Xanax is likely one of the most recognizable drugs by name in the US.
It is a benzodiazepine. The benzodiazepine class of drugs has a sedative effect and can calm nerve activity in the brain and body. Xanax is indicated for the treatment of anxiety disorders and panic disorders, among other conditions. Typically, it is advisable to use Xanax only on a short-term basis for a health condition.
Xanax is a brand name; its generic is alprazolam. Xanax comes in two formats: an immediate-release pill and an oral extended-release pill (Xanax XR, which is indicated only for panic disorders).
Who Is at Risk for Xanax Addiction?
Although Xanax has a proven therapeutic effect, it also carries the risk of addiction. However, the risk of addiction is considered minimal provided that a person with a prescription for this drug follows the prescribing doctor’s instructions for use. Whether a person has an abuse intention or not, taking too much Xanax can lead to addiction. In some instances, a person may feel that the prescribed dosage of Xanax is not providing enough relief. In other cases, a person may take too much accidentally and find that doing so has desirable effects.
In order to get more Xanax (a doctor will not usually write a refill before the current refill period has finished) people may engage in doctor shopping. Provided that a prescription monitoring system is not in place in the home state, people may go to different doctors and emergency rooms to try and obtain additional prescriptions for Xanax. These prescriptions will then need to be filled at different pharmacies. The practice of doctor shopping is dangerous, expensive, and time-consuming. However, those who are addicted to Xanax will dedicate an inordinate amount of time to procuring and using this drug.
Individuals who use Xanax recreationally (i.e., without a prescription and medical need for it) are particularly susceptible to developing an addiction to this drug. Since Xanax is a widely prescribed drug, people may be able to get them from a host of people, including friends, family, colleagues, and classmates. In addition, people can buy Xanax on the street from drug dealers or from individuals who have a prescription for Xanax but sell their pills for extra money.
Understanding Xanax Addiction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) is a primary medical handbook and guide for mental health professionals. The 5th edition, which the American Psychiatric Association published in May 2013, identifies addiction as a substance use disorder. In other words, the APA found that certain drug abuse-related terms, like physical dependence and addiction, lacked adequate specificity. As a result, the DSM-5 recommends that mental health professionals use the manual to diagnose a substance use disorder.
In order for a substance use disorder to be found present, a person must exhibit at least of a potential 11 symptoms within the same 12-month period. A substance use disorder can be graded as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms present.
An understanding of the 11 symptoms of a substance use disorder, or more specifically a Xanax use disorder (also called a sedative use disorder), provides insight into the symptoms and signs of Xanax abuse.
The 11 possible symptoms are:
- Loss of control: The affected person takes more Xanax than intended or for a longer period of time than intended.
- Powerlessness to stop: The affected person has a desire to stop abusing Xanax but finds it impossible to do so.
- Dedication to the drug: The affected person spends an excessive amount of time, energy, and resources using Xanax, getting it, and recovering from its effects.
- Cravings: When the affected person does not take Xanax, persistent and strong cravings emerge to the point where it can be difficult to focus on anything else.
- Persistent use despite resulting problems: Even though Xanax abuse is causing problems in main spheres of life (e.g., work, home, school, social settings, etc.), the person continues to use this drug. The person may be demonstrating poor performance across all important tasks as well as not be able to fulfill important family, work, and school obligations.
- Ongoing use in the face of interpersonal problems: Even though Xanax abuse is causing problems in relationships, the person continues to use the drug. Such problems can include arguments, loss of friendships, or damaged family ties.
- Loss of interest in social activities: The affected person may uncharacteristically lose interest in and withdraw from social and recreational activities, including those that used to be important.
- Ongoing use despite being in danger: Although Xanax abuse puts the affected person in dangerous circumstances, use persists. For example, a person may drive after taking too much Xanax.
- Continuous use even though it aggravates a health condition: For example, a person may keep taking Xanax even though it is making a physical or psychological issue worse.
- Building a tolerance: Due to the natural process of tolerance, the longer a person takes Xanax, the greater the dosage needed to deliver the desired effects. Tolerance is a main hallmark of a larger biological process known as physical dependence.
- Onset of withdrawal symptoms: After an ongoing period of use, if a person stops taking Xanax, withdrawal symptoms will emerge. Like tolerance, withdrawal is a natural process and a main hallmark of physical dependence.
Xanax Addiction: Health-Related Symptoms and Signs
In addition to the 11 symptoms discussed, it can be helpful to know some of the health-related symptoms and signs of a Xanax use disorder or addiction. Information about the physical symptoms and signs of Xanax abuse stems from several places, including but not limited to clinical trials, research on addiction, hospital reports, and feedback from treatment programs. Physical symptoms and signs can be mild, moderate, severe, or deadly.
MedlinePlus identifies some of the moderate and severe side effects associated with taking Xanax. Individuals who take too much Xanax face a heightened risk of experiencing side effects and a more severe presentation of them.
The following are some known Xanax side effects:
- Trouble concentrating
- An increase in salivation
- Dry mouth
- Pain in joints
- Problems urinating
- Changes in sexual performance ability
- Changes in sexual drive
- Changes in weight
- Changes in appetite
The following Xanax side effects are considered even more serious:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Hallucinations (audio, visual, and/or tactile)
- Speech problems
- Shortness of breath
- Problems with memory
- Uncharacteristic changes in mood or behavior
- Yellowing of the eyes or skin
- Severe skin rash
- Coordination or balancing problems
During a Xanax overdose, the following are some possible symptoms the body may experience:
- Coordination problems
- Loss of consciousness
As the literature on Xanax abuse reflects, it is uncommon for a person to experience a fatality by abusing Xanax alone; however, it is possible. The more obvious danger of death arises from combining Xanax with alcohol or other drugs. Using Xanax in combination with alcohol significantly increases the risk of a fatality. Both alcohol and Xanax are central nervous system depressants. When taken together, a person’s breathing may become suppressed to the point of coma and even death.
In addition, the combination of Xanax and alcohol can expose a person to dangerous risk-tasking behavior, such as operating a car. Drugged and drunk driving is a recipe for potentially harming oneself, and endangering the lives and wellbeing of pedestrians and other drivers. While Xanax abuse alone is never advised, the combination of Xanax and alcohol is especially cautioned against.
A Note on Withdrawal from Xanax
A discussion of Xanax addiction (i.e., a Xanax use disorder) must, out of necessity, touch on the withdrawal process. As an illuminating article in Psychology Today discusses, withdrawal from benzodiazepines, including Xanax, can present particularly dangerous symptoms. For this reason, there is a strong advisement in the addiction treatment field that a person needs to undergo medical detox from Xanax.
During medical detox, a person can be safely tapered off Xanax. The tapering process helps the body to avoid a severe reaction. When a person who has a history of abusing Xanax suddenly stops taking this drug, the body may manifest dangerous symptoms, including seizures. The tapering process can help to stop dangerous symptoms from emerging, and comfortably and safely manage the symptoms that do arise.