When it comes to anti-anxiety medications, Xanax is one of the most well-known of the bunch, as well as the most frequently prescribed. Xanax is a potent, fast-acting sedative in the benzodiazepine class that is typically used to treat the symptoms associated with various anxiety disorders and sleep-related issues.
In the midst of the U.S. opioid epidemic, prescription benzos like Xanax do not command quite as much national attention as prescription opioids do, but they have an extremely high potential for both abuse and addiction, and the past decade has seen a surge in overdoses fatalities linked to benzo use.
While Xanax can only be legally obtained with a doctor’s prescription, many people end up getting it from friends or family members and quickly become addicted, as taking Xanax outside of its recommended dosage and length of use can progress from misuse and abuse to dependence and addiction in only a few weeks’ time.
Like the other members of the benzodiazepine class of drugs, Xanax works by entering the brain mimicking an amino acid called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is produced by the brain to regulate feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety within the central nervous system by blocking the nerve impulses responsible for causing those feelings from reaching the brain.
By this process, GABA helps your brain and body be able to better manage stress, calm down, and even induce sleep. Xanax gives your GABA levels a major boost by mimicking the neurotransmitter’s chemical structure and binding with the brain’s GABA receptors. This activates and triggers them into producing much more GABA than normal, flooding the brain with the effect of making the user feel sedated and relaxed.
Unfortunately, people can very quickly become dependent on Xanax because of how fast the body builds up a tolerance to its effects. Their GABA receptors become less sensitive and require significantly more Xanax to get them working like they did before.
This leads to a powerful psychological and physical dependence that can be immensely difficult to break, especially since the user will start to struggle with anxiety and insomnia symptoms that were even worse than before they started taking Xanax.
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While it might seem like spotting the signs of Xanax addiction shouldn’t be all that difficult, it can be hard to notice out-of-the-ordinary behaviors if you are not looking for them, especially if the individual in question has a prescription for Xanax and has been using it regularly.
However, while some signs may only start to add up in hindsight, there are still noticeable indications that can serve as a signal that someone is abusing Xanax outside of their prescription and may potentially have become addicted.
Some side effects that come with long-term Xanax abuse include:
When someone becomes dependent on Xanax to the point where they are addicted and can no longer control their usage, it becomes the driving force behind the majority of their decisions and actions. Obtaining and using Xanax will take priority over nearly all other responsibilities or relationships they maintained before becoming addicted to Xanax. At this point, they will begin exhibiting behavior generally associated with substance use disorders, such as:
If you are experiencing these signs of Xanax addiction or have observed them in someone you care about, it is vital that you seek professional addiction treatment as soon as possible.
It is crucial that Xanax addiction treatment starts with medical detox, as the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are painful and difficult to deal with and can easily prove deadly from serious complications like benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome if you try to detox alone without medical supervision.
During detox, an experienced medical team will flush the Xanax out from your system in a way that is safe and effective. They often use a tapering schedule to slowly reduce dosage levels and avoid triggering some of the more dangerous withdrawal symptoms, like seizures.
A detox doctor may also use certain medications to ease the withdrawal process, including antidepressants like Zoloft or Prozac as well as the over-the-counter supplement melatonin to counteract the symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
Once detox has been completed and sobriety achieved, the next phase of Xanax addiction treatment is an addiction recovery treatment program. Depending on several different factors, including the severity of your Xanax addiction, this can be done on an outpatient or inpatient basis. What matters most is that you follow through and do it.
Detox will make you sober but does nothing to ensure that you will stay that way, as the same addictive behaviors that led to your Xanax addiction will still be there. In a rehabilitation treatment program, you will get the tools and support you need to learn how to understand and address the issues behind your addiction and be able to manage them effectively in the long-term.
Like most depressants, since it is meant to inhibit activity in the central nervous system to induce sedation, Xanax can cause significant mental impairment in those who use it. This includes poor coordination, dizziness, drowsiness, slurred speech, and difficulty performing mechanical tasks, which can make it extremely dangerous to take in large doses when attempting to perform daily tasks like driving.
Many Xanax users will mix the drug with alcohol and other depressants like opioids in order to heighten the intensity of their respective effects. Polysubstance use is always a bad idea, but mixing multiple depressant substances is particularly risky, as it makes you much more likely to overdose.
It is possible for someone to fatally overdose on Xanax if they do not receive emergency medical treatment in time to prevent major organ shutdown due to lack of oxygen in the body and brain. Even if someone is brought back from an overdose, there is still a high chance of suffering permanent brain or organ damage.
The signs of a Xanax overdose include:
Cafasso, J. (2018, February 20). Can You Overdose on Xanax? Dosage, Symptoms, and Treatment. from https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-overdose-on-xanax#overdose-symptoms
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 06). Prescription CNS Depressants. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 15). Benzodiazepines and Opioids. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, September 15). Alprazolam: MedlinePlus Drug Information. from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html