Xanax is a fast-acting psychiatric drug prescribed by psychiatrists and physicians to help patients with anxiety disorders. It is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants, and has been classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning the chance for addiction is low. But time is proving this drug is more addictive than previously believed.
As a prescription drug, Xanax is considered a life-saver by some and is used to alleviate anxiety or feelings of panic. For recreational use it is more commonly used for “emotional blunting” the numbing of emotions brought on by the drug's ability to suppress the nervous system. At higher doses Xanax may produce a feeling of euphoria.
Because of this, Xanax is highly addictive. In fact, it has a high potential for physical dependence even for those who correctly follow the prescribed amount. While the highest percentage of those with Xanax addiction are young women, 18-34 years old, adolescents are also experimenting with it. And whether it is prescribed or not, Xanax addiction is becoming a national problem.
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, almost 70% of those who use illicit drugs before the age of 13 develop an addiction. With a rate of four in ten users becoming addicted after daily use of Xanax, treatment centers are seeing thousands of people filing in for help every year, many of these adolescents. And because withdrawal symptoms can include seizures or even coma, we should all take notice.
Sadly, this drug is infiltrating many young people's lives. As they find it difficult to cope with the stresses of college, or even high school, they may seek help and learn their friends use Xanax. When more people use a drug, it becomes more acceptable, leading to higher incidences of abuse. Wide acceptance of any prescription drug may lead to a higher chance of it being shared or bought and sold among friends, or in extreme cases it may be stolen from family members.
Some may purchase Xanax on the dark web, and because it is the most widely prescribed pharmaceutical in the United States with over 50 million prescriptions written per year, the chance for this drug to be sidetracked to the black market is high, making access for illicit use even easier.
Using Xanax as self-medication is risky because it creates a higher risk for addiction. It may also be used in place of longer lasting help such as therapy, counseling or learning life coping skills. Self-medication may conceal an underlying medical condition, such as hormonal imbalance, that might be a factor in why a person feels the need to self-medicate.
Even with controlled, prescription use, many patients claim their dosage level was raised as their tolerance for the drug increased. Long believed to be an ideal drug because of its ability to give rapid results as well as rapidly leave the body, it is these same characteristics that create a higher chance for Xanax addiction. And sadly, most users don't know they are addicted until they go without the drug for a while. Memory loss, inability to get out of bed, seizures and other disturbing symptoms emerge causing the user to realize they fell into a pattern of dependence.
Long term use may create a physical, or chemical addiction. Just like many other drugs, it alters body chemistry and the ability of the body to produce its own hormones or neurotransmitters that naturally contribute to mental well-being. This makes withdrawal from the drug even more complicated and uncomfortable. And the longer one uses, the more physically intense withdrawal can be.
Because of increasing tolerance with longer term use, Xanax overdose is a risk. Even worse, Xanax is often mixed with other drugs or alcohol. The physical effects of this depressant may then be exaggerated and greatly increase the risk of respiratory failure, leading to injury, coma or even death from overdose.
Signs of Xanax Use
There are some personality changes to watch for that may indicate someone is addicted to Xanax. One of the most overt and disturbing signs of Xanax abuse are mood swings. These come as the person's brain chemistry is undergoing a change brought on by the drug. Some studies have shown that alprazolam, the clinical name for Xanax, can induce hypomania, which is a state of extreme activity, self-confidence and euphoria. At the same time, it is in a class of drugs called benzodiazapines, which are depressants. The mixture can cause a person to swing from manic episodes to depression and even anger. This may be especially noticeable in someone who was clinically depressed before taking Xanax.
Other behavioral changes that may come with Xanax abuse include depression, delirium, aggression, and even psychosis. A person who abuses drugs may appear secretive and avoid family and friends as they attempt to hide their habit. They may be late for work or other affairs quite often if they run out of the drug and look for another source. Some users will isolate themselves as they experience mood swings, increased depression or other feelings that may be confusing to them. The longer one uses and the higher the dosage will determine the extremity of these changes.
Physical signs of Xanax abuse may also arise. As the drug depresses the central nervous system, slurred speech, extreme fatigue, cognitive impairment, weakness and even impaired coordination may become noticeable. Nausea, vomiting, headache and even seizures might arise if the user cannot get access to the drug and withdrawal sets in.
Long term use of Xanax can lead to permanent problems, such as poor memory. Lack of problem-solving skills, inability to concentrate, and even some motor control problems may arise. Some experts even claim long term use can interfere with a person's overall intelligence. Long term use that creates a higher tolerance for the drug leads to a bigger risk of Xanax overdose.
