Xanax Addiction and Abuse

Xanax is heavily used and abused in the US. It is the number one prescribed psychiatric medication. Teens that have been found to abuse Xanax primarily got it out of the household medicine cabinet. Many people suffer from anxiety and there are medication programs available. There are anxiety medications that are slow acting and used as a maintenance method to keep the mind in balance. Xanax however is different. It has its use as a quick fix at the onset of panic and anxiety. It offers feelings of euphoria and relaxation that quickly become addictive psychologically.

Xanax is a part of the benzodiazepine family, primarily used for anxiety and insomnia. It is also highly addictive. When this drug is abused, you can quickly become dependent on it. Xanax addiction can cause a person’s life to fall apart quickly. It is a fast-acting benzo which means it’s effective for acute anxiety disorders. It’s also used for seizure disorders but just for short term use. When a person with anxiety has a moment of panic, Xanax is useful. The problem is most people will start to chronically use it because it feels so good to be that relaxed. Especially for someone who is constantly feeling tense and anxious.

What is Xanax?

The generic name for Xanax is alprazolam. It’s a potent benzodiazepine for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It’s used to treat acute anxiety disorders and seizures for a short amount of time. It is a prescription sedative and part of the benzodiazepines family. This type of drug was created to replace barbiturates, a highly addictive drug. As a fast-acting benzo, you’ll experience peak effects within one to two hours. You’ll experience a dramatic change in your body and mind quickly. 

This is one of the things that make it one of the most addictive prescriptions. It lasts up to 15 hours in your system being a intermediate-duration drug. It is a regulated schedule IV controlled substance. This indicates that it is addictive and while legal to prescribe, should be done with caution and used for a short time. 

Xanax comes in doses of 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg and 2 mg strengths. 

Xanax Addiction

Xanax Street Names

While Xanax is a legal drug prescribed for medical issues, they are also sold on the streets. By leaving your unfinished prescriptions in the medicine cabinet, there is the potential you’re contributing to the problem. Xanax street names include: 

  • Xannies
  • Zannies
  • Bars
  • Handlebars
  • Blue Footballs
  • Ladders
  • Sticks
  • French fries
  • Benzos
  • Xannies or zannies

Xanax Addiction

Xanax is widely prescribed and extremely addictive. Even if the person with anxiety doesn’t become addicted, leaving the unfinished prescription in the house can cause others to abuse the drug. People are more at risk of addiction when they take 4 mg of Xanax daily for more than 12 weeks. Thousands of people every year get addiction treatment of Xanax. In 2012, there were over 17,000 people admitted into treatment facilities for benzodiazepine addiction. This included Xanax, according to SAMHSA.

It can take just a few weeks for people to develop Xanax addiction. Statistics tell us that daily use of benzos for more than six weeks has resulted in dependency for four out of every 10 people. 

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History of Xanax

In the 1960’s, psychiatric treatment was on the forefront of medical development. Researchers found a way to help those with insomnia with the first benzodiazepine. They were looking to create a less addictive, safer medication than the traditional tranquilizers. Dr. Sternbach created Valium, Klonopin, and other similar drugs. Alprazolam was patented in 1969 and granted in 1976. 

In the 1970’s, Xanax was used for anxiety, nausea from chemo, depression, seizures, and insomnia. In 1981, it was assigned as a Schedule IV on the Controlled Substance Act. This indicates that it has a low potential for abuse when compared to drugs in Schedule III. There is a risk of addiction and the drug should be prescribed with caution. It was the first benzo to be approved by the FDA for treatment of panic disorder. This happened in 1990.

Xanax Addiction Symptoms to Watch out For

When Xanax addiction develops, things you once cared about won’t seem as important. For someone who is involved with an addict, there are some telltale signs that addiction has set in. It might be up to you to stage an intervention to get them the help they need. A small percentage of addicts will ask for help. Many times they won’t see it in themselves or they don’t want to admit they have a problem due to stigma against addiction. 

There are certain behaviors that you should watch out for if you think someone you love might be an addict. They will start to let go for their responsibilities such as: 

  • Missing work or school.
  • Avoiding functions.
  • They may stay home sick often.
  • They will make excuses as to why they need to take Xanax.
  • They will take more Xanax as time goes on.
  • They will become secretive.
  • They lose interest in things they were once passionate about.
  • They may experience legal issues due to their use of Xanax.
  • They may take more risks like driving while being under the influence.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is when you have a psychological and physical dependency. Some drugs don’t cause this but Xanax does. If you’ve become dependent on the drug, you’ll likely have to taper off the drug. This is especially important with any of the benzo family of drugs. The best rule of thumb is to decrease dosages by 25 percent over the withdrawal process. Xanax usually requires medical detox because fast withdrawal can cause delirium tremens. 

