms brain activity. This slows a person’s heart rate and breathing. Their body and mind relax so they can sleep or feel more emotionally balanced.
While some medications take days or weeks to be effective, Xanax starts working immediately to relieve anxiety. As a fast-acting drug with pleasurable effects, it has a high potential for abuse.
How Do People Abuse Xanax?
Many people use Xanax to self-medicate, either by taking more than their doctor prescribed or using it without a prescription. Taking this drug in any way outside of prescription guidelines is considered Xanax abuse.
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Xanax (alprazolam) comes as a pill intended to be swallowed.
While this is the safest and most effective way to take the drug, some people abuse it in other ways, such as:
- Sublingually: Dissolving Xanax under the tongue allows it to bypass the digestive system and go straight to the bloodstream. Because Xanax is a fast-acting drug, this has about the same effect as taking it orally.
- Snorting (Insufflation): Crushing Xanax tablets and snorting them also takes the drug directly to the bloodstream. However, like most benzodiazepines, Xanax is not very water-soluble and is not well-absorbed or effective this way. Snorting Xanax can destroy nasal tissue.
- Smoking: Some people sprinkle crushed Xanax over marijuana before smoking it for more intense relaxation. Others heat tin foil with powdered Xanax on it and inhale the vapors. Smoking Xanax is no more effective than taking it orally and can damage the lungs.
- Injection: Since Xanax is fat-soluble, it cannot be dissolved in water for injection, but may be made into an injectable solution with propylene glycol. This is also less effective and can cause bacterial infection and collapsed veins.
Xanax Abuse Side Effects
Research shows that Xanax (alprazolam) abuse can have negative effects on the brain, such as impaired coordination, memory, and overall function.
Xanax may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Adverse side effects may occur with prescribed use but are more likely with Xanax abuse.
Side effects of Xanax abuse may include:
- dry mouth
Abusing Xanax can change someone’s appetite, weight, and sex drive and may even cause them to experience more anxiety and insomnia.
As a person builds a tolerance to Xanax, their brain becomes less effective at regulating GABA, so it needs the drug to keep it calm. This traps many people in the cycle of addiction, causing them to keep taking Xanax in increasing amounts to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Signs Of Xanax Abuse And Addiction
A common sign of Xanax abuse is “doctor shopping” (visiting more than one doctor to get multiple prescriptions) or obtaining the drug illegally.
If your loved one is abusing Xanax, you may find pills from several doctors, unlabeled pill bottles, or Xanax tablets in baggies.
A sign that someone is suffering from addiction is a loss of control over their drug use. They may claim to need Xanax to get through the day and spend excessive time and money on it. Even if they want to stop taking it or cut back, they are likely unable to.
Other signs of Xanax abuse and addiction include:
- a constant state of sedation
- loss of interest in social activities
- strained relationships
- poor work performance or job loss
- increased anxiety or insomnia
- secretive or odd behavior
Though it is less common to abuse benzodiazepines by snorting, smoking, or injection, some people do. Drug paraphernalia such as rolled paper, tin foil, or syringes could also indicate Xanax abuse.
Xanax Overdose Symptoms
A person can overdose on Xanax (alprazolam) if they take too much or combine it with other drugs.
Benzodiazepines like Xanax are stored in body fat for later use when they are taken in excess. Xanax can stay in someone’s system for eight to 59 hours.
The more doses a person takes during this time, the more Xanax builds up in the body, which can cause it to reach a toxic level.
It is dangerous to combine Xanax with other benzodiazepines, alcohol, or opioids. Since these drugs are all central nervous system depressants, mixing them can severely decrease a person’s breathing and heart rate. The result may be a loss of consciousness, coma, or death.
Taking Xanax with stimulant drugs also raises overdose risk. Stimulants like cocaine and Adderall (amphetamine) speed up brain activity while depressants slow it down.
This opposing effect can lead a person to believe they are not intoxicated. They may then take more of one or both drugs and overdose before realizing they’ve taken too much.
Buying Xanax illegally increases the chance of overdose too. Reports of fake Xanax pills laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid, have surfaced across the United States in recent years. Small amounts of fentanyl can cause an overdose, so taking it without knowing can be fatal.
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Most benzodiazepines are prescribed as short-term treatment because the body quickly develops a tolerance to them. After a few weeks, drugs like Xanax (alprazolam) may start to be less effective.
Some people take higher doses (with or without their doctor’s recommendation) to feel the same anxiety-relief as before. This makes it more likely that they will become physically dependent on Xanax.
This means their body craves Xanax and relies on it to function. If they stop taking the drug or reduce their dosage, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be deadly. Because the addicted brain needs Xanax to regulate GABA, the absence of the drug can spike brain activity, causing seizures.
Other Xanax withdrawal symptoms may be:
- muscle cramps
- dysphoria (unease)
Many doctors create tapering schedules to slowly wean people off Xanax, which can prevent or reduce these symptoms.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may occur with Xanax dependence and addiction. Some individuals have withdrawal symptoms for weeks, months, or years after they stop taking the drug.
Also called “protracted withdrawal,” this condition generally causes symptoms like depression, anxiety, and panic. Symptoms may continue after the normal withdrawal period or may re-emerge at a later time.
Medical Detox For Xanax Addiction
Because benzodiazepine withdrawal is life-threatening, no one should detox from Xanax alone.
A medically supervised detox program provides an inpatient environment for around-the-clock support through the withdrawal process. These programs monitor a person’s vital signs and ease withdrawal symptoms with medication if necessary.
Medical detox may involve tapering the individual off Xanax (gradually decreasing their dosage until their body can function without it). If they have severe symptoms, the clinical staff ensures that they are stabilized and safe.
Xanax Addiction Treatment Options
Xanax addiction treatment begins once the detox process has ended. If physical dependence is not remedied first, a person will likely have cravings for Xanax that make it hard to focus on healing from addiction.
Because many people who struggle with Xanax addiction begin taking the drug for anxiety or panic disorders, we offer dual diagnosis treatment at Vertava Health of Massachusetts. This addresses both the addiction and co-occurring mental disorders to reduce the risk of relapse.
Our customized treatment programs include a variety of evidence-based methods that target each person’s experience with addiction. We use a holistic approach that nurtures the mind, body, and spirit.
Behavioral therapy is a cornerstone of Xanax addiction treatment that teaches people how they can transform their thoughts and behavior.
Other treatment methods—such as yoga and art—encourage natural stress management and healthy lifestyle choices. To learn more about the benzodiazepine addiction treatment program at Vertava Health of Massachusetts, contact us today.