Xanax overdose is more common than overdose from any other drug in the benzodiazepine class. People who overdose are more likely to end up in intensive care. Helping yourself or someone you know with Xanax addiction through treatment can lower the risk.
Street Names for Xanax
Street names of any drug are used in various circles where use of an illicit drug is common, and it's no different for Xanax. Here are some names to watch out for that may indicate someone you know is overusing this drug or using is inappropriately:
- Xannies (pronounced Zannies)
- Gold Bars
- Bennies or Benzoes (can refer to any in the benzodiazapine family, including Xanax)
- School Bus
- Bicycle Parts
- Yellow Boys
- White Boys
- White Girls
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from Xanax can be intense and difficult, so oversight is important when trying to stop abuse or use of this drug. Not only will one experience mental withdrawal symptoms, but physical symptoms will occur, and these can have dire consequences for some.
Mental withdrawal begins with an extreme craving of the drug. As the brain is used to the input of the drug for the maintaining supplementation of neurotransmitters, the craving can become extreme and cause symptoms of mania and extreme depression. Some addicts may experience suicidal thoughts, ideologies and even make attempts at self-harm.
Xanax creates an exaggerated sense of calm, so abstinence of the drug will intensify opposite effects, such as extreme anxiety or insomnia. Insomnia can be made worse due to nightmares, which are often reported during withdrawal. Mood swings, anger and irritability, concentration problems, depression and even psychosis are not only signs of addiction, but can come about during withdrawal. Oversight to assure an addict is safe during withdrawal is important.
Physical symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can vary in intensity and duration. What one may experience will be in direct correlation to how much they took, for how long and if it was mixed with other drugs. Also considered is the physical and mental health of the person before they began Xanax. Some of these symptoms are as follows:
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Tingling or numbness in extremities
- Weakness of the legs
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Tremors or shakes
- Blurred Vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Skin flushing and sweats
- Skin rashes
As someone withdraws from Xanax, they may not realize that anything is physically wrong. During withdrawal they may experience extreme fatigue then confusion and, eventually fall out of consciousness. At this point they may experience seizures and, if left untreated, could lead to death. Oversight for Xanax withdrawal and treatment is recommended for most people who are addicted or have been using high doses of Xanax.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Going cold turkey, or abruptly and completely stopping use of Xanax, can be dangerous. The chemical change in the brain can cause a person to go into shock as the body attempts to compensate for the loss of artificial neurotransmitters. Going cold-turkey from high use of Xanax will bring more dangerous side effects such as seizures, convulsions, paranoia and psychosis.
Withdrawal symptoms can begin within hours of the last dosage and then peak at day three or four in general, or peak at 2 weeks if withdrawal is acute. Immediate treatment can help reduce side effects by slowly weaning off the drug. This allows the body to adjust to the physical and chemical changes.
Medical treatment for Xanax addiction is common and considered to be the safest by experts. A physician may prescribe Valium (diazepam) to help the body wean off of the addiction. This longer acting benzodiazepine replaces Xanax, thus reducing cravings and easing withdrawal symptoms. Other medications may be used to help with specific symptoms, such as nausea and depression.
Oversight at an inpatient facility takes advantage of a controlled environment where a patient can be monitored and ensure any medical treatments will be overlooked. Support for physical health can be closely monitored to ensure the patient receives adequate food and rest, which is important for physical healing from addiction. Mental health specialists will also be on staff to help with mental withdrawal.
Outpatient treatment with oversight while allowing the patient to rest at home may be preferred by some or be a necessity for others. The patient can have access to a physician to monitor any medical treatments while recommending therapy to help the patient from relapsing. They may check in with a physician and/or a counselor each day to ensure they stay on their path to recovery. Support of family or friends can help make this type of treatment more successful.
While most experts agree that tapering off Xanax or medical replacement therapy is the safest option for addiction treatment, mental health therapy and life skills training help with recovery and are essential to prevent relapse.
Some of these include group and individual counseling and possibly a 12-Step program. These options are often affordable or free, with some being covered by insurance. A more intense support option may include Behavioral Cognitive Therapy (BCT), which research is showing has an impressive success rate.
Other recommended treatments for Xanax addiction include holistic therapies. These may include: yoga, meditation practice, massage or acupuncture. All of these are therapies that can help resolve or manage stress. Using holistic therapies can help not only with recovery, but with avoiding relapse as the patient learns new skills to cope with the stress of everyday life.
Treatment is all around as more people are attempting to eliminate their dependence on this drug. Insurance, both public and private, can help alleviate the cost of treatment. If you or a loved one is addicted to Xanax, enlist in a treatment facility and get help. You are not alone.