Why Xanax and Driving Don’t Mix

“Driving under the influence” is often synonymous with impaired motorists who’ve had too much alcohol to drink. But a person who operates a motor vehicle under the influence of prescription medication can be just as dangerous behind the wheel as someone who’s thrown back too many beers or cocktails.

This probably happens more than we realize, but as the Governors Highway Safety Association (GSHA) notes in a 2017 report on Drug-Impaired Driving, the public is not as aware of drugged driving or how dangerous it is because it isn’t viewed in the same way that alcohol-impaired driving is.

According to the GHSA, tracking down drug-impaired driving is more complex than tracking down alcohol-impaired driving because:

  • Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers.
  • Some drugs that can impair driving are illegal to use, some are legal to use under certain conditions, and some are freely available over-the-counter.
  • For many drugs, the relations between a drug’s presence in the body, its effect on driving, and its effects on crash risk are complex, not understood well, and vary from driver to driver.
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states.
  • It’s more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment at the roadside than alcohol impairment.
  • Laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states.
  • It’s more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for DUID than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI).

The report also highlights the complexity of different drugs and the complicated issues they involve when compared to those involving alcohol. Among those reasons are:

  • Data on use by drivers and in crashes are limited for drugs but abundant for alcohol
  • Trends involving driver drug use is increasing while alcohol consumption has been decreasing, according to the report
  • Driving skill impairment varies by drug type, but it’s well-documented for alcohol
  • Driver believes that some drugs don’t impair driving and that there’s low arrest risk, but alcohol does impair drivers
  • Societal attitudes. There are no strong attitudes on drugs and driving, according to the report, but drinking and driving is socially unacceptable for many, and that having a designated driver is the norm

Like Other Drugs, Xanax Use Can Impair Drivers

Potent pain relievers, such as Percocet and OxyContin, and anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Ativan, can put drivers—and everyone around them—in a dangerous situation. Even over-the-counter cold medications and antihistamines can cause driver impairment.

Other medications that can impair driving are:

  • Some antidepressants
  • Narcotic pain pills
  • Sleep medications
  • Tranquilizers

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at Xanax and how using it while driving is probably not a good idea.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax, generically known as alprazolam, is a powerful, fast-acting sedative that is prescribed to treat anxiety associated with panic disorders and different kinds of phobias. The medication is a short-acting benzodiazepine, which means it is quickly effective and peaks quickly in the bloodstream. It can be obtained legally only through a prescription issued by a medical professional. Xanax is among the most prescribed medications in the United States. Data show that the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions written increased 67 percent to 13.5 million per year in 2013 from 8.1 million in 1999, states National Public Radio in its report about the medications.

Xanax works by suppressing the central nervous system. Once the drug binds to certain areas of the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, nerve cell activity slows and users begin to feel calm and relaxed. Relief is usually felt within 15 minutes to an hour after taking it, and this feeling can last for a few hours. MentalHealthDaily.com writes, “The general consensus among researchers is that the onset of Xanax’s action falls within a range of 15 to 60 minutes. Evidence suggests that approximately 90 percent of the peak effect derived from Xanax should be attained [by most users] within the first hour of its administration.

“Moreover, on average, the maximal peak effect of Xanax will be attained within 0.7 and 1.8 hours after its administration; the compressed tablet (CT) usually kicks in slightly quicker than the extended-release (XR) formula.”

The site also explains that Xanax has a rapid onset of cation because “when [it’s] ingested, it is efficiently absorbed, metabolized, distributed throughout the body tissue, and uptaken with the brain.”

This highly addictive medication is intended for short-term use. If it is taken longer than prescribed or abused, users are at risk of developing a physical and psychological dependence on it. The best way to tell if dependence has occurred is the way one feels when they no longer take the medication or reduce the dosage. If there are noticeable changes, then those are withdrawal symptoms, and users may need to address their Xanax dependence with professional drug treatment.

It is important to note that not all dependence on benzodiazepines such as Xanax happens as a result of misuse, abuse or addiction.

Harris Stratyner, co-chairman of the medical scientific subcommittee of the nonprofit group National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence told Fox News in 2014, “Frequently, it’s not because they’ve been abusing the drugs; it can be caused by following the prescription their doctor gave them.”

