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Everything You Need to Know About Xanax Addiction

Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine medication. It is commonly sold under the brand name Xanax. Xanax is approved for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder, both with or without agoraphobia. It is the most frequently prescribed benzodiazepine.

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What is Xanax (Alprazolam)?

Xanax is sold in instant release tablets at the following doses: 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg. It is also manufactured in extended-release tablets in 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg, and 3 mg. The medication may be taken 1-3 times per day or on an as-needed basis. All doses of Xanax contain an FDA black box warning indicating a risk for respiratory suppression and abuse.

Similar to other benzodiazepines, Xanax works on the brain and nerves to produce a calming effect. It does this by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA promotes feelings of relaxation, calm, and sleepiness.

Benzodiazepines like Xanax are only intended for short-term use. Long-term use can produce emotional and physical dependence, even if taken as prescribed by a doctor. Similarly, stopping Xanax suddenly can result in withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult.

xanax addiction

Xanax Side Effects

Xanax may be taken alone or with other medications. Taking Xanax, even as prescribed, may cause side effects. Common side effects of Xanax include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheaded
  • Impaired coordination
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of balance
  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety in the morning
  • Insomnia
  • Syncope
  • Constipation

Many of these side effects will go away in time. If they persist, however, patients should speak with their doctor.

Other more serious potential side effects of Xanax may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble speaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Impaired memory
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Allergic reaction
  • Dangerous sleep-related behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements

Although rare, it is important that anyone struggling with these severe side effects call their doctor right away.

Understanding Xanax Abuse

People who abuse Xanax usually swallow the pills whole or crush and snort them. When swallowed, the effects are felt within 30 minutes to one hour. The medication works to slow down nerve cell activity in the brain, so people experience a relaxed and calm state of mind. They may also exhibit outward signs of drunkenness, such as loss of coordination or slurred speech.

Some people abuse their prescription by taking a larger dose than they are supposed to. Others mix their prescription with alcohol to enhance the effects of both substances. Teens and other family members may get into their parent’s medicine cabinets and get their hands on the medication, seeking a “legal high.” On the other hand, some people purchase Xanax illegally on the streets. Common street names for Xanax are:

  • Bars
  • Xans
  • Handlebars
  • Xannies
  • Blue footballs
  • Peaches
  • School busses
  • Ladders
  • Sticks

Xanax abuse of any kind is dangerous and can be habit-forming. People who abuse Xanax may suffer unwanted side effects, overdose, or physical dependence and addiction.

Xanax Overdose Symptoms and Treatment

Xanax overdose can be fatal, especially if the drug is mixed with other substances like alcohol, opioids, or fentanyl. Overdose is also possible if the drug is taken in high doses, crushed, or injected. Symptoms of Xanax overdose include:

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bluish fingernails or lips
  • Weak or no pulse
  • Coma
  • Death

Overdose treatment depends highly on how much of the drug was consumed and what other drugs were taken with it. Medical providers may pump the person’s stomach or administer flumazenil, a benzodiazepine overdose-reversal medication. They may also administer fluids and provide supportive care.

Long Term Effects of Xanax Abuse

Anyone who uses Xanax for an extended period of time, even if taken as prescribed, may develop a physical dependence on the drug.

In addition to abuse and dependence, other potential long-term effects of Xanax abuse include:

  • Car accidents – Studies show that the risk of driving while under the influence of benzodiazepines is about the same as driving drunk.
  • Cognitive impairment – People may struggle with memory loss, learning deficits, attention span, and more.
  • Risk of hip fracture – Long-term benzodiazepine abuse may increase the risk of hip fractures in older individuals by 50% or more.
  • Increased anxiety, depression, insomnia, and psychotic experiences – Even though Xanax is prescribed to treat many of these conditions, long-term use and discontinuation can lead to rebound symptoms. Rebound symptoms refer to symptoms that come back worse than they were before treatment.

Xanax Dependence and Addiction

Tolerance to Xanax can develop rapidly. Someone who used to take 2-3 pills per day may begin tolerating 10-15 pills a day after long-term abuse. These individuals may experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Xanax due to developing physical and psychological dependence. Even people who take Xanax as prescribed by their doctor may experience one or more withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop their medication.

Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Memory impairment
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Muscular twitching
  • Weakness
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Cravings

Xanax withdrawal can be painful and even life-threatening, so many users will continue taking Xanax to avoid these symptoms. Once addiction takes hold, these individuals may neglect their responsibilities, become less productive at work, isolate themselves from friends and family, and struggle with short-term memory.

Other physical and behavioral signs of Xanax addiction include:

  • Doctor shopping or visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Spending a lot of time, money, or energy on obtaining and using Xanax
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Running into legal problems
  • Engaging in risk-taking or illegal behaviors
  • Mixing Xanax with alcohol or other drugs
  • Needing Xanax to sleep, eat, or function throughout the day
  • Continuing to use Xanax despite personal, financial, or health-related difficulties

When a person decides he or she is ready to stop using a benzodiazepine, it is never recommended to quit all at once unless in a medically supervised setting. Instead, it is best to slowly reduce the dose a person is taking and wean them off of the medication.

Treatment for Xanax Addiction

Xanax rehab must begin with medically-assisted benzodiazepine detox. Xanax withdrawal can be potentially fatal, especially in long-term users. Doctors usually suggest a gradual Xanax taper that slowly reduces to dosage for safe discontinuation. Doing so can help prevent or reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. In general, patients’ dosages will be reduced by 0.5 mg every 3 days.

Overcoming Xanax addiction involves much more than just medical detox. Stopping any benzodiazepine can lead to rebound symptoms. This means psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and irritability may return and be persistent for many weeks or months after quitting Xanax. Patients may also experience intense drug cravings that they must learn to cope with.

Inpatient rehab centers in Massachusetts take an individualized treatment approach to recovery. Treating Xanax addiction usually involves:

Mental health counselors can help patients with co-occurring mental health conditions learn to cope with their symptoms. They can also help patients get on the right medications that are not habit-forming. This will help recovering addicts stay sober while managing their underlying conditions.

Find Help For Xanax Abuse and Addiction Today

Defeating Xanax addiction isn’t always easy, but it is entirely possible. A benzodiazepine detox and treatment program can help people detox safely and get back on their feet. To speak with a dedicated treatment provider or find a Xanax abuse rehab center, call today.


Valerie Tecci, Program Director

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