Xanax®, formally known as alprazolam, is a short-acting prescription benzodiazepine. Xanax is used to treat anxiety disorders for a short time. Xanax, like many benzodiazepines, is extremely addictive and as a result, is a commonly abused prescription medication.
Xanax Use Disorder
Xanax can also be sold on the street under the common street names Z-bars, bars, school bus, yellow boys and footballs. Benzodiazepines are commonly referred to as “nerve pills” because they are known to decrease anxiety symptoms and take the edge off. Individuals who become addicted can take up to 20-30 pills each day. Over time, individuals will have to increase their Xanax dose to feel the same calming effects. This is known as tolerance and is one of the telltale signs of Xanax use disorder. Even if taken as prescribed, it is possible to become addicted to Xanax.
- According to a survey from 2018, approximately one in five individuals who take benzodiazepines, including Xanax, are misusing these prescription medications.
- Xanax is the number one prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States.
- Mixing Xanax with alcohol or other prescription and non-prescription drugs can worsen the side effects and can be life-threatening. Xanax works within minutes of entering the bloodstream, and the effects peak within hours, resulting in a state of pleasure and extreme happiness.
Risk Factors for Xanax Abuse
- Female gender
- Over 65 years of age
- Low socioeconomic status
- Peer pressure
Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Intoxication
Xanax is known to create a sense of relaxation and euphoria and, when taken as prescribed, can help curb anxiety symptoms. However, when Xanax is abused, it can result in apparent signs of intoxication.
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Altered mental status
- Short-term memory loss
- Slowed breathing
Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, and therefore physical dependence can occur in as little as two weeks, and when Xanax is suddenly stopped, withdrawal symptoms can occur. These withdrawal symptoms can appear eight to twelve hours after the last use and can last up to seven days. Although overdose from Xanax is known to occur, withdrawing from Xanax, like alcohol, can be deadly. As a result, a slow taper of benzodiazepines is necessary to prevent withdrawal seizures associated with Xanax withdrawal. Xanax withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Shaky hands
- Muscle spasms
- Increased heart rate
- Changes in perception
- Difficulty with concentration and memory
When to Seek Help for Xanax Use Disorder
Xanax use disorder can happen to anyone. One day you may take Xanax as prescribed for your anxiety, and within a couple of weeks, you find yourself craving Xanax and taking higher amounts than prescribed. Seek professional treatment if you have the following signs:
- Loss of control over the amount of Xanax you are taking
- Stealing, forging or buying prescriptions for Xanax
- Doctor shopping to obtain more Xanax
- Buying Xanax off the street
- Continuing to use Xanax even if it has caused you professional/legal or personal difficulties
- Risk-taking and dangerous behaviors such as driving under the influence of Xanax
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that you once enjoyed
- Increasing the amount of Xanax over time to feel the same effects (tolerance)
- Withdrawal from Xanax
Depending on the severity and duration of your Xanax use disorder, treatment can range from a high level of care, such as residential treatment, to a lower level of care, such as intensive outpatient treatment. Detoxification is the initial step in your treatment plan, regardless of your level of care. Detoxification is necessary to eliminate Xanax from your body in the safest way possible. A slow taper of long-acting benzodiazepines such as Librium is given to ease the withdrawal side effects associated with Xanax withdrawal. The dosages of long-acting benzodiazepines are slowly decreased over time until Xanax is completely cleared from the body and you are no longer at risk for withdrawal.
Psychotherapy approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) and family therapy are recommended in addition to medication management for benzodiazepine use disorder. It is essential to recognize and treat the underlying triggers that may have led to Xanax use disorder in the first place. Whether it is past trauma, family turmoil, an abusive relationship, low self-esteem or an undiagnosed mental health disorder, these underlying triggers are often uncovered in therapy. Building a reliable support system and attending community support groups as well as outpatient therapy sessions are also significant long-term treatment strategies.