Xanax belongs to a class of psychoactive drugs known as benzodiazepines. These medications are depressants and are prescribed to help treat individuals with anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, and seizures. Health care providers typically do not prescribe Xanax or other similar benzodiazepines because of the risk of addiction. Xanax is the brand name for this drug, which is also sold in a generic form under the name alprazolam.
According to one study, Xanax or alprazolam was the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine and the most widely prescribed psychotropic medication in the U.S. in 2019. More than 17 million Americans were prescribed this medication.
How Does Xanax Work?
Someone taking Xanax for anxiety or panic disorders will experience the calming effects of the medication quickly, but that reaction also goes away just as fast. The fast-acting nature of Xanax is connected to the drug’s risk of addiction, as is the fact that it releases dopamine, affecting the pleasure center in the brain.
Xanax or alprazolam works by depressing the central nervous system. It does this by increasing GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, a chemical in the brain that promotes calmness and results in a relaxed feeling. Additionally, this drug reduces the brain’s level of excitement, which also helps to mitigate feelings of anxiety and panic. In addition, Xanax may offer physical effects, such as easing muscle tension. It can also help with insomnia.
Side Effects of Xanax
Xanax takes effect within several hours but has a half-life of about 11 hours, meaning a person’s body absorbs half of the drug in that time.
Some common side effects associated with taking this medication include:
- memory problems
- slurred speech
- blurred vision
- dry mouth
- stuffy nose
- poor coordination
- muscle weakness
- difficulty concentrating
- nausea or vomiting
- constipation or diarrhea
- excessive sweating
- appetite or weight changes
- swelling of the hands or feet
- loss of interest in sex
Taking too much Xanax can result in a range of side effects, mental and physical:
- temporary loss of memory
- feelings of hostility and irritability
- disturbing or vivid dreams
- shallow breathing
- clammy skin
- dilated pupils
- a weak and rapid heartbeat
- coma or death, in cases of overdose
Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Abuse
Because Xanax is so commonly prescribed and because of how quickly the drug leaves a person’s body, it is very commonly misused and abused. Signs that someone is abusing any form of benzodiazepine can include taking too much of their prescription and running out or the individual feeling they can’t live without it. The person constantly focusing on when they can take their next Xanax is also cause for concern.
Another issue with abusing this medication is taking it with other substances. Combining benzodiazepines like Xanax with alcohol can be very dangerous or even deadly because of the drug’s sedative effects mixed with alcohol’s same effects. Previous studies have found that one-third of intentional overdoses or suicide attempts involve some form of benzodiazepine.
Withdrawal from Xanax
It is not recommended that someone abruptly stop taking Xanax, whether they are taking the prescribed dosage or abusing the medication. Quitting this drug cold turkey can cause a range of withdrawal symptoms, such as:
- mild feelings of dissatisfaction
- stomach cramps
- muscle cramps
Anyone taking Xanax for a while should speak to their health care provider about the best way to reduce and stop their medication use to avoid dangerous side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
There are options to help someone who has abused Xanax. Some medications, such as gabapentin and other similar lower-level neuro-depressants, help to manage withdrawal symptoms. Others may be switched by their doctors to longer-lasting benzodiazepines, such as chlordiazepoxide, clonazepam, or diazepam, to ease their withdrawal process. Preliminary studies have indicated that certain anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and beta-blockers may also be beneficial in managing the withdrawal process.
Another approach is for the person to lower their dosage of Xanax gradually. Some studies have indicated that of all the benzodiazepines, alprazolam or Xanax may more commonly cause withdrawal symptoms like delirium, psychosis, and rebound anxiety. Tapering off a person’s use of Xanax should be done under a doctor’s supervision.
It is also recommended that anyone dealing with an addiction to Xanax seek out support via individual or group therapy. Such psychological support can not only help during the process of withdrawal, but it can also help prevent relapse.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.