Xanax Abuse, Side Effects, Detox, & Rehab

Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescription medication that has a high addictive potential and as a result, is only meant for short-term use, and for very specific circumstances.1,2 The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that just over 17% of those who take benzodiazepines such as Xanax, misuse these drugs in some way. This article will go over what Xanax is, why it is prescribed, and the dangers of misuse.2

What Is Xanax?

Woman with pills in hand

Xanax (generic name: alprazolam) is one of the most prescribed benzodiazepine medications on the market.1 Other examples of benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and triazolam (Halcion).3

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that activate the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain to relieve anxiety and induce feelings of calm and sedation. These feelings of calmness and relaxation drives many individuals to misuse Xanax in hopes of continuing to experience these feelings.4-6

What Is Xanax Prescribed For?

Xanax and other benzodiazepines are primarily prescribed to manage specific anxiety disorders including panic disorder, as well as seizure disorders. Benzodiazepines are also known as anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety medications.1,7 Because of the risk of misuse and addiction, Xanax is usually prescribed for short periods of time, rather than as a long-term treatment.1,7 It may be prescribed to help with:1,7

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive worry that affects many areas of a person’s life.8
  • Panic disorder: a condition where a person experiences panic attacks, which are acute episodes of high anxiety, and a fear of future panic attacks.8
  • Specific phobias: an intense and irrational fear of a specified object or situation that results in avoidance or extreme distress. Examples include fear of flying, fear of snakes, fear of needles.
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD): characterized by an intense, chronic fear of social situations. Individuals with this SAD worry that they will feel embarrassed, scrutinized, or rejected while in public, which may cause them to avoid social situations.

Xanax may be dangerous when misused, and misuse is common.6 According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Xanax is one of the two most common benzodiazepines on the illicit drug market, the other being Klonopin.6 Xanax misuse may take several forms:3

  • Taking more than prescribed.
  • Taking it without a prescription.
  • Taking it primarily to get high.
  • Taking it in a way other than prescribed (such as crushing and snorting it).

How Addictive Is Xanax?

Xanax has a high potential for misuse, even among those who receive it as a prescription from a healthcare provider.1 In 2020, approximately 4.8 million Americans over age 12 had misused benzodiazepines like Xanax within the past year.9

Xanax misuse may eventually lead to addiction. In 2020, an estimated 1.2 million Americans 12 years old or older met criteria for a sedative-hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, a clinical term that describes addiction to benzodiazepines and other similar prescription medications, including prescription sleeping pills.9

Not only is Xanax associated with a high risk for misuse, but it is also known to have a more severe withdrawal syndrome than many other benzodiazepines.1 The severe withdrawal symptoms (which can include seizures and hallucinations) can make quitting very difficult—even dangerous—and may contribute to continual compulsive use in order to avoid these severe withdrawal side effects.3,8

Signs of Xanax Addiction

Addiction refers to the continued, uncontrolled use of Xanax despite it causing serious problems, like relationship turmoil, health issues, or legal problems.8 Treatment professionals use a short list of criteria to diagnose a Xanax addiction (anxiolytic use disorder):8

  • Taking more Xanax or taking it for longer periods than intended.
  • Failed efforts to cut back or quit.
  • Excessive time, money, and energy spent on acquiring, taking, or recovering from Xanax.
  • Continued use of Xanax despite it causing or worsening physical or mental health problems.
  • Cravings or urges to use Xanax.
  • Reduced participation in important or enjoyable activities due to increased Xanax use.
  • Continued use of Xanax despite it causing problems at home, work, or school.
  • Use of Xanax in dangerous situations, like while driving.
  • Continued use of Xanax despite it causing interpersonal problems.
  • Requiring increasing amounts of Xanax in order to feel the same desired effects overtime. (tolerance).
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or decreasing Xanax use or taking Xanax to avoid or relieve withdrawal.

A person who experiences at least two of the symptoms above meets the diagnostic criteria for an anxiolytic use disorder.8

Side Effects of Xanax

Like most medications, taking Xanax can lead to uncomfortable side effects. Possible side effects of Xanax include:1,3

  • Fatigue.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Headache.
  • Confusion.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Memory problems.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Depression.

Misuse of these drugs, such as taking higher doses than prescribed, may worsen these side effects and may lead to overdose.3,7

Xanax Overdose

Although benzodiazepine such as Xanax do not have a serious overdose risk, overdose can still happen, and the risk can exponentially increase when Xanax is mixed with other drugs.

Combining Xanax with opioids, alcohol or other sedatives increases the risk of overdose. Taking opioids with Xanax doubles the risk of respiratory depression (slowed, difficult, or stopped breathing).1

If not properly treated, a Xanax overdose can result in death, especially in the case of polydrug.7 Signs of a Xanax overdose may include:3

  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Slowed reflexes.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Coma.

How to Treat Xanax Addiction

Generally, the first step in treating Xanax addiction is detoxification.10 Benzodiazepine withdrawal has the potential to be physically dangerous and may also result in severe rebound anxiety.1 Because of these risks, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends some form of an inpatient medical detox facility for Xanax withdrawal.10

During medical detox, doctors and nurses will manage the patient’s withdrawal and administer medications to ease symptoms as the client is safely tapered off Xanax.10 In a supervised inpatient environment, medical staff are on-hand to respond to any complications or emergencies (such as seizures) immediately.10

Medical detox readies the patient for addiction treatment.10 Once a person is safely detoxed from Xanax, they can then begin to participate in therapy, drug education, and relapse prevention training in an inpatient or outpatient rehab program.10

Starting Treatment for Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction is treatable. With the right help, you can recover. Laguna Treatment Center, located in Orange County, California, offers hospital-based medical detox and inpatient rehabilitation for people struggling with Xanax addiction. They also provide co-occurring disorder treatment for those dealing with mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, along with substance use disorders.

To get started, you can contact an admissions navigator by calling . An admissions navigator will talk to you about the program and help you .

Laguna Treatment Center accepts many private insurance plans and provides alternate payment options to help make treatment affordable.

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