Common Concerns About Xanax and Driving

In short, Xanax and driving are not a good mix. That’s likely obvious on the surface, but let’s look at some reasons why.

Xanax Can Slow Your Reaction Time While Driving

HuffPost has reported that Xanax has been called “alcohol in a pill” because of its similarities to the substance, and the publication has listed the anti-anxiety drug as one of six medications that a person should never take when driving. The drug’s tranquilizing effects can affect the reaction time when behind the wheel and it also can impair judgment, which we all need when we’re driving.

Xanax’s powerful effects don’t start to kick in till after a certain window of time, so until they do, users may feel in control of their bodies and faculties. However, after the medication hits peak plasma levels in the blood, the body’s central nervous system starts to respond to the medicine, and that’s when users typically feel drowsiness, lethargy, dizziness, slowed breathing, and/or muscle weakness. They also may have a diminished ability to concentrate and slurred speech, which also happens when someone has alcohol intoxication. While the level of impairment varies by the person, all of these are incompatible with driving or any activity that requires one to be alert.

But here’s another aspect of drugged driving that is kind of alarming. It is possible to take Xanax and not be aware of whether it’s working or not.

When the medication is taken as medically directed by a person who’s healthy, the medication should always work in less than 60 minutes, according to MentalHealthDaily.com. But that’s not true for everyone.

“Despite the fact that Xanax should always take effect within an hour of administration, not all users will be cognizant of its action. Persons who aren’t consciously aware that they’re under the influence of Xanax within one-two hours of administration may wonder whether the drug is actually working,” the site says.

If a person takes Xanax and doesn’t feel it working in that one-hour window, then it’s possible the dosage is too low or the person may have a high tolerance for it.

Driving and Xanax Combo Increases Risks of Car Crashes

Because Xanax impairs judgment and reaction times, people who take the medication are at increased risk of causing an accident. A 2011 study in which researchers examined the link between psychoactive drugs and the risk of traffic accidents found “Benzodiazepine use was associated with a significant increase in the risk of traffic accidents and responsibility of drivers for accidents. The association was more pronounced in the younger drivers. The accident risk was markedly increased by co-ingestion of alcohol.”

Polydrug use is common among people who misuse or abuse substances, and people commonly pair alcohol with benzos like Xanax to either enhance the effects of both drugs for a stronger high or avoid withdrawal effects from drug use. Combining the two is an unsafe practice, and using them together increases the toxicity of alcohol and the chances of having a fatal overdose.

According to ResearchGate.net, which featured studies examining the relationship between benzodiazepine use and traffic accidents, “more research has to be done to elucidate the relationship between benzodiazepine use and injury severity.”

Still, as research continues, “many drivers do not understand how various drugs can affect driving ability and increase crash risk,” GHSA reports.

Xanax and Driving Can Land You In Legal Hot Water

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, known as DUID, is illegal in every state and in the same way that driving while impaired by alcohol, or DUI is illegal, writes GHSA. It goes on to explain, “DUID has two requirements: the driver must exhibit signs of impairment through behavior observed by a law enforcement officer and the impairment must be linked to a drug.”

It also explains that there are three types of state laws regarding DUID.

  • Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID): Illegal to drive while impaired by any drug
  • Zero Tolerance: Illegal to drive with any amount of specified drugs in the body
  • Per se: Illegal to drive with amounts of specified drugs in the body exceeding set limits

PensacolaDefenseLawyer.com writes, “For many people, the realization that a prescribed medication is impairing their driving only comes after a roadside stop by law enforcement.”

So, What Can Xanax Users Do?

People who take prescription Xanax and need transportation are advised to talk about the medication’s potential side effects with their doctor. A medical professional can provide insight into how best to navigate Xanax use when it comes to driving. The doctor may suggest adjusting the prescribed Xanax dose taken or another medication may be used altogether. Another mode of transportation may also be required, such as a bus, train, cab, or ride-share service.

Start Xanax Addiction Recovery Today

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling an addiction to Xanax or any substance, whether it’s legal or illegal. We focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition and help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse and give you the tools to leave it behind for good.

If you or someone you know is struggling with Xanax prescription dependence, whether physical or psychological, call Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575 today or reach out to us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse in the Elderly

As the U.S. grapples with its opioid abuse epidemic, it might come as a surprise that contributing to that crisis are senior adults who are dealing with prescription drug abuse, particularly where opioids are involved.

