Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is a prescription medication that can be highly addictive. Although it is used to treat various mental health problems, it can be found illegally, and many people become addicted.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax is a benzodiazepine that is often prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Benzodiazepines are a form of sedative medication that slow the functions of the body and brain and work by increasing the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain and body. GABA helps to make people feel relaxed and sleepy and eases anxiety.
Xanax is taken in tablet form and can come in strengths of 0.25mg, 0.5mg, 1mg and 2mg. There is also a liquid form of Xanax, although this is rarer. The maximum recommended dose of Xanax is 4mg daily, usually broken up into two or three doses throughout the day. However, those who abuse Xanax can take a much higher amount.
The most common form of benzodiazepine prescribed in the UK is Valium, which is a weaker weight-for-weight than Xanax. In comparison, Xanax is ten times stronger than Valium and is also not available for prescription on the NHS. However, it can be obtained via a private prescription and is also frequently found on the illicit market.
Medical Uses of Xanax
Those with intense anxiety may be prescribed Xanax to help with their symptoms. Common signs of anxiety disorders include:
- Constant, intense worry
- Difficulty concentrating
- A fast, irregular heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling constantly on edge
Xanax is not used as a long-term medication for anxiety because of its addictive properties but is sometimes prescribed for preliminary treatment, lasting anywhere from two to four weeks. Long-term anxiety medications can take up to eight weeks to take effect, but Xanax starts acting immediately, making it ideal for short-term treatment.
Side Effects of Xanax
There can be many unintended side effects of Xanax use, even when used as prescribed. Some of the side effects of Xanax include:
- Muscle weakness
- Poor coordination
- Appetite changes
- Slurred speech
Side effects vary from person to person and can depend on any other medications they are taking, the dosage they take, and their age. Severe side effects of Xanax can include memory loss, poor reaction times, and a lowered sex drive.
Is Xanax Addictive?
Although Xanax is legal and is prescribed for anxiety disorders, it is still highly addictive and can be misused. Due to its short half-life, it only lasts for around eleven hours in the body, which contributes to the development of addiction.
Xanax increases dopamine levels within the brain, a chemical that stimulates feelings of reward. This large rush of dopamine causes intense, pleasurable feelings, and those who abuse Xanax can cause people to chase this dopamine rush and become addicted.
Research has revealed that continuing use of Xanax changes the brain and can cause greater rushes of dopamine. Therefore, the pleasurable feeling that comes with dopamine is increased and can encourage further addiction. One study even found that 40% of people became dependent on Xanax after using it for over four to eight months.
Many people struggling with Xanax addiction combine it with other drugs, including alcohol and other benzodiazepines. Combining Xanax and alcohol can be fatal, as both are central nervous system depressants, which slow down bodily processes, including breathing and moving. This can cause a deadly overdose.
Combining Xanax with other benzodiazepines such as Valium or Ativan also significantly raises the risk of overdose. The effects of these drugs can stack on top of one another, making the chance of an overdose far more likely.
Other substances that can affect how Xanax works include antihistamines and anticonvulsants, which can increase the effects of certain benzodiazepines. As central nervous system depressants, Xanax can interact with these substances and cause symptoms such as drowsiness.
Signs of Xanax Addiction
Many people do not realise how addictive Xanax is. However, it can lead to severe physical or psychological problems and dependency. Signs of Xanax addiction include:
- Needing to take more Xanax as tolerance increases
- Worrying about how to find more Xanax
- Losing interest in obligations and hobbies
- Missing work or school and taking Xanax instead
- Caring less about their personal hygiene
- Being secretive and withdrawn
Xanax addiction can also have many long-term effects that persist for many years. This includes memory impairments, difficulties with sensory processing, and motor performance. Someone with a Xanax addiction may take up to thirty pills per day, and if they try to stop, they can experience negative consequences of withdrawal.
Dependence vs Addiction
Many people who are prescribed Xanax become physically dependent on the drug. However, this is not the same as being addicted to Xanax. Physical dependence is a state in which your body is dependent on the drug and requires it to function correctly. People can still experience withdrawal symptoms if dependent but not be addicted to Xanax.
However, physical dependence on Xanax can be a symptom of addiction. Dependence can also signal that addiction may be a problem in the near future. Those dependent on Xanax will still experience withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop taking it.
