It’s sadly comical how ingrained Xanax abuse is in American culture. In fact, the popular rapper, Drake, rapped about how he took half a Xanax on a plane ride to sleep. Despite what Drake and many others might think, this drug can be quite dangerous.
Xanax and alcohol are a deadly mix. Opioids and Xanax are even more. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30% of overdoses from opioids involve the use of benzodiazepines. With a rise in Xanax prescriptions, it’s more important now than ever to understand the negative consequences.
First of all, Xanax is a type of benzodiazepine (aka benzos). They are depressant drugs, meaning they slow down the brain and body’s processes. In other words, they limit the activity of the central nervous system. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) describes them as minor tranquilizers. Xanax is the brand name for its generic counterpart, alprazolam.
Although Xanax abuse is a problem in the United States, people use it for medical purposes. Doctors prescribe it to those with an anxiety or panic disorder. But they might go another route first. This is due to the fact that Xanax abuse is a known issue in the realm of psychiatrists.
That said, this medication can offer solace to those who suffer from mental illness. Insomnia, epilepsy, and in rare cases, alcohol addiction withdrawal may be treated with this substance. Yet, Xanax and alcohol are dangerous, so this would only be in a desperate situation with close monitoring.
Xanax can make an individual feel:
Yet, every person is different when it comes to drugs. Some have adverse side effects from it. People may encounter side effects even after they have been on this substance for a long period of time. For instance, when someone might build dependence and tolerance if they have been on Xanax for an extended period of time. Their body and brain depend on the drug to make it feel a certain way and craves more. This leads to tolerance.
Side effects of Xanax include:
Continuing, the side effects are worsened through illicit use. People who use it illegally might snort, inject, or smoke it. This increases the risk of addiction, withdrawal, and dependence tenfold.
Previously, we mentioned that Xanax acts on the central nervous system (CNS). When people use drugs it generally interacts with this portion of the body. The CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord. Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a neurotransmitter within this bodily system. These chemicals tell the body to act and feel a certain way.
Xanax is able to slow down the body’s systems by encouraging the binding of GABA to its respective receptors. In short, this slows down the brain’s activity. Hence, the body’s functions slow down as a result. The brain and body do this naturally, but this class of drugs sends this function into overdrive.
As a result, Xanax abuse can throw a wrench in its natural production and binding. This becomes serious when a person suffering from a Xanax addiction decides they want to quit using it. They want to stop, but their body and brain crave the level of GABA binding it was at beforehand.
Furthermore, Xanax is a prescription medication. This makes it especially difficult to pick up on the signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse. For instance, a parent, friend, or child may be a victim of Xanax abuse. It’s not just a line in a rap song. Someone who struggles with Xanax abuse may have an extra terrible day. Their anxiety is out of control and they can barely sleep or eat. They make an executive decision to double their dose. And then again a few days later.
People can easily slip into a Xanax addiction without realizing it. Anxiety disorders are the number one form of mental illness in the United States. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder every year. In other words, that is 18.1% of the American adult population. So, it makes sense that at least thousands of Americans currently have Xanax prescriptions.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse can save a loved one from an untimely death:
While Xanax abuse isn’t common when prescribed by a psychiatrist, it can happen. This type of substance replaced barbiturates as a tranquilizer for those with health disorders because it’s harder to overdose on it. That said, Americans die every year because of Xanax overdoses. Additionally, there is a special danger in mixing this type of substance with others. Xanax and alcohol can be a deadly concoction, especially since both are depressants. Innocent people die early.
Moreover, most doctors are hesitant to prescribe Xanax to patients because of the withdrawal symptoms they may experience. Most prescribe it short-term to avoid any cases of Xanax abuse. Though, a psychiatrist may tell a patient to stop the usage or take a certain dosage. Not all listen.
Once a person engages in Xanax abuse, it increases their chances of addiction, dependence, withdrawal, overdosing, and death. This may seem easier than it’s made out to be. Xanax abuse is when a person uses Xanax other than it’s intended use. Doing so prompts a psychological addiction. The longer a person maintains this addiction or dependence, the worse their withdrawal will likely be.
Symptoms and signs of Xanax withdrawal include, but are not limited to:
An individual suffering from a Xanax abuse disorder may start to feel withdrawal symptoms in as little as six hours. Although, the worst of symptoms peak at around two days after the last dosage. After around five days, most will cease to feel withdrawal symptoms. This isn’t the case for heavy users, unfortunately.
Xanax abuse can permanently damage cognitive functionality. This means psychosis, memory loss, and even dementia. Sometimes a person can never recover from this damage though their life will be better off without it. If a recovering Xanax addict still feels withdrawal symptoms after weeks, they may suffer from “PAWS”, which is an abbreviation for post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
As a result of the nature of Xanax, some feel symptoms months to years after stopping. Their drug cravings never go away completely nor their mental illnesses. Mood swings might accompany them their entire life because they didn’t quit soon enough.
Every person is at risk of drug addiction at the end of the day. It may come about from someone’s lowest moment or by total accident. One might think it could never affect them. Yet, they might find themselves among the millions of Americans with an anxiety disorder. Their doctor prescribes them Xanax and the rest is history.
This is an extreme, but true example. The more someone thinks they could never end up addicted to drugs makes it all the more likely. Of course, some groups of people are more at risk than others. Unfortunately, some factors in a person’s life can lead them to seek out drugs. This could be from a doctor or from the illegal market.
Here are groups of people especially at risk for Xanax abuse:
Also, this list can include anyone who suffers from chronic pain or mental illness. People often mask psychological and mental pain with drugs and alcohol. Individuals without health insurance may resort to using Xanax as a form of self-medication.
Finally, treatment for abuse of Xanax is so important based on the fact that 44% of people who use benzodiazepines become dependent on the drug. If a medical professional doesn’t intervene, it could cost an innocent person their life. The good news is that those suffering from a Xanax use disorder have multiple treatments to choose from.
Treatment often includes some form of therapy. Common forms of therapy for Xanax abuse include:
Also, treatment will likely include medically assisted treatment (MAT). A trained addiction treatment staff will prescribe patients will medication that can ease the worst of withdrawal symptoms. Medications include suboxone and naltrexone.
Each individual treatment comes in a packaged program. An outpatient program means a recovering addict will go through treatment but will go back home at the end of the day. This is the least intense form. On the other hand, inpatient, or residential treatment, is when a patient lives at a facility. A combination of the two exists in the form of partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Both let a patient leave the facility, but will involve a full day of treatment.
When a person suffers from a Xanax abuse disorder, they may feel alone in this world. They may feel ashamed and like no one will understand they aren’t in control of their actions. Free By the Sea understands that addiction is out of anyone’s control. However, we offer Xanax abuse treatment in Washington to help gain back control. If you or a loved one needs help with Xanax and alcohol, or any other substance, contact us now.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.