Xanax use is as common as the anxiety disorders it’s prescribed to treat – but even when taken as directed, it carries a high addiction risk and serious health consequences. We take a closer look at what exactly this drug is and what makes it so addictive.
Xanax abuse is so widespread, it’s come to be the poster child for prescription drug addiction. This powerful benzodiazepine is frequently used to treat anxiety and anxiety-related insomnia, but is dangerously habit-forming, even when taken as prescribed. Rates of Xanax and other benzodiazepine prescriptions have been rising steadily over the last decade, with overdose rates rising right alongside. Here, we’ll take a look at what exactly Xanax is, what makes it addictive, the risks associated with its use and the treatment available for those who are struggling with Xanax addiction.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is an anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety drug. It belongs to the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which are usually prescribed to patients suffering from severe anxiety, nervousness or panic attacks. It’s also used to treat insomnia that results from anxiety, as it causes drowsiness and relaxation. Its onset occurs quickly and lasts for about six hours, which is why it’s an appealing choice for many who experience panic or anxiety attacks. The generic name for Xanax is alprazolam.
How is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax works by affecting your brain’s dopamine receptors. Dopamine is your brain’s feel-good chemical, which means that when your brain receives more of it, it reduces the fight-or-flight effects of panic and increases feelings of pleasure. Some people find this sensation highly enjoyable, and once they begin taking Xanax, they want to take more and more of it to experience those effects.
Many people become addicted to Xanax after receiving a prescription for it and using it at higher doses than recommended to achieve the aforementioned high. While Xanax can be addictive even when used as prescribed, it’s especially addictive when misused. It’s typically recommended only for short-term use, but some people use it for extended periods of time, putting themselves at high risk for dependence and addiction. Often times, those who run out of their Xanax prescription will ‘doctor shop’, or visit multiple doctors to receive additional prescriptions. Xanax stays in the body for up to 24 hours, and users can quickly begin to build up a tolerance to it. Once physical dependence to Xanax occurs, it’s very difficult to quit, and withdrawing can be dangerous.
Risks of Xanax Addiction
Though the commonness of Xanax use may make it seem harmless, and the fact that it’s doctor-prescribed may make it seem safe, the truth is that Xanax is a powerful and dangerous drug that should be used with extreme caution, if at all. Benzodiazepine abuse can result in serious and long-lasting mental and physical health concerns, such as the following:
Taking Xanax regularly over a prolonged period of time makes you accustomed to the presence of the substance in your body. Your body comes to rely on Xanax for things like feeling calm and releasing dopamine. When you try to stop, extremely uncomfortably withdrawal symptoms like severe anxiety, irritability and insomnia can occur. You might get headaches, experience trembles and feel emotionally volatile or generally detached. You may even feel like you’re having a nervous breakdown. Withdrawal symptoms usually come on about six hours after the last dose.
In more serious cases of Xanax withdrawal, users can have full-body seizures, which can even be fatal. That’s why it’s important that detox is medically supervised and followed up with professional addiction treatment.
Since Xanax is most commonly prescribed for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder (PD), its use lends itself to addiction, as people with such mental health concerns are more likely to reach for substances to ease their unpleasant feelings. But once users develop a dependence, the problem becomes compounded – anxiety can increase when they’re not on Xanax, and they can experience a rebound effect, or an intensification of the original problem.
Similarly, people who take Xanax for insomnia can come to rely on it to fall asleep. They may find it increasingly difficult to sleep when not on Xanax.
Interactions with Other Drugs
Xanax is commonly taken with alcohol or prescription medications to enhance its relaxing effects, but this combination is extremely dangerous and even deadly. Since alcohol, benzodiazepines and opioids are all central nervous system depressants, they can slow down the body’s functions so much that they stop entirely.
Xanax can also be dangerous when used in combination with other depressants like night-time cold medicines or herbal relaxants like kava, valerian or St. John’s Wort. Another common combination Xanax and caffeine. While users often drink coffee to ward of the drowsiness Xanax causes, this counteractive practice can cause them to take more of the drug to feel its anxiety-reducing effects. The combination also increases the alprazolam’s strength and can destroy brain cells.
Though it’s not exceedingly common, overdosing on Xanax is possible. This usually occurs when it’s mixed with alcohol, opioids or other depressants.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
While Xanax use undoubtedly has some very frightening effects, the good news is that with medically supervised detox, effective addiction treatment and diligent follow-up care, it is entirely possible to safely quit using Xanax and learn to manage your anxiety without using harmful and addictive substances.
The Cabin Chiang Mai offers an intensive Xanax addiction recovery program, set in a gorgeous retreat location in the peaceful and scenic foothills of Northern Thailand. Our highly qualified staff of medical professionals, psychologists and holistic therapists has extensive experience treating addiction and have seen many people in your situation all the way through to successful recovery. If you’re ready to discover how great life can be without Xanax, contact us today to learn how we can help.