What is Xanax Addiction?
Xanax is the brand name of the drug alprazolam, often used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks. It belongs to one of the most highly abused drug classes, benzodiazepines, and works by slowing down overactivity in the central nervous system. Xanax is a particularly fast-acting benzodiazepine, taking effect in 30 minutes or less, which is one of the primary reasons it is so popular.
When Xanax is taken in larger than prescribed doses, or by people who do not have anxiety or a panic disorder, the drug causes sedation, relaxation, and euphoria, especially when an individual fights the sedating effects of the drug. As a result, the drug is often misused by those who have originally prescribed it and by those who never had a prescription in the first place.
Some people become addicted to Xanax after initially taking the medication as prescribed, but then increasing their dosage on their own as they quickly build up a tolerance to the calming effects. These individuals aren’t seeking to get high, but merely to overcome crippling social anxiety or panic attacks, and they don’t realize how quickly an addiction to benzodiazepines can develop.
Risks of Xanax Addiction
Approximately 54 million Americans have taken prescription medications for recreational purposes, which can easily lead to health complications. In a study from 2010, over 345,691 cases of emergency department visits were reported to be associated with benzodiazepines. Of those visits, 124,902 of them, the majority, were associated with alprazolam.
Benzodiazepine dependence and overdose are on the rise, increasing more than four times between 2002 and 2015. Not only does this drug cause dangerous side effects when abused, but it also creates a serious addiction syndrome, one that makes individuals continue to abuse the drug even after it begins to cause severe problems in their lives.
Some people combine Xanax with alcohol, opioids, or other drugs because the combination enhances the effects of each to a large degree. This is because the body has difficulty metabolizing the two substances simultaneously, allowing more of each substance to remain active in the body for a more extended period. This can lead to a dangerous level of central nervous system depression, and a hazardous build-up of Xanax in the system, which can result in severe cardiovascular or respiratory complications, including coma and death. Combining Xanax with other substances can also lead to hostility, anger, and impulsive behavior, as well as to severely impaired cognitive abilities so that the user is unable to think clearly, make logical choices, or govern their actions. Many people will experience a total blackout on a combination of Xanax and alcohol or other drugs, retaining no memory of what they did while high.
Side Effects of Xanax Addiction
If someone is abusing Xanax, it is likely that they will experience the following side effects:
- A headache
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Joint pain
- Increased salivation
- Changes in sex drive or ability
- Weight changes or changes in appetite
- Difficulty urinating
Signs of Xanax Addiction
It is usually noticeable when someone is abusing Xanax, as the drug causes some physical and psychological effects. When users fight the sleepiness caused by benzodiazepines, this creates euphoria, and puts users in a dangerous, irrational state that may be observable as unexplained mood swings and foolish, confused speech and behavior. Other signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse include:
- Physical tremors
- Sleep disturbances
These can all be side effects of Xanax even when used as prescribed, but when the drug is abused, these adverse effects become much more likely to occur as well as much more severe. When a person takes a hefty dose of the drug, they are also putting themselves in grave danger. A Xanax overdose can create respiratory depression, which can lead to coma and death.
What to do if Someone You Love is Abusing Xanax?
Those who become addicted to Xanax will not be able to stop taking the drug on their own, even if they want to. This is because addiction takes away a person’s power to control their actions. Cravings for the drug will begin to occur, and their tolerance will increase so that higher and higher doses will need to be taken for the individual to experience the same effects. The more Xanax the individual takes, the more serious the addiction becomes and the more they will need professional addiction treatment help.
Other signs of Xanax addiction can’t be associated with normal use of the drug, such as:
- Hiding or lying about how much or how often you use Xanax
- Running out of prescription far earlier than you should
- Visiting multiple doctors, clinics, and pharmacies to keep up your supply of the drug
- Purchasing Xanax from illicit sources
- Neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school
- A decline in personal hygiene or grooming
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Apathy towards events, hobbies, and interests you once enjoyed
If someone you love is addicted to Xanax, you should encourage them to get help by having a calm, serious discussion about specific behaviors and consequences of their drug use. If a one on one conversation isn’t effective, you may want to plan a formal intervention. You can prepare and run an intervention on your own, or work with a counselor or professional interventionist. Many treatment facilities offer intervention services to potential patients. Investigate the treatment options that are available to your loved one, so that you can connect them to a rehab facility as soon as they are ready to accept help.
Whenever you speak to your loved one about their addiction, try to use “I language” when you speak (I feel, I notice) more than “you language,” which can sound like you are accusing and blaming. You want to be direct and honest with your loved one, but not judgmental. You need them to stay open to what you are trying to say, and to do this you need to make it clear that you are coming from a place of love and concern, and not disapproval.
Xanax addiction also puts your loved one at risk of an overdose. If you observe them having a seizure, collapsing, struggling to breathe, or if they are sleeping and can’t be woken up, immediately call emergency medical services.
Other signs of overdose include:
- Clumsy, uncoordinated movements
- Drowsiness and nodding off
- Loss of consciousness
Treatment options available for Xanax Addiction
Treatment for Xanax addiction often begins with a slow tapering of the drug or another benzodiazepine so the individual will not experience severe withdrawal effects. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can create a syndrome similar to delirium tremens that causes hallucinations, agitation, confusion, and potentially fatal seizures. For your safety, it is important to have medical supervision throughout the process of Xanax withdrawal so that these symptoms can be avoided, or immediately treated.
After detox, or at least after the worst withdrawal symptoms have passed, patients will usually start their behavioral therapy sessions to change the way they think about their substance abuse and to reduce chances for relapse. Behavioral therapy helps patients develop new coping mechanisms that will allow them to respond in a healthy way to stress and drug triggers. Any co-occurring mental disorders (especially those for which the medication itself may have been prescribed in the first place) must also be assessed and treated along with the addiction. Furthermore, Xanax addiction and withdrawal can cause mental disorders, even in people who did not have them before. Anxiety is an especially common problem for people recovering from Xanax addiction. It takes time for the central nervous system to regain its equilibrium following physical dependency on drugs.
Xanax is a beneficial medication for those who take it as prescribed. But once you start to abuse your prescription, the drug can cause some seriously dangerous consequences. If you or someone you love has been misusing Xanax, it is essential to seek help right away.