The nation’s baby boomers—the generation born after World War II between 1946 and 1964—are reportedly the fastest-growing population in the country who are battling opioid dependence and addiction. Their experiences signal to what is to come, observers say. As the U.S. adult population is projected to live longer, it is predicted that more people will battle geriatric substance abuse or addiction as they live out their golden years.

By 2020, the number of American adults who need drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment is expected to double to about six million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to a State of Aging and Health in America 2013 report.

Why Senior Prescription Drug Abuse Easy to Miss

The beginnings of senior prescription medication abuse and addiction are easy to go unrecognized or misdiagnosed.

First, older adults buy many prescription medications. Data reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that U.S. residents age 65 and older account for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications although they make up only 13 percent of the country’s population.

NIDA also cites research saying that “more than 80 percent of older patients (aged 57 to 85 years) use at least one prescription medication on a daily basis, with more than 50 percent taking more than five medications or supplements daily.”

So, to see an older loved one buy and use these drugs likely won’t raise many eyebrows, especially when the person’s prescription medications come from a reputable doctor’s office.

For adults age 50 and older, misusing or abusing prescription drugs may be related to the natural process of aging. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this population is said to be at a higher risk for medication misuse than the general population because of their slower metabolism and elimination as well as the higher rates of pain, sleep disorders, and anxiety.

Also, as we age, our memory changes. It becomes common to forget a name or where the keys were last placed as we grow older. The American Psychological Association notes that as the brain changes so does a person’s behavior. An older person may forget how much medication they should be taking or they may forget that they have taken their medication already. They also may mix up medications, which is very common.

Taking any drug, whether legal or illegal, can affect the brain and therefore what a person remembers or how they behave.

However, not all memory loss or forgetfulness in older adults is related to their age. If cognitive difficulties increase after a person chronically misuses their medication, it could be a sign of medication abuse.

Other signs of substance abuse that are commonly confused with aging are:

  • Losing track of time (not remembering what day it is or what time of day it is)
  • Coordination problems (such as walking unsteadily, falling)
  • Chronic, unexplained aches, pains
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Changes in the sleeping schedule (such as sleeping all day, staying up at night), eating habits
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, marks
  • Mood changes, irritability, sadness, depression, loneliness
  • Lethargy, personality changes, energy levels

If you or an older person you know is exhibiting changes such as these after taking medications, it might be worth looking into how they are taking their medications to ensure they have the right medications and that they are taking those medications properly.

Managing Pain: Is It Start of Geriatric Substance Abuse?

Older people are more susceptible to prescription drug abuse as they try to treat chronic pain ailments.

Nearly half of older U.S. adults have a chronic pain disorder, and the chances of them having chronic pain increase as they age, according to a SAMHSA report. For this reason, doctors are likely to treat older adults’ ailments with medications and more likely to prescribe more than one medication if multiple ailments are present and need treatment.

Seniors with prescription medications for long-term ailments are at risk of using these medications incorrectly. Incorrect use means they may take more than the dose prescribed, whether on purpose or not, or they may inadvertently mix medications with each other. They also may inadvertently mix their prescription meds with alcohol if they still drink. SAMHSA cites data that says the combination of alcohol and medication misuse has been estimated to affect up to 19 percent of older American adults. The interaction of medicines and alcohol can be dangerous. People are advised to avoid alcohol if they are taking a medication and are not aware of the effects it may have on a substance. Keep in mind that alcohol and medications can still cause risky interactions even if they are not taken at the same time. Because older people have a slower metabolism and the body doesn’t break down substances as quickly as they once did, the likelihood that they will mix drugs and alcohol is high.

Senior prescription drug abuse often involves two kinds of medications: opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepines.


Opioid pain relievers are prescribed to treat and manage pain in groups across the age spectrum. Oxycodone (OxyContin), Percocet, hydrocodone, Vicodin, codeine, and many others are among the drugs commonly prescribed for this group. Opioid dependence and addiction are not good for any group, no matter the age. But for seniors, opioid abuse complicates health matters. Many older people who develop a dependence on these potent pain medications first started using them legitimately to manage chronic health problems.

According to data in a report from the Administration on Aging and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of older U.S. adults who misuse opioids is projected to double from 2004 to 2020, from 1.2 percent to 2.4 percent.

