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Xanax Addiction

Xanax is likely one of the most recognizable drugs by name in the U.S.

Xanax is a benzodiazepine. The benzodiazepine class of drugs has a sedative effect and can calm nerve activity in the brain and body. Xanax is a brand name; it’s generic is alprazolam. Xanax is indicated for the management of anxiety and panic disorders, but according to MedlinePlus it’s also sometimes used to treat depression, fear of open spaces (i.e., agoraphobia), and premenstrual syndrome.

Xanax comes in two formats: an immediate-release pill and an oral extended-release pill (Xanax XR, which is indicated only for panic disorders). It’s advisable to use Xanax only on a short-term basis due to risks of dependence and addiction.

drugs-minWho’s at Risk for Xanax Addiction?

Xanax is a DEA Schedule IV drug, which means that it has some potential for abuse and dependence and may only be used with a valid prescription. Like any prescription drug, it should be used only as prescribed.

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 isn’t providing enough relief. In other cases, a person may take too much accidentally and find that doing so has desirable effects.

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

patient and doctor discussing xanax addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), a primary medical handbook and guide for mental health professionals that the American Psychiatric Association published in May 2013, identifies addiction as a substance use disorder.

In order for a substance use disorder to be found present, a person must exhibit at least 2 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 (or “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 doesn’t 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 Xanax. 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 it. 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’s 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.

Symptoms and Signs of Xanax Addiction

MedlinePlus identifies some of the moderate and severe side effects associated with taking Xanax. Some of the physical symptoms and signs are mild, while others are more serious and may require immediate medical intervention.

The following are some known Xanax side effects:

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Talkativeness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased salivation
  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Joint pain

The following Xanax side effects are uncommon, but considered even more serious:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist (hallucinating)
  • Severe skin rash
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Problems with speech
  • Unusual changes in behavior or mood
  • Thinking about harming or killing yourself or trying to do so
  • Problems with coordination or balance

During a Xanax overdose, the following are some possible symptoms the body may experience:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Coordination problems
  • Loss of consciousness

Although it’s uncommon for a person to experience a fatality by abusing Xanax alone; it’s especially dangerous to mix it with alcohol, opioids, or other CNS depressants. These substances can compound the effects of Xanax and can increase the chances of experiencing serious side effects. When taken together, a person’s breathing may become suppressed to the point of coma and even death.

The combination of Xanax and alcohol is especially cautioned against, as it can expose a person to dangerous risk-tasking behavior, such as driving. Drugged and drunk driving is a recipe for potentially harming oneself and endangering the lives and well-being of pedestrians and other drivers.

The Dangerous Withdrawal from Xanax

a person who has a history of abusing xanax suddenly stops taking this drug, suffers from xanax withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines and other CNS depressants, including Xanax, can present particularly dangerous symptoms. For this reason, it’s strongly advised that a person be tapered off Xanax, with a doctor gradually decreasing an individual’s dose to help the body to avoid a severe reaction and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

About The Contributor
Ryan Kelley, NREMT
Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers
Ryan Kelley is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician and the former managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). During his time at JEMS, Ryan developed Mobile Integrated Healthcare in... Read More