Addiction is characterised by behavioural signs and changes. Substance abuse becomes the main priority of the user, and they will continue to take the substance regardless of the harm it is causing to themselves or others.
In the case of addiction, there is the risk of overdose, as they may take a lot to try and regain the effects if they have built up a tolerance. Symptoms of a Xanax overdose include:
- Reduced reflexes
- Trouble breathing
Overdoses are incredibly dangerous and can lead to potential brain damage, coma, and even death. Call 999 immediately if you are worried that someone has overdosed on Xanax.
Causes of Xanax Addiction
People who use Xanax can often become addicted without realising it. Even when taken in low doses, Xanax addiction can set in quickly due to the drug’s short half-life. It lasts for around 11 hours in the system, and the effects wear off quickly, so people take more to feel the effects.
No matter the size of the prescribed dose of Xanax, or if it is obtained legally or illegally, the duration of its effects get shorter as people build tolerance. People will therefore take more and become addicted to Xanax unintentionally.
However, there are other causes of substance abuse and addiction. Risk factors that may influence drug addiction include:
- Having a family history of substance abuse
- Having a co-occurring mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder
- A history of alcohol abuse
People with a mental health condition may take Xanax in an attempt to self medicate their symptoms, even if they have not been prescribed it. The most common co-occurring disorders include undiagnosed panic disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Treatment for Xanax abuse focuses on cutting it out entirely. Treatment centres also focus on targeting the root cause of addiction through therapy to reduce the risk of relapsing.
When Xanax is taken for an extended period, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe and long-lasting. Some of the withdrawal symptoms of Xanax include:
- Muscle cramps
In extreme cases, the withdrawal effects can be life-threatening. Some people may suffer from seizures and hallucinations during detox, and many have intense cravings for Xanax that cause them to relapse.
Medical supervision is often necessary for those going through Xanax withdrawal. Quitting Xanax without help can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, and medical detox is advised. Professional intervention can prevent the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms and ensure that the person gets medical assistance if serious complications from withdrawal arise.
As Xanax has such a short half-life, withdrawal does not last for a very long time. Symptoms set in within 6-12 hours and are incredibly intense for around 4 days. However, after a week, many people find that withdrawal symptoms lessen and any lingering symptoms are mild.
Therapy for Drug Dependence
Behavioural therapy is a critical component of recovering from a substance use disorder. Therapy aims to confront addiction and help individuals gain control to avoid drug abuse in the future.
Therapies that are used to treat mental health and substance use disorders include:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) – CBT helps individuals understand their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours and provides them with the tools they need to change for the better.
- Group therapy – group therapy helps to provide a community of support for those recovering from Xanax use. People develop communication skills and form relationships with other sober people.
- Individual therapy – the recovery process is a highly personal journey, and individual therapy helps people work through their internal issues with a health professional in a comfortable, private environment.
It is crucial to find the proper treatment for your loved one’s needs. You may consider different treatment options, such as:
- Inpatient treatment – at an inpatient facility, people will receive constant medical supervision as they recover from abusing Xanax without any distractions from the outside world.
- Outpatient treatment – those recovering from substance use disorders in outpatient programmes can access support and therapy while retaining their previous commitments and staying in their routine.
How to Help
If a loved one is struggling with a Xanax addiction, seek treatment as soon as possible. Healthcare professionals can provide advice, help source treatment options, and advise you on how best to approach your loved one about their drug abuse.
A substance use disorder is not a choice – it is an illness that is incredibly hard to manage. Approach your loved one from a place of compassion and understanding, and try to be non-judgemental about their situation. Sit them down and discuss treatment options with them, but know that they may not be receptive to the idea. Those struggling with substance abuse are often in denial about their problem and may reject any help offered to them.
Educate yourself about drug use and how it can affect a person’s body and mind, and choose your words carefully when approaching your loved one. Stress that you want to help them and that professional help will allow them to overcome their addiction. However, it is also important to set firm boundaries to protect your mental health and encourage your loved one to enter treatment.
Xanax addiction is a treatable condition that people can overcome. People may abuse Xanax for many reasons, such as to help with their mental health. Despite the fact it may be prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, many people obtain it illegally.
The effects of Xanax begin quickly but only last for around 11 hours. This can cause people to rapidly become addicted, which is why Xanax is only prescribed as a short-term medication for those with anxiety.
If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s Xanax use, seek professional help immediately. Recovery is always possible.