Addiction starts with tolerance where the body needs more of the drug to get the same results as when you began using. With Xanax, tolerance occurs quickly. Some people who become addicted to Xanax will take 20 or even 30 pills per day. When stopping, there will be uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. This can include physical and psychological problems such as anxiety or tremors. If you do experience withdrawal symptoms, it’s likely that you’re physically dependent on Xanax. Tolerance and withdrawal is one of the main indicators of addiction.

When you have a physical addiction to Xanax, you can’t function properly with the drug. Physical addiction with Xanax is indicated by experiencing physical withdrawals when you don’t take it. Some of the withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Extreme sweating
  • Inability to see properly
  • Convulsions
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numb fingers 

It takes using Xanax chronically over time to develop physical dependence. The body becomes used to the substance and when you don’t have it, it cries out for it. This can come with feelings of achiness throughout the body. Many people that are trying to detox on their own have admitted themselves to the emergency room because the symptoms feel terrifying. Last year alone, there were over 44,000 people who were treated in the ER for medical issues based on benzodiazepine abuse. With Xanax in particular, it’s important to go through professional detox.

Xanax is a sedative which means it relaxes the brain. This in turn sends messages to the body to release tension and let go of any anxiety. They were developed to replace barbiturates which were once the ‘go to’ for anxiety and insomnia. Xanax directly affects the central nervous system (CNS). It boosts the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is responsible for slowing down nerve cell activity. When GABA is boosted in the brain, you’ll experience the calm, relaxed feeling. This lets you sleep and anxiety is reduced. 

Xanax affects how your brain produces GABA. If you didn’t have enough GABA before taking Xanax, the drug can worsen the problem. Even if you did have enough GABA, the brain can get lazy and stop producing it properly, becoming dependent on the drug to produce it. Xanax decreases your brain activity. If someone abuses Xanax without having extreme anxiety, they get a greater high from it. This can cause a very fast addiction as it will often be abused often under those circumstances. 

The brain will begin to rely on Xanax to produce GABA. When you stop using it, withdrawal symptoms can include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Night terrors
  • Memory loss
  • Psychosis

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Dangers of Quitting Xanax “Cold Turkey”

Many people don’t realize the risks of abusing Xanax. They don’t understand how benzos work with your mind. This is one of the drugs that should involve a medical detox and a tapering program. This is where you slowly decrease the amount of Xanax you take over time. This aids in preventing the dangerous and even deadly delirium tremens. They are a type of seizure that can occur when you stop using Xanax. 

Not only that but when quit “cold turkey,” you can experience severe anxiety. This is because the brain doesn’t naturally create GABA to calm you. It has become to rely on Xanax for that job. It takes time to get the brain back in balance. Until then, this can be a terrifying experience for someone who quits without tapering. 

Here’s why you need support when quitting Xanax: 

  • You can safely taper without experiencing overwhelming withdrawal symptoms.
  • You will have the support to get through whatever discomfort, pain, or dangers arise.
  • You’re less likely to relapse.
  • You’re safeguarded with medical staff who can help you if there are emergencies that arise during the withdrawal process.

Xanax slows down your brain activity, carrying side effects. If someone is abusing it, there will be more side effects. There are interactions between other drugs and even natural herbal supplements mixed with Xanax can cause adverse reactions. Xanax can aggravate any underlying illness, especially mental health issues. This can easily cause a dual diagnosis disorder where you need the drug to keep your anxiety low. 

For those with a substance abuse problem, Xanax isn’t recommended. If you abuse alcohol and take Xanax, you can experience serious health problems. Any benzodiazepine should never be mixed with alcohol. It can become difficult to breathe to the point you fall into a coma or overdose. There is the risk of death. Xanax slows down your reaction time. This can put you at greater risk of accidents, especially if you’re driving while under the influence. The mood swings that can occur while taking Xanax can cause you to think irrationally, leading to behaviors that put you at risk and impact your health. 

Chronically abusing Xanax may indicate you’re trying to put a bandaid on a more serious issue. If you’re relying on Xanax to function everyday, you’re not using the drug for its purpose. Your brain will operate differently. When you stop using it, your brain will have a hard time re-regulating. This is where the withdrawal symptoms occur. Consistent abuse can put you at risk of overdose as you may go to far one day. Drug addiction has often been called a slow suicide. When you abuse Xanax, you risk your life more and more as time goes on. Mixing with other drugs or alcohol put you at greater risk.

When you abuse Xanax long term, there are side effects that can occur. Your long-term memory can be impaired. Medical journals have found that long-term use can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Any kind of benzo can cause brain damage. You can also experience physical issues such as digestive problems, chronic fatigue, constant headaches, muscle pain, and poor coordination.

Xanax is a central nervous depressant. This means it slows down your heart rate. If you mix Xanax with alcohol is the same effect on the CNS as alcohol and heroin. Drinking while taking Xanax is dangerous. Both alcohol and Xanax are detoxed from the body by the same liver enzymes. As they’re broken down by the same compounds, the body will take longer to detox from the polyabuse of Xanax and alcohol. This causes them to remain in your body for longer. Both drugs are more potent when you use them together. This can cause extreme sedation which can lead to accidents. There may be heart problems or you’ll stop breathing.

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology have found that death from taking Xanax is rare. In the journal they produced, out of 178 postmortem studies, there were 87 deaths caused from mixing Xanax with another substance. There were only 2 deaths caused by Xanax on it’s own. 

Depressants that put you seriously at risk of overdosing when mixed with Xanax include: 

  • Barbiturates
  • Opioid analgesics like OxyContin or morphine
  • Heroin
  • Alcohol
  • Methadone
  • Hypnotic drugs 

Korn’s Account of Benzos

The lead singer of Korn, Jonathan Davis speaks candidly about his Xanax addiction. As the lead singer in a heavy rock band, drugs and alcohol were a part of the job. He battled a lot of demons which can be heard in his music. He gave up recreational substances nearly two decades ago. Still, he struggled with debilitating anxiety and depression which caused him to become addicted to prescription drugs. He was prescribed Xanax long ago and said they are the devil. A horrible drug that allows you to feel good for the moment. A great quick fix for a panic attack but not for long term use. 

He started taking Xanax for anxiety with just one piece in the morning and one at night. He talks about the tolerance that quickly built and how he was on them for two years. His song ‘Medicate’ is about needing pills to be happy or sane. Once the song was over, he stopped using Xanax. This would be the first of three tries. He said he experienced shakes when the drug started to leave his body. To the point he couldn’t even talk. He used the tapering method to eventually stop using Xanax because he knew the risks of going “cold turkey.” Today, he is totally clean from drugs. 

One Man’s Story on Xanax Addiction

A young man experienced severe anxiety and panic attacks. He was given Xanax and it nearly ruined his life. He was addicted to them for three years. After going through so much turmoil in his life, he was given Xanax to treat his anxiety. The doctor knew that in the medical field, he would be looked down on for prescribing Xanax but he felt Carter Pierce could handle it. He couldn’t. He clinged onto the pills with the hope he’d have relief from all the torment he experienced in his mind. In the beginning, he said Xanax made him happier than he’d ever been in his life. 

He didn’t care about anything. Everything was in harmony. For someone suffering from anxiety their whole life, this would feel like the most beautiful refuge. He would take Xanax in the morning and oxycodone at night. He doubled his doses eventually and take pills during the day too. Within just one month, he was taking Xanax all the time. He was happy but life began to unravel. He started doctor shopping and became isolated, spending no time with friends or family. 

When the pills wore off, he would feel paranoid and hatred towards himself. These feelings were worse than they were before he started taking Xanax. So he kept taking them. Through his phase of doctor shopping, one doctor told him he should get help and go to rehab. At the time, he ignored his advice and continued using for another year. He would eventually go to an outpatient detox program. He got clean, went through individual and group therapy, started meditating, and eating healthy. Pierce began spending time with his friends again and has since been sober. He was in the grips of Xanax addiction for two years.

As Xanax is so dangerous to quit when not done properly, professional detox should be administered. It is likely you’ll go through medical detox in an inpatient or outpatient program. There will be a tapering approach to avoid the intense withdrawal symptoms that occur. Detox can take place at a rehab center, a hospital, or detox center. The dosage of benzodiazepine during medical detox will depend on the person. Dosing is incrementally adjusted down until the point where there is no Xanax left in the body. 

The tapering timeline will vary person to person. It depends on a few factors such as how long the person abused Xanax and how much. Relapse is always a possibility but when going through medical detox, the chance of tapering off and moving forward through rehab is much greater. The ‘cold turkey’ method will put you at risk of relapse. 

Once you’ve completed detox, it’s important to go through primary care treatment for Xanax. As you were likely prescribed Xanax to manage anxiety and panic, it’s important to work through those things with therapy. Rehab involves group and individual therapy where you learn tools to manage your emotions, triggers, and cravings. You’ll exercise and eat nutritious foods that promote the brain to work effectively, giving you the GABA you need for emotional stability. You also gain peer support which is important for the rehabilitation process. 

Treating Xanax Addiction

For detox and rehab, there are inpatient and outpatient programs available. You can verify your insurance to see what’s covered. Once you’ve gone through the full rehab program, you can gain more support through AA and NA meetings in your community. These are helpful because you can talk out your struggles with others who understand.

Xanax addiction is challenging but it’s treatable. You can break free and find other ways to manage anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. We at Northpoint, the Evergreen at Bellevue have helped thousands of people recover from Xanax addiction. We use the most up-to-date methods in our beautiful, welcoming facility. Our staff is caring and compassionate and we help you every step of the way. You don’t have to fight your addiction on your own. When you’re ready, contact us and start your recovery today.

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