Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication which is used for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorder. It is highly effective for panic attacks because it works quickly but that can also result in the development of tolerance to the medication. Benzodiazepines like Xanax are intended to be used for a short period of time because long-term use can lead to addiction. Even though it can be serious, Xanax addiction can be effectively resolved with appropriate treatment.
Xanax or alprazolam is a member of the benzodiazepine group of sedative medications. Like other benzodiazepines, it works to relieve anxiety by increasing activity of a brain calming agent known as GABA.
When used as prescribed, Xanax can help patients with anxiety disorders and panic attacks but if taken at higher doses, it can produce euphoric effects. Because Xanax works quickly than other benzodiazepines, this euphoria is more intense but it only lasts for a short period of time. When Xanax is used for its euphoric effect and the effect goes away, those abusing the medication will often take more medication too soon. This cycle can lead to addiction which can have serious consequences.
Xanax was introduced in 1981, nearly 20 years after the first benzodiazepine, Valium was approved. Though it had been proven to treat anxiety in a way that was similar to Valium, because it has a short onset of action, it was also shown to quickly treat panic attacks.
With the decline in Valium sales due to increased awareness of its addictive properties, sales of Xanax rose quickly and remains popular with over 50 million prescriptions being written each year. Even after 35 years, it remains the most popular benzodiazepine anti-anxiety agent on the market. Unfortunately, the popularity of Xanax has also led to a great deal of abuse of the medication and cases of abuse are still on the rise.
Emergency room visits caused by alprazolam doubled from about 57,000 in 2005 to just under 125,000 in 2010. Alprazolam-caused incidents increased even more in those aged 25 to 34 and 4 out of 5 cases in that age group were related to use in combination with other substances of abuse.
Xanax Side Effects
Xanax and other benzodiazepines do not cure anxiety or panic attacks but they can help reduce symptoms. Like all medications however, Xanax does have side effects and when it is taken in higher than normal doses or for long periods of time, those effects can be much more severe and even life-threatening.
Common side effects of Xanax include:
- Appetite changes
- Changes in libido
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry mouth
Many people who abuse Xanax for its euphoric effects also combine it with other drugs or alcohol. This can increase the severity of the side effects.
More severe side effects may indicate Xanax abuse and include:
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Loss of balance
- Slowed or shallow breathing
- Respiratory arrest
Xanax is particularly useful to treat anxiety and panic attacks because it works quickly. This quick action also increases the risk of abuse and also increases the chance of dependency and addiction.
Xanax is a common drug of abuse in teens and young adults. They often perceive Xanax as a “safe” drug and surveys indicate that more than 7 percent of high school seniors have abused sedative medications with nearly 5 percent of abuse occurring within the last year. Benzodiazepine overdose can be fatal and drugs like Xanax cause about one-third of overdose-related deaths each year.
Benzodiazepine abuse can result in the development of addiction, even more so with Xanax as it’s quick activity results in a “chase” for the feelings of euphoria which can result in increasingly high doses taken in a short period of time. Once a person becomes addicted to Xanax, changes in the brain mean that sudden discontinuation can have serious consequences and may result in life-threatening effects.
When Xanax is taken for long periods of time, particularly at high doses, it may cause effects such as personality changes, relationship troubles, and work difficulties. People who are addicted to Xanax should not discontinue the medication on their own but should seek medical assistance. Despite the danger, Xanax addiction can be effectively treated with appropriate medical attention.
Xanax Controlled Substance Classification
Like other benzodiazepines, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified Xanax as a Schedule IV (C-IV) controlled substance. This indicates that Xanax has a high potential for abuse and may result in addiction. Despite the fact that it is not considered as addicting as many other drugs, over 360,000 emergency room visits were caused by CNS depressants, many of which were related to Xanax abuse.
Many people who abuse Xanax mix it with other substances including alcohol to intensify the euphoric effects or increase the “high”. Unfortunately, this combination can also increase symptoms of withdrawal and may result an increase in the harmful effects and risks of Xanax.
Stopping Xanax suddenly may result in serious withdrawal symptoms that demand medical attention. People seeking to discontinue medication should not do so alone but should see a health care professional
All benzodiazepines can cause serious withdrawal symptoms but Xanax withdrawal may happen in a shorter period of time. This is because it has a short onset of action, a short duration of action and a short half-life, making it act quickly, last only a short period of time and exit the body quickly.
Someone using Xanax for a long period of time has had changes occur in the brain. When the drug is suddenly discontinued, withdrawal symptoms occur, some of which are dangerous or even life-threatening.
Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:
- Severe anxiety and agitation
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart beat
- Migraines or other severe headaches
- Increased body temperature
- Sensory disturbances
Xanax Addiction Treatment
When patients are addicted to Xanax, the only safe way to discontinue the medication is by a slow tapering of the medication. This will require medical supervision and many patients benefit from rehabilitation treatment. Though the worst symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may occur within the first few days, some symptoms may take weeks or months to subside.
Xanax addiction treatment also often includes behavioral therapy, individual or group counseling and may involve participation in a recovery support group such as a 12-step program.
The first step in addiction treatment is recognition of the disorder. While some patients will self-report for help, treatment can even be effective for those who are coerced or even forced into rehabilitation.