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Xanax Abuse and Addiction

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Of all prescription medications, those that fall in the category of “benzodiazepines”–and Xanax specifically–are among the most commonly abused substances.

Teens and young adults are the age groups most likely to recreationally use Xanax in pursuit of a “Xanax high”. While Xanax does not create a literal “high,” its euphoric effects at high doses can give similar sedative feelings in the user.

What is xanax?

Xanax is the most commonly known brand name for the drug Alprazolam. Xanax falls into a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (aka “benzos”), which are CNS depressants. Other drugs in this category include Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium.

Benzos enhance the sedative effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid GABA neurotransmitters in the brain. The result is that they suppress the neurotransmitters that signal fear, effectively calming anxiety and helping people sleep.

Xanax is available as a prescription, but people who have become addicted to it often attempt to buy it from illicit sources. Xanax sometimes appears under street names such as:

  • Xannies or Zannies
  • Handlebars
  • Bars
  • Blue Footballs
  • Benzos
  • French Fries
  • Ladders
  • Sticks

These street versions can be even more dangerous than abusing prescriptions as the content and dosage is altered. Fake Xanax or “pressed Xanax” pills are almost always knock-off versions cut with fentanyl using a pill press bought off the internet.

What are the medical applications of Xanax?

Doctors most often prescribe benzodiazepines to help those who suffer with anxiety, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, or seizures.

Xanax is not meant for long-term use. In fact, the recommended maximum treatment time is six weeks. Taking Xanax beyond this timeframe can be harmful in two ways:

  1. Overuse increases the likelihood that Xanax will start to lose its efficacy for the condition it was meant to treat.
  2. At the same time, even at a prescribed dose level, the probability of forming a chemical dependence on alazopram greatly increases.

The continually-increasing rate of addiction to benzos makes many doctors hesitant to prescribe them in the first place. Still, others refill prescriptions at alarming rates, perpetuating the cycle.

Xanax side effects

Benzodiazepines come in several variations: as a short-acting benzo, which stays in the body 2-4 hours, an “intermediate-acting” benzo (Xanax) , which stays in the body 6-12 hours, and long-acting benzos, which can last 5-30 hours.

In addition to the desired effects of Xanax, unpleasant side effects may present themselves at any dosage level and at any point in time after taking.

Short-term effects of Xanax

Even a regular prescription dose of Xanax may come with the following common side effects:

  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain

If taken excessively, more serious symptoms can occur such as:

  • Fainting
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Poor coordination
  • Trouble breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Severe drowsiness

Long-term effects of Xanax

There are several dangers which can result from the long-term use of benzodiazepines. Some of these effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Mental confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Vertigo
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

As mentioned previously, long-term use of benzodiazepines is not recommended as it often results in dependence and tolerance, leading to Xanax becoming less effective.

Xanax dependence and withdrawal

Xanax users may develop a chemical or psychological addiction to the drug.

Chemical dependence describes the physical symptoms a person experiences if they reduce or stop taking a substance (also known as withdrawal).

Psychological dependence occurs when a person’s thoughts constantly center around obtaining or taking a substance. While this type of Xanax dependence may “feel” less severe than chemical dependence (physical) symptoms, psychological obsession or compulsion can take much longer to break.

Former Benzo addict Ashley Zlatopolsky described her experience:

“The first time I popped a Xanax was the first time I felt relief from my anxiety disorder… There was something oddly comforting about Xanax — the way it came in many shapes and colors, like peach and blue. I enjoyed looking at the pills. They were a pretty little assortment of happiness I could feel just by holding in my hands. Although Xanax put a temporary stop to my agony, it soon introduced a new kind.”

Sometimes these develop together, and the lines between them can be blurry. This is what makes getting help from a knowledgeable medical source that addresses both dependencies so important. It is not uncommon for Xanax users to report feeling a “Xanax hangover” after the drug’s effects wear off. A Xanax hangover may involve any of the above side effects or other symptoms of withdrawal such as:

  • Agitation
  • Difficulty falling asleep (insomnia)
  • Fatigue
  • Increased pulse
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Excessive sweating
  • Decreased appetite
  • Stomach cramps

Abusing or misusing Xanax results in even more severe withdrawal symptoms. Further, rapid detox from Xanax–often a result of people attempting to stop use on their own–carries the risk of possibly causing seizures.

Xanax misuse, abuse, and addiction

As a person’s body adjusts to the presence of Xanax, it becomes more likely to remain in the system long after the user has stopped feeling the effects. This puts users who begin to develop a tolerance for the drug especially at risk of taking too much and having Xanax build up to life-threatening levels.

Even though Xanax is categorized as a Schedule IV controlled substance with a low potential for abuse, it is, in reality, one of the most commonly abused drugs. In fact, the rate of misuse matches that of prescribed use among those aged 18-25.

People may abuse Xanax by taking it orally, crushing it into powder to be snorted, or mixing into a liquid form to be injected. This is often done to achieve a Xanax high, but these euphoric effects come at a cost.

Xanax and alcohol

Xanax and alcohol both slow down the body’s processes. The two substances combined become more potent together than they are alone. Furthermore, alcohol greatly increases the chances of Xanax overdose becoming fatal.

Overdose symptoms may include:

  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Fainting
  • Severe drowsiness, confusion
  • Extremely slow heartbeat
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Weak or shallow breathing
  • Coma

Combinations like Xanax and alcohol, known as polysubstance abuse, increase the severity of each substance’s side effects, as well as the likelihood and complexity of a resulting addiction.

Treatment for Xanax Addiction

Detoxing the body from Xanax can be a challenging task as each person’s body and brain reacts differently.

The severity of Xanax withdrawal depends on the length and intensity of abuse and addiction. Xanax withdrawal has a reputation for being one of the worst to experience, and for this reason, many struggle to complete detox on their own and maintain sobriety. At NACA, our goal is to help patients experience a safe withdrawal that is as comfortable as possible.

We want to address all underlying issues to help provide the best chance of long-term recovery. Additionally, we want to give patients the tools to manage their mental and physical health long after they leave.

If you or a loved one needs help, please contact us today.

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