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How Addictive Is Xanax?

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

A dependence on Xanax can form quickly and leave many individuals dealing with the consequences of substance abuse and addiction. If you or a loved one have become addicted to Xanax, it is important to seek professional help in order to safely stop the use of this drug.

Xanax (alprazolam) is one of the most frequently prescribed benzodiazepines (benzos) on the market today. It owes its quick action to its characteristics as a high-potency benzo with a short half-life. This effect is why it’s often preferred for as needed, intermittent use. But it’s also what makes it attractive to drug abusers. When abused, Xanax forms dependence quickly, leading many users to severe addiction.

Anxiety is the most common mental illness within our nation. And not surprisingly, with its efficacy as an anti-anxiety medication, Xanax is one of the most popular medications in America.

But the more frequently a drug is prescribed, the greater the opportunity for drug diversion and misuse. Regardless of why you’re taking it, either to create a feel-good effect, or to self-treat an ailment, this abuse can forge dependence and addiction, quickly and powerfully.

What Is Xanax Used For?

Xanax is primarily prescribed for anxiety, though it’s also used for panic disorders, social phobias, and insomnia, among other things. Under a doctor’s directive, used these ways, Xanax offers patients valuable relief from these conditions. But in the wrong hands, Xanax can create intense physical dependency and a crippling addiction.

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How Does Xanax Work?

Like all benzos, Xanax generates its effect by acting on your brain. When the drug is used it decreases levels of excitement in certain areas of your brain, creating its hallmark sedative and tranquilizing properties. It is this action which decreases anxiety or a sense of panic and makes it easier for a person to fall asleep.

To do these things, Xanax changes certain chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. When these chemicals are altered, you begin to feel the drug’s effects. This activates the reward and pleasure systems of your brain, which reinforces a person’s abuse, encouraging them to use again and again.

Due to its ability to work quickly and potently, physicians usually prefer that individuals only use this drug for the short term. Any longer, and patients are exposing themselves to the risk of a physical dependence. So in circumstances of abuse, when a person returns to Xanax for a second use, and so forth, the potential for dependence and addiction run high, due to this quick effect.

What Leads A Person To Abuse Xanax?

Xanax abuse begins one of two ways: either through self-medication or by recreational use. Sometimes, the former begets the latter. And in frequent instances, users will take Xanax to alter the effects of another drug, either to self-treat an undesirable feeling or to enhance a pleasurable one. For any of these reasons, users either chew, snort, or swallow Xanax tablets. No matter how you initiate abuse, or use the drug, addiction becomes a genuine threat.

Some people get confused when it comes to self-medication. These people think that since they’re taking Xanax for something it’s often prescribed for, that they’re not abusing the drug or at risk for addiction. This is dangerously wrong. They might also think this use is safer, since it’s a prescription medication. Also false, this mindset leads many unknowingly into addiction.

While those who self-medicate typically take the drug to dull a feeling (like anxiety or fear), recreational users prefer to take the drug to create a new sensation, or to enhance another. These users seek the intense calm, relaxed, or intoxicated states Xanax produces.

Other users may take Xanax to control symptoms of alcohol or opioid withdrawal or to increase the pleasurable effects of either drug. Both these classes of drugs have the potential to interact fatally with Xanax, and anytime you use more than one drug at once, the risk of addiction, overdose, and other adverse health effects climbs.

Understanding A Xanax Dependence

When a person takes Xanax on a regular basis, their body and brain begin to rely on the chemical changes it initiates. As use continues, your body declines to make these chemicals on its own. Or, in the least, it drastically reduces its natural production. This is called a dependence. Here too, a person will find that they need to take more Xanax to produce the feelings the drug previously offered, which is called a tolerance.

Xanax forms one of the quickest dependencies out of all the benzos. Even prescribed, daily use of Xanax can lead to a physical dependence in as little as two weeks, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

It’s worth noting that individuals who take their medication exactly as prescribed can encounter this too. This does not mean that they are addicted. But it does mean that they will experience some measure of withdrawal, should they stop using the drug without a slow taper.

What Makes A Person Addicted?

While dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal are defining characteristics of addiction, they must be accompanied by other behaviors to be considered part of an addicted state. When a Xanax abuser begins craving the drug, that is they experience frequent and intense urges to use, which overwhelm thoughts of much else, addictive behaviors are borne.

These cravings propel the user deeper into addiction. The more frequently a person uses, the more severe the level of dependence and addiction. Higher doses of Xanax also increase these risks. Many people fall into patterns of abuse when they attempt to overcome their tolerance.

Recreational drug abusers often take amounts of Xanax far higher than would typically be prescribed. From this we can gather that Xanax abusers could form dependencies, and addictions, in even a shorter period of time. Some users may take ten times the prescribed amount, or, as the New York Post reports, 120 times. The higher the dosage the greater the potential for overdose.

Can You Overdose On Xanax?

Xanax alone can cause overdose, due to the way the drug depresses your central nervous system (CNS). Though the potential isn’t as high as with other drugs (like opioids) emergency rooms across our nation witness thousands of admissions each year from Xanax. When this happens, users reflexes slow, and they may become excessively:

  • Confused
  • Drowsy
  • Sedated
  • Uncoordinated

As the levels of the drug in the blood increase, a person could also lose consciousness, suffer respiratory depression, and even slip into a coma.

The intensity of overdose is much greater when Xanax is taken in conjunction with another drug, which. Both alcohol and opioids are depressants. Paired with Xanax, the CNS depression becomes heightened, as does the possibility of death.

Additional Risks Of Xanax Abuse

Counterfeit Xanax has appeared in the United States and as many users purchase their fix off the streets, this is a serious concern. These tablets may contain substances even more addictive or deadly than Xanax. Fentanyl, a potent and deadly opioid which can cause overdose merely by touching it, has been found in these fake pills.

Xanax can also cause blackouts or anterograde amnesia. This means a user won’t remember periods of time while taking the drug. Like alcohol, this can occur even in individuals who aren’t yet addicted. Xanax is widely popular in young people, who are hit in dangerous ways by these effects. Instances of date rape, crime, driving under the influence, and other risky behaviors rise, while individuals have little to no memory of the actual event.

Stop The Cycle Of Addiction can help you, or someone you love, get off of Xanax in a safe manner. We’re standing by with more information on Xanax dependence, addiction, and treatment. Contact us today.

DailyMed - LABEL: XANAX- alprazolam tablet

Medline Plus - Alprazolam

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Emerging Trends and Alerts

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