What is Xanax?
Alprazolam, the generic name for the drug sold under the brand name Xanax, is a drug prescribed for anxiety, stress, and panic that can be addictive.1 People also buy it on the street to use illegally. They may use it alone or in combinations with other drugs to get high. When taken in larger amounts, Xanax can create euphoria.
Prescriptions for Xanax have increased by 23 percent since the year 2006, according to “New York” magazine.2 Doctors wrote an estimated 94 million benzodiazepine prescriptions in the year 2012. Altogether, this makes Xanax the most-prescribed psychoactive pharmaceutical drug and one of the most prescribed drugs of any medication class in the United States.
The wide availability of Xanax has unfortunately led to a wide pattern of abuse. And because Xanax can lower a person’s seizure threshold, withdrawing from the medication can lead to seizures if a person doesn’t do so carefully.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines.2 Other medicines in this drug class include Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. They each work for different durations, but all can work to relieve anxiety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Xanax in 1981 as an improvement on Valium because it was shorter-acting and could be used to treat panic disorders in addition to anxiety and stress disorders.
Xanax is a central nervous system depressant that has a tranquilizing effect on the body.3 When a person takes it, the medication can relieve anxiety, reduce the incidence of muscle spasms, and reduce the likelihood that a person will have a seizure.
On the street, Xanax has many nicknames. These include Xannies, Z-Bars, Zanbars, Handlebars, bricks, benzos, and bars.2 People who abuse the drug may swallow the pill or crush it and inject it.
Because Xanax is a psychoactive drug, it can change the chemical makeup of a person’s brain.1 This can result in addiction. Addiction can happen to anyone, no matter their race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
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Common Misconceptions About Xanax
A common misconception about Xanax is that the drug is safer because it’s not as long-acting as Valium.2 While it’s true that it’s less likely to build up in a person’s system, it can still be dangerous because Xanax can cause hours of relief followed by a “crash” that causes a stronger craving for the drug.
Another misconception is that Xanax is intended for long-term use. Xanax is actually intended to help a person through a bout of anxiety, and not to be taken past a couple of weeks. However, many people find they cannot or will not stop taking it after this time.
Some people also believe that because Xanax is a prescription medication that it cannot be harmful to a person.4 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 363,000 people sought treatment in an emergency room for use of benzodiazepines (particularly Xanax) in 2009. If a person abuses Xanax along with other substances, such as alcohol, it’s possible the medication could prove even deadlier.
What Does Xanax Do to the Body?
When a person takes Xanax, they can experience relief from anxiety because the medication is a central nervous system depressant.3 However, it can have other symptoms, especially if it is misused or taken in larger amounts. Examples of these symptoms include:
- dilated pupils
- poor coordination
- slower or shallow breathing
- slurred speech
- suicidal thoughts
Sometimes a person who takes Xanax can have the opposite reaction when they take the medicine and become agitated and aggressive instead of sedated. Also, when a person combines Xanax with other medications or substances such as alcohol, the potential effects can be deadly. This can include slowed breathing and heart rate.
What Is Detoxing from Xanax Like?
A person can take Xanax for as little as a week and start to experience withdrawal symptoms.1 Withdrawal symptoms will often start anywhere from one to three days after stopping taking the medication. They may still experience withdrawal effects even two to four weeks after their last dose, such as anxiety or strong cravings for Xanax.4
The chemical makeup of Xanax also means that it can cause more severe withdrawal symptoms than other drugs, such as Ativan or Valium. When a person stops taking Xanax, they can experience what are known as “rebound” symptoms.1 Examples of these symptoms include mood swings or an unstable mood.
Other symptoms include:
- dry mouth
- erectile dysfunction
- memory problems
- problems focusing
- shortness of breath
There is a difference between Xanax dependence and addiction.1 A person who takes Xanax regularly can experience Xanax dependence, where their body is used to taking the drug and they will experience withdrawal symptoms from stopping taking the medication. However, a person who is addicted to Xanax also experiences a loss of control where they can no longer control their use of Xanax. They will seek it out, even when they know that they have a problem with the drug.
What Are Common Struggles When Getting Sober From Xanax?
Because Xanax adjusts a person’s brain chemistry, they can experience very strong cravings for the drug, even if they haven’t physically taken Xanax in some time. A person should have a solid plan for quitting and ensuring long-term sobriety to help them stay sober. Plans should include:
- establishing ways to say no if a person is offered Xanax or other substances illegally
- Identifying a support group, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), where a person can receive support and encouragement to continue their sobriety
- finding new, healthier habits to adopt that can keep a person well in body and spirit
- changing routines, such as avoiding places that remind a person of when they used to abuse Xanax
- seeking therapy when needed to learn other methods to handle anxiety
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What Is Treatment for Xanax Addiction Like?
Because Xanax can cause seizures when a person stops taking it, doctors don’t usually recommend a person stop taking it suddenly or going “cold turkey.” Instead, they will usually recommend seeking an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. These programs have the person work with addiction specialists to create a tapering plan.1 Sometimes, a tapering plan will be followed for up to six weeks. This means that less and less Xanax will be taken in a controlled fashion to reduce the likelihood of seizures or other adverse effects of Xanax withdrawal.
The FDA has approved some medications to help people treat other addictions, such as to painkillers. However, there are not medications currently approved to reduce withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping using benzodiazepines.
In addition to breaking the physical symptoms of Xanax addiction, it’s important a person break the mental hold that Xanax can have on them. Often, addiction treatment specialists will recommend using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a method that involves helping a person recognize the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can cause a person to relapse. According to Healthline, using cognitive behavioral therapy over the course of three months has been shown to reduce the incidence of benzodiazepine usage.
While there are other behavioral therapy approaches available to treat Xanax addiction, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used options. In addition to science-based methods offered by counselors, a person may also benefit from alternative therapies. These may include art therapy, meditation, music therapy, yoga, or equine therapy. Because Xanax is a medication prescribed to relieve anxiety, it’s important that a person not only detox from Xanax, but also learn additional ways to help relieve anxiety that don’t involve furthering their addiction.
Where Can You Find Help for Xanax Addiction?
There are a variety of services available to help a person recover from a Xanax addiction. These include inpatient medical detox services so a person can withdraw from Xanax in a controlled fashion.3 A person may also wish to seek outpatient rehabilitation for Xanax addiction. This involves going to a rehabilitation facility several days a week to receive counseling services, participate in group therapies, or take advantage of other services, such as couples or family counseling, that could potentially help a person live a healthier lifestyle free from Xanax addiction.1
Addiction is a chronic disease. Even when a person overcomes the most acute symptoms, they may still struggle with cravings for some time after they stop abusing the medication.
Silvermist Recovery offers a safe and supportive place for a person to overcome an addiction to Xanax as well as other substances. Our treatment program accepts most insurances and can be an affordable and effective way to overcome an addiction to Xanax.