By the year 2020, the number of addicted older U.S. adults who need drug and alcohol treatment is expected to double to about six million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the State of Aging and Health in America 2013 report.

To combat opioid misuse and abuse, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The CDC said the guidelines aim to improve communication between healthcare providers and patients about the risks and benefits of opioid therapy for chronic pain in addition to other goals.


Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” for short, are prescribed to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, muscle relaxation, and seizures. These medications act on the central nervous system and produce sedation, sleepiness, and muscle relaxation. Widely prescribed benzos include Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium.

A March 2018 article in The New York Times called benzo use “a quiet drug problem among the elderly.” “Despite warnings from experts, older people are using more anti-anxiety and sleep medications, putting them at risk of serious side effects and even overdoses,” the article’s opening reads. The report goes on to highlight how using the medications can worsen an already common problem for people in the senior adult population: falls and fractures. Benzos, the article notes, cause dizziness.

“Set aside the opioid issue,” Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist at the National Institutes for Health, told the newspaper for its report. “Way too many older Americans are getting benzos. And of those, many — more than half — are getting them for prolonged periods. That’s just bad practice. They have serious consequences.”

Donovan Maust, a Michigan psychiatrist, told The New York Times that benzodiazepines also negatively affect memory and cognitive function.

Over-the-Counter Medications Also Risky

Abusing medicines doesn’t only involve the ones people have a prescription for. Over-the-counter medications can be abused as well. Always check with your personal doctor to confirm if taking pharmacy-bought medications are OK to use and if so, follow the directions on the label or the ones your doctor fives.

Geriatric Substance Abuse: What Are the Signs?

While it may be challenging to pick up on the warning signs of prescription medications abuse among seniors, there are ways to tell that something is going on. Changes in behavior are a place to start. Warning signs include:

  • Making an effort to get a prescription for a medication from two or more doctors, a practice known as “doctor shopping”
  • Going to two different pharmacies to fill a prescription for the same medication
  • Taking more of a medication than they used to or taking more than is instructed on the label
  • Using the medication in a manner inconsistent with its purpose
  • Taking the medication at different times or more often than instructed on the label or by a physician
  • Becoming withdrawn, isolated or angry
  • Appearing confused or forgetful
  • Talking often about a medication to the point of seeming preoccupied with it
  • Being fearful of going somewhere without taking a medication first
  • Becoming defensive or “touchy” when asked about a medication
  • Giving excuses for why a medication is needed
  • Keeping “extra” pills handy when there appears to be no reason to
  • Sneaking or hiding the medication.
  • Using the medication in secret or privately outside of the knowledge of friends, family
  • Having a history of substance abuse or abusing alcohol, drug, or prescription medications

These warning signs may motivate some people to reach out for help likely after they have been prompted to do so by others. But the reality is some older adults simply won’t receive the help they need for substance abuse disorders involving prescription medication. Many are ashamed and won’t seek professional help because of that shame. Others are in denial and know they need help but won’t reach out to find it. People in both groups may not even realize their misuse or abuse has led to an addiction that requires professional treatment to stop.

Observers say changing the perception of who abuses drugs and alcohol will be important as the nation’s health care professionals work to identify and help older people who are dealing with substance abuse and addiction.

Medical professionals have been advised to look for a personal history or family history of substance abuse of medications when screening older patients. Geriatric substance abuse is not an easy topic to discuss among older populations for various reasons, but having that conversation can be just what’s needed to uncover a problem and help people get the help they need.

Abusing Prescription Drugs and Can’t Stop? We Can Help

Older adults are at a higher risk of misusing or abusing their medications for several reasons, and they may not always be aware when such use is dangerous or has led to a physical or psychological dependence. Substance abuse among the elderly can be difficult to quit without professional help from trained addiction specialists, but that’s what Pathway to Hope is here for. We can help you.

Pathway to Hope, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group facility, specializes in helping people who are battling with substance addiction, whether that substance is legal or illegal. We focus on the roots of your addiction and mental health condition and help you or your loved one start healing from substance abuse and give you the tools to leave it behind for good.

If you or someone you know is struggling with senior prescription drug abuse, call Pathway to Hope at 844-311-5781 today or contact us online, so we can help you find the right treatment program. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now is the time to make that important step for your health and your life.