Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is one of the most popular anti-anxiety medications. In 2010, there were 46 million prescriptions written for Xanax, which outnumbered prescriptions for both Ambien and other popular antidepressants, per an article by New York Magazine. Since Xanax is considered a Schedule IV medication – meaning it is available with a prescription, can be prescribed with refills, and is considered to have a low risk for dependence – its rampant prescription comes as no surprise. The American Academy of Family Physicians disagrees with this assessment, stating that Xanax can be addictive when used for long periods of time.
Xanax is usually used for the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders, states the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; however, it can be prescribed for other reasons, such as medical detox from alcohol or other substances, seizure disorders, and sedation before surgery.
A member of the benzodiazepine family, Xanax is also one of the most commonly abused medications of its kind. The drug is known to work quickly; its benefits can appear within 15-20 minutes and can last around six hours. Its sedative effect is one of the main reasons that it is abused. Even if individuals use the medication as prescribed, they are still at risk for developing a tolerance to it.
Effects of Xanax
According to NCADD, Xanax can have multiple physical side effects, which include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Difficulty with concentration
- Feelings of elation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Problems with memory
Xanax suppresses the central nervous system, which can cause symptoms such as disorientation, slowed breathing, and lack of coordination. When combined with other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, the suppression of the respiratory system caused by Xanax increases the risk of overdose and can be fatal, warns AAFP. Other effects from long-term Xanax abuse include impairment of short-term memory and sedation that can last days at a time.
Xanax has also been shown to slow down psychomotor function in the brain. This is especially common in individuals who have slower metabolisms. This can increase the risk of motor vehicle crashes as it can slow reaction time. Other signs that Xanax is slowing down psychomotor function include poor concentration, confusion, and muscle weakness.
Potential for Overdose
Xanax, when taken in large amounts, can produce serious effects, such as chest pain, depression, hallucinations, seizures, and suicidal thoughts as well as carry the potential for overdose. If an individual has overdosed, the following symptoms may occur:
- Impaired coordination
- Slow reflexes
Individuals can develop a dependence on Xanax after as little as two weeks of daily use. Self magazine states that individuals can experience both a physical and psychological dependence on Xanax. Physical dependence occurs when the brain becomes accustomed to Xanax, and individuals experience withdrawal symptoms even hours after their last dose as a result of the short half-life of the medication, according to CNN.
Psychological dependence, however, is described as emotional withdrawal from Xanax. Individuals may feel as if they cannot feel joy, for example, when they are abstinent from the medication.
When individuals have developed a dependence on Xanax, it will affect almost every aspect of their lives. Marriages and other relationships may be strained, and individuals may experience problems related to their performance at work or time taken off due to Xanax use. They may be spending more than they can afford in attempts to obtain Xanax without a prescription, which can also result in legal trouble. When dependent on Xanax, individuals most likely feel that they are unable to stop using the medication, even though its use has already caused damage in their lives.
In 2008, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of admissions for treatment of benzodiazepine dependence was 60,200 – a staggering increase from 22,400 only 10 years prior.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Help
Medical detox is always required for those wishing to withdraw from Xanax. Individuals who have been abusing the medication, or even those using it according to prescription for long periods of time, should not quit taking Xanax abruptly. Doing so can cause severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Individuals who have been taking Xanax at low or infrequent doses may be able to follow a tapered dose pattern prescribed by a physician; however, a physician may choose for individuals to enter a treatment facility to reduce the risk of complications. Other symptoms that have been associated with Xanax withdrawal include:
- Changes in blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
If a person is addicted to Xanax, treatment will involve medical detox and comprehensive therapy. Detox, in and of itself, does not constitute addiction treatment. Therapy will address the issues that led to substance abuse in the first place and help clients to develop skills to resist relapse after treatment.