Xanax is the brand name of alprazolam, a potent, short-acting prescription drug primarily used to treat moderate to severe anxiety disorders, panic attacks and acute stress disorder. It belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines that includes Ativan (lorazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Valium (diazepam). Xanax, however, is the No. 1 drug prescribed from this family of medicines and the most abused. Street names for Xanax include Xanaxbars, zanbars, zanies, yellow boys, white boys, white girls, blue footballs, bicycle parts and bricks.
Classified as central nervous system depressants by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzodiazepines act as mild tranquilizers, creating a relaxed, pleasant feeling in the user. Nicknamed “benzos,” these drugs work by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The function of GABA is to quiet or calm things down in the brain, which is why people who don’t have enough GABA may feel anxious or suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Why Is Xanax So Addictive?
The short half-life and its fast-acting effects — generally within minutes — are what make Xanax particularly addictive. (Valium, on the other hand, is slower to take effect and is longer-lasting.) According to Pfizer’s Xanax website, people can become addicted to the drug “even after relatively short-term use.” Xanax has been cited as contributing to the deaths of Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. In 2013, nearly a third of the 23,000 deaths from prescription drug overdoses in the U.S. were blamed on benzodiazepines.
When used properly, a patient will take 0.25mg or 0.5mg of Xanax in either pill or liquid form, up to three to four times a day. An addict, however, will ingest upward of 30 pills in a day as tolerance to the Xanax’s effects increases. Patients with a high risk of abusing and becoming addicted to Xanax are those with a history of abusing alcohol or other drugs and those with borderline personality disorder.
The dangers of Xanax addiction are serious and can be fatal. Outward signs of Xanax abuse include:
- Mood swings
- Slurred speech
Xanax is also prescribed for insomnia, but rather than helping people get a good night’s rest, over time it can actually interfere with sleep due to a condition known as rebound insomnia. This can lead to prescriptions for higher doses and even more side effects.
Withdrawal From Xanax
Because benzodiazepines can cause physical dependence, suddenly stopping these medications after a few months of use can result in withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, agitation, hallucinations, panic, nightmares and insomnia. Xanax leaves the body more quickly than some other benzodiazepines, causing these symptoms to appear in as little as two hours after the last dose. Long-term users can suffer more severe and even life-threatening symptoms like seizures and coma. Medically assisted detox, where doctors can slowly taper the dose and manage symptoms, is the safest way to detox from Xanax’s effects. The acute withdrawal phase can last from a week to 30 days, although post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) — which usually consists of mild anxiety and trouble sleeping — can last up to two years.
Mixing Xanax With Other Drugs
Xanax and other benzos are rarely the sole drugs of abuse. About 80% of benzodiazepine abuse includes the use of other substances, most often opioids and alcohol, to magnify their effects. The Drug Abuse Warning Network found that combining opioid medications and benzos greatly increases the risk of emergency room visits and overdose deaths. In fact, the combination can be so deadly that Ohio recently executed a death row inmate by pairing the drugs. Mixing alcohol with benzos like Xanax can also be extremely dangerous. When taken together, both drugs become more powerful. And as with opioids, combining alcohol and Xanax can lead to over-sedation and a complete shutdown of the respiratory system.
Help for Xanax Addiction
No one begins using Xanax or other benzos with the intention of getting hooked. But once dependence has set in, professional treatment gives you the best chance of achieving lasting recovery. Treatment for Xanax addiction involves not only countering the compulsion for drug use, but also the emotional and psychological issues that led to that first prescription being filled.
After a patient is weaned off of Xanax, psychotherapy can begin. A mode of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is proven to be effective in treatment for Xanax addiction, helps people identify and “argue back” at the destructive thought patterns that made them look for relief in the form of a substance. Involvement in 12-step groups also factors heavily into treatment and long-term recovery.
Other treatment methods backed by research include:
- Yoga, which can decrease the impact of the overactive stress response, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing breathing.
- Meditation, which helps quiet the racing thoughts that trigger feelings of fear, anxiety and other negative emotions.
- Acupuncture, which research has shown may be as effective as CBT for relief from anxiety.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to Xanax, the doctors and therapists at our world-class treatment center can help. Call us today at 888-558-0256.