Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the United States, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. They affect an estimated 40 million adults age 18 and older every year, the organization says.
Perhaps more alarming is that while the disorders are treatable, less than 40 percent of people who have them receive the proper treatment for their condition. Because anxiety disorders are so common, it should come as no surprise that Xanax (alprazolam) is one of several benzodiazepines (benzos) used to help people manage them. Other prescription medications in this powerful class of drugs include:
Prescriptions for benzodiazepine medications have increased in recent years, raising concern among physicians and medical professionals. According to a 2016 Reuters report, prescriptions for these drugs more than tripled in a recent 20-year period, according to researchers. They also found that fatal overdoses more than quadrupled in that same time.
Of all of the benzos prescribed, Xanax has emerged as the single most prescribed psychiatric medication in the country. It is a sedative commonly administered to people with phobias, panic disorders along with anxiety.
The medication can be taken as a tablet or in liquid form. Once ingested, it acts on the brain and central nervous system, slowing down activity in these areas of the body to bring about calm.
Xanax is chemically similar to gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter or brain chemical that helps us calm down, sleep and manage stress.
People usually feel relief after about an hour of taking the medication, and its effects may last for a few hours. That’s because Xanax stimulates the brain’s GABA receptors by mimicking the chemical so that central nervous system activity calms down.
Medical News Today says the drug acts quickly once it’s in the body. “Peak levels in the blood occur 1–2 hours after taking a dose. However, the person feels effects before levels peak,” it writes. The medication can stay in the body anywhere from 6.3 hours and 26.9 hours in healthy adults, according to the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA); the average is 11.2 hours.
People commonly feel the following after taking the drug:
Anyone who takes Xanax is at risk of developing a dependence on it or an addiction to it. It is designed for short-term use, and a doctor’s prescription should be strictly followed unless complications occur. If they do, tell a physician as soon as possible.
Users are advised to take it for no longer than two weeks. Anything longer than that is risky. When this medication is taken for longer than prescribed, a tolerance develops in the user, and the line between misuse and abuse is quickly blurred, if not erased.
Taking the drug for too long will desensitize the GABA receptors, which causes users to take more of the drug because they are not aware of what has happened. Too much use means weaker effects. Increasing dosages just to get the effects once felt when the drug was new to the body leads to a physical and psychological addiction.
Nonprescription Xanax users likely use it recreationally for its sedative effects. This is a dangerous practice that puts thousands of people on an uncertain path. Xanax addiction can develop rapidly, and before long, users will find it nearly impossible to quit.
Healthline reports that recreational users report feeling more relaxed, quiet, and tired when using the drug. These effects may lead them to fall asleep or pass out for a few hours. Blackouts and memory loss are also common effects. Higher doses will yield stronger effects, the site warns.
So, if Xanax leads the pack in medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety and other ailments, why is it so dangerous? Here are three reasons:
Xanax slows reaction time and can affect how one responds to situations. It can put one at risk for falls and other injuries because of the dizziness and drowsiness it causes. As WebMD reports, use of this drug can make a person dizzy or drowsy. Users are advised to avoid driving.
“There are no ‘safe benzos’: all benzodiazepines have fall risk, including short-acting medications such as alprazolam (Xanax),” writes the Psychiatric Times.
Benzodiazepines are often prescribed, or overprescribed, to senior-age or elderly patients. The risk of falling is especially serious for adults in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. In many cases, as U.S. News and World Report notes, people in these age groups are among those who take the medication indefinitely for months.
Unfortunately, extended use puts them at greater risks of sedation-related falls.
“There’s no therapeutic index for older adults: there is no dose at which benzodiazepines are effective for anxiety disorders yet safe from fall risk,” says the Psychiatric Times.
Xanax users are also advised not to use any machinery or engage in any activity that requires mental alertness.
Some users find that the same symptoms they used Xanax to treat actually worsen when they have stopped using Xanax. These are known as rebound symptoms. Among them are rebound anxiety and rebound insomnia.
Stronger symptoms of both of these mean staying awake for longer periods, perhaps for days on end, and/or managing severe panic attacks without any relief.
This happens because the brain becomes dependent on the drug after regular use occurs. Once use stops, and the brain no longer receives the drug, it must now adapt to life without it, and there are consequences when that happens.
“(Your) sleep effectively gets worse because of the benzodiazepine and the brain adapts to the benzodiazepine such that sleep becomes impossible without it,” Stanford University psychiatrist Anna Lembke told Healthline.
Detox treatment at an accredited addiction treatment facility can help users who experience rebound symptoms. Health care professionals who are knowledgeable about this condition can help people recovering from Xanax use to properly address the condition and follow a treatment plan that ensures their needs will be met.
A study published in 2016 found that in 2013, benzos were involved in nearly a third of prescription drug overdoses. Data showed that the drugs were typically combined with a pain reliever of some kind, likely an opioid medication.
Xanax is a potent drug on its own. Pair it with another strong substance, such as alcohol or opioids, and it becomes even more deadly. Healthline reports that the most severe overdoses, as well as the ones that end in death, happen when polydrug use occurs. For many, it is hard to know how much of the drug to take when there are other substances that make users lose track of the dosages they are taking.
As Healthline reports, the lethal dosage of Xanax depends on several factors that are unique to each user, such as age, body weight, preexisting health conditions, metabolism rate, and if the drug is taken with other substances.
Prescribed amounts typically stay in the 0.25- to 0.5-milligram range, the health site reports. These amounts are taken daily, and they may be taken between three doses throughout the day, not at the same time. A physician is the best person to determine how much Xanax users should take. This is one of the dangers of taking it outside of a prescription.
It can be challenging to recognize when Xanax addiction is occurring. Misusing it, which includes taking more of it than prescribed, is indicative that dependence is in the early stages. Keep in mind that problematic Xanax is often not recognized until it is too late. When is it too late? When Xanax abuse has escalated and progressed to a psychological addiction to it that seems impossible to overcome. Many physical and mental changes are observable and could signal that Xanax addiction is developing, including:
There also are behavioral signs of abusing Xanax to the point of addiction. They are:
Healthline highlights that the effects of Xanax should be mild and detectable. If they affect you or someone you know significantly, swift medical treatment is encouraged.
Emergency treatment is needed if Xanax use leads to an allergic reaction. “Signs may include swelling of the face, lips, throat, and tongue and difficulty breathing,” Healthline writes.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to Xanax, you must reach out and get help. A treatment program can help you stop using Xanax and plan for a life without substance use. Many people try to quit Xanax on their own without the help of medical help, but that’s a mistake.
Even if you successfully quit using the drug for a while, intense cravings for it often return, and going back on Xanax after not using it for a while means you can relapse, and that can be fatal if you take more than what your body is no longer used to.
Call us now or reach out to us online to take the steps you need to put Xanax use behind you for good.
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