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How Xanax (Alprazolam) Abuse Affects Pregnancy

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 29, 2019

Certain medications, including Xanax, can be unsafe to take while pregnant. Expectant mothers who abuse Xanax may increase health risks in their baby, and may need treatment to overcome their substance abuse.

There are many ways an expectant mother may alter aspects of her lifestyle and behavior to promote healthy development during pregnancy. This includes changes in diet, drinking habits, as well as the use of certain medications.

Like many other psychiatric drugs, Xanax (alprazolam) is classified as a pregnancy category D drug by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This indicates a risk that the drug could have harmful effects on a developing fetus, even when taken as prescribed.

Misuse of alprazolam is an even greater cause for concern. Women who abuse Xanax during pregnancy may have a higher risk of endangering themselves as well as their baby. Expectant mothers who are dependent on Xanax should contact their doctor as soon as they learn they are pregnant to determine an appropriate treatment plan.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, an anti-anxiety prescription drug within the benzodiazepine drug class. Xanax is a fast-acting medication that may be prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders.

Taking Xanax causes a slowing of activity in certain areas of the brain, which can provide quick relief for anxiety and a sense of calm. Those who take Xanax may also experience some additional side effects.

Common side effects of Xanax include:

  • dizziness
  • irritability
  • talkativeness
  • drowsiness
  • changes in appetite and weight
  • nausea
  • headache
  • difficulty concentrating
  • joint pain

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Can You Take Xanax While Pregnant?

Since Xanax is a prescription medication, some people may believe it is safe to use in moderate doses. This is untrue and can lead to serious problems on fetal health and development starting in the first trimester.

Xanax and pregnancy can be a dangerous combination, even when taken as prescribed. If you are trying to conceive, it is best to evaluate the potential risks and benefits of taking Xanax with your doctor.

Expectant mothers who abuse Xanax during pregnancy may further increase the