Xanax Addiction, Withdrawal and Treatment
- Xanax Addiction
- Signs and Symptoms of Abusing Xanax
- Xanax Withdrawal & Detox
- Treatment for Xanax Dependency
Xanax is a prescription benzodiazepine used mainly for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. Known by the trade names Xanax, Xanax XR and Niravam, as well as generically by alprazolam, the drug acts similarly to other benzodiazepines. As such, it maybe be confused with other prescription medications such as ProSom, Restoril, Versed, Limbitrol, Valium, Ativan, Halicon, Buspar, Dalmane, Diazepam, Intensol, Klonopin, Librium, Neurontin, Thorazine, Doral, Paxipam, Serax, Centrax, Traxene, and their generic counterparts, such as chlordiazepoxide, diazepam, lorazepam, estazolam, flurazepam, temazepam, midazolam, halazepam, oxazepam, prazepam, quazepam, clonazepam, clorazepate, and triazolam. It is also often categorized with barbiturates such as Nembutal, pentobarbital, Luminal, phenobarbital, and sleep medications such as Lunesta, eszopiclone, Sonata, zaleplon, Ambien, and zolpidem. All of these drugs are considered central nervous system depressants that produce hypnotic and amnestic effects and inhibit anxiety by acting on the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter to reduce brain activity. Xanax is one of the most widely prescribed drugs in this classification, but differs from the other benzodiazepines because it has a shorter half-life, meaning it metabolizes more quickly.
It is predominantly found in tablet form, or as a syrup when used for children. The tablets can be small white rectangles, reddish-orange ovals or rounds, or blue ovals. It is generally taken orally when used for medicinal purposes, but can be crushed and snorted, smoked, or dissolved and injected when being abused. Street names for the drug include Benzos, bennies, Xannies, Zannies, Xanbars, bars, Z-bars, school buses, bicycle parts, footballs, blue footballs, Upjohns, Totem Poles, Candy, Downers, Sleeping Pills, Tranks, planks, yellow boys, handlebars, white boys, and white girls, in addition to others. Street values for Xanax and its counterparts can range from $2 to $10 per pill, depending on the strength.
Xanax has a high propensity for abuse in that it is one of the most widely available psychoactive drugs, and users build a rapid and progressive tolerance to it. Similarly, because of the amnestic effects, it is easy for those with a legitimate prescription to consume more than the prescribed dose without realizing it, leading to increased tolerance and addiction. Those most likely to abuse Xanax include young adults, users with a legitimate prescription, family members living in the same home as someone who has a legitimate prescription, and those attempting to self-medicate an undiagnosed mental health issue. It is also commonly abused by cocaine and heroin users. It has been romanticized by celebrities and club culture, and is not viewed as dangerous because it is prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication. It is also worth noting that Xanax can be lethal for pets and small children, who can accidentally ingest the drug if it is mishandled in the homes of those to whom it is prescribed.
Signs & Symptoms of Abusing Xanax
While there is no evidence to suggest that Xanax is abused more frequently by one gender or race, abusers do tend to be young adults. Those who become addicted tend to exhibit signs of depression and hostility, and may appear intoxicated.
Signs of abuse or frequent use include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Memory loss
- Lack of focus
- Swollen hands or feet
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Suicidal thoughts
- Compulsive behavior
While many of these symptoms are similar to those experienced as side effects to a legitimate therapeutic dose, it can be difficult to tell if someone is abusing Xanax. However, those who are dependant may also begin visiting new doctors regularly in an effort to secure additional prescriptions. The more frequently the drug is taken or the higher the dose, the greater the risk of a potentially life-threatening overdose.
Signs of overdose include:
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Low blood pressure
If an overdose is suspected, seek medical attention immediately. Likewise, Xanax has a high number of potential drug interactions. It can pose lethal consequences when taken with alcohol, other drugs affecting the central nervous system, and grapefruit products. Mixing it with grapefruit substances, such as the fruit or juice, slows the body’s ability to metabolize the drug. Consequently, when taken with other central nervous system depressants, it can quickly induce coma and death. Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) in particular creates a problematic depressant-depressant combination, which is common among teens and young adults who are more likely to abuse Xanax and who can manufacture GHB at home.
Xanax also has the potential to increase high risk behavior by impacting the user’s ability to make sound decisions, and can subsequently increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). While perceived to have milder effects that other benzodiazepines, it may be used by predators as a date rape drug due to its wide availability and amnestic effects on those who consume it, especially when mixed with alcohol. When dissolved in a drink, it can go undetected, and the shortened half-life reduces the likelihood of detection following such an assault. Anyone suspecting they have been dosed with Xanax unknowingly should seek medical treatment immediately.
Xanax Withdrawal & Detox
Withdrawal from Xanax usually begins within six hours after the last dose. Symptoms typically peak after about two weeks and then begin to subside. Without medical help, which usually involves tapering off of the drug slowly, symptoms may last weeks, months, or even years, depending on the frequency and amount of the drug being abused and whether other drugs were being abused simultaneously. Symptoms of withdrawal can be physical and psychological.
They might include:
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Blurred vision
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Increased anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
While medical detoxification is not required, it highly recommended. Those with a Xanax dependency should be tapered off of the drug slowly under the supervision of a physician, and vital signs should be monitored to avoid potentially life-threatening complications or relapse.
Treatment for Xanax Dependency
There are no medications approved for the treatment of Xanax dependency, though tapering off of Xanax is the first step to recovery. Those with other dependencies should seek a treatment program appropriate for their other addictions, while those who began taking Xanax to self-medicate should seek a proper diagnosis. After detoxification, persons with a legitimate prescription may see their original symptoms return, such as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, which led them to use Xanax in the first place. The potential for relapse is high, and knowing the warning signs is the first step to maintaining recovery.
- Denial about being an addict
- Lack of belief in a recovery program
- Believing the benefits of using outweigh the risks
- Reconnecting with friends with whom or situations where a person used in the past
- Separating oneself from pleasurable activities
Those in recovery who suffer from anxiety or panic disorders should focus on a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program, as well as maintaining a healthier, more stress-free lifestyle to help avoid relapse.
For those abusing Xanax who don’t have a medical reason for using it, the legal consequences may be more harmful in the long-term than dependency, particularly for young adults. As a Schedule IV controlled substance, those distributing or selling their prescription to others can be charged with drug trafficking, while those possessing Xanax without a prescription can be charged with illegal possession of a prescription drug. Both can result in prison time or fines, depending on geography, the amount of the drug in possession, and any prior convictions.
- Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Misuse of Prescription Drugs – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Prescription Drug Abuse – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Alprazolam (Oral Route) – Mayo Clinic
- GHB – Partnership for Drug Free Kids
- 10 “Poison Pills” for Pets – American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- Alprazolam – US National Library of Medicine
- Commonly Abused Drug Chart – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- Treatments for Substance Use Disorders – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)