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How Addictive Is Xanax? What Other Risks Does It Pose?

Xanax, which is the brand name for the generic drug alprazolam, is the most frequently prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. It is most commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.

When taken as directed by a doctor, Xanax is considered to be a safe and effective medication to reduce hyperarousal of the central nervous system.

Due to the addictive potential of Xanax, it is only meant to be used for the short-term treatment of anxiety disorders, not to exceed eight months. Anxiety and stress caused by regular daily obligations are not meant to be treated with Xanax, as long-term use can lead to problems of dependence and addiction.

For people with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, however, Xanax can be helpful for managing acute symptoms of anxiety. Xanax helps people suffering from panic disorder to experience fewer panic attacks.

chemical bonds of xanax

How Does Xanax Work?

Xanax belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs, which work by impacting the brain and central nervous system. Xanax targets GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for sending messages of calm and relaxation. By increasing the amount of GABA in the brain, Xanax helps to slow down unbalanced chemicals that are causing anxiety, tension, or panic.

Xanax is considered to be fast-acting, so a relief of anxiety symptoms can be felt relatively quickly. For this same reason, however, Xanax is commonly abused. People abuse Xanax in search of the relaxed and euphoric high that can be experienced when high enough doses are taken.

Whether Xanax is being used medically or recreationally, you can expect to experience some side effects. The following are common side effects of Xanax:

  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Low energy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Strange dreams
  • Restlessness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Poor memory
  • Irritability
  • Involuntary muscle movements, twitches, and cramps
  • Dry mouth or increased salivation
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Blurred vision
  • Nasal congestion
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Swelling
  • Skin rash

The above symptoms are considered to be fairly common when you first start taking Xanax. They typically resolve once your body has had time to get used to the medication.

If any of these symptoms persist or worsen over time, you should seek medical attention right away as they could be indicative of an allergic reaction or dangerous overdose.

opioid epidemic

Xanax Use in the United States

Each year, doctors write over 50 million prescriptions for benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax.

Xanax is not only the most frequently prescribed benzodiazepine, but the ninth bestselling drug in the country and the fifth most prescribed medication. Since 2008, the rate of prescriptions being filled for Xanax have increased by 9 percent each year.

With the steady increase in Xanax use and the popularity of the drug among doctors and patients, it is not surprising that many people experience complications due to their Xanax use. Each year, 125,000 people go to the emergency room for problems related to Xanax use.

Prescription drug use remains a huge problem in the United States. Each year, more than 2.5 million people misuse prescription drugs for the first time.

Teen perceptions of prescription drug use are also alarming. Half of teenagers who experiment with drugs recreationally believe prescription drugs are safer to consume that street drugs.

Nearly 50 percent of teens using Xanax are likely to mix it with an additional substance, such as alcohol. Concurrent drug use like this puts users at a significantly higher risk of experiencing adverse side effects and overdosing than if they were just using one substance at a time.

Other Addictive Drugs and the Risks They Pose:

 

Risks of Abuse

woman sitting from drug use

Prescription medications like Xanax are commonly misused. The abuse of central nervous system depressants is a major problem across the United States, and it causes many people each year to experience serious health consequences.

Misuse of prescription medications like Xanax can happen in many ways.

  • Taking a medication that was prescribed to you in any way other than how your doctor instructed you to
  • Taking medications that were prescribed to a friend or family member
  • Using a medications for the primary purposes of getting high

Using Xanax in any of the above ways indicates prescription drug abuse. The risks of using prescription drugs in ways other than as medically intended are very high.

  • Adverse side effects
  • Overdose, which can be fatal
  • Dependence
  • Addiction

An additional risk of Xanax abuse is the likelihood that the individual is mixing the drug with other substances. Mixing Xanax with alcohol or opioids is highly dangerous and life-threatening depression to your central nervous system can occur.

According to the 2014 Drug Abuse Warning Network report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), benzodiazepines taken in conjunction with opioid pain relievers or alcohol puts users at risk of experiencing more serious outcomes from emergency department visits, such as hospitalizations and fatal overdoses. Between 2005 and 2011, nearly 1 million emergency department visits were attributed to benzodiazepine misuse, either alone or with opioids or alcohol.

People who misused benzodiazepines were at a 20 percent greater risk for experiencing serious outcomes from emergency room visits even when other substances were not involved. When opioids and/or alcohol were added to the mix, individuals were at a 24 to 55 percent increased chance of experiencing serious outcomes.

Dependence and Withdrawal

sign for rehabilitation

Xanax is a highly addictive drug that some claim is more addictive than heroin. People using Xanax recreationally, as well as people who begin taking it for medical reasons, are at risk for developing an addiction to Xanax if use goes on for too long. Dependence to prescription medications can occur even when drugs are taken exactly as directed by your doctor.

The exact timeline for dependence and addiction to develop varies from person to person, but in general, use of benzodiazepines beyond a few months is considered very risky. Dependence, however, can begin to develop within as little as one week of daily use.

You will know if you have developed a physical dependence to Xanax if you start to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug.

  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Aggression
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or face
  • Suicidal thoughts

To ease the pain of these withdrawal symptoms as you go through detox, doctors may recommend tapering off the drug. Little by little, they will reduce the amount of Xanax you take each day until the substance is completely out of your system. Tapering off a drug you have become dependent on allows your body to gradually adjust to the substance leaving your system and greatly reduces the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Risk of Overdose

overdose on xanax

As a central nervous system depressant, it is possible to overdose on Xanax.

An overdose is likely to cause problems with breathing and coordination, and it can lead to coma and death. People who take higher doses of Xanax than recommended by their doctors, use Xanax without doctor supervision, or use Xanax concurrently with other drugs are at an increased risk of experiencing an overdose.

Signs of a Xanax overdose to look out for include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizure
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Severe skin rash
  • Extreme confusion
  • Problems with speech, coordination, or balance
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

In the case of an overdose, it is important to seek emergency medical treatment right away. Call 911 or get the victim to an emergency room as soon as possible.

On their own, Xanax overdoses are rarely fatal, though overdoses caused by a mixture of Xanax and other drugs have a much greater chance of being deadly. Obtaining emergency treatment as soon as possible is your best chance at preventing an overdose from becoming fatal.

How Addictive Is It?

As a benzodiazepine, Xanax is incredibly addictive. If you have been struggling with abuse of Xanax, comprehensive treatment is needed. You can safely detox from the drug under medical supervision and then proceed to therapy to address the causal issues that contributed to substance abuse.

SOURCES

20 Profound Xanax Addiction Statistics. (2019). Health Research Funding.

Alprazolam. (September 2017). U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus.

Benzodiazepines in Combination with Opioid Pain Relievers or Alcohol: Greater Risk of More Serious ED Visit Outcomes. (December 2014). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

How to Recognize and Treat Xanax Addiction. (June 2018). Healthline.

Prescription CNS Depressants. (March 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

What You Need to Know About Xanax. (December 2017). Medical News Today.

Xanax. (March 2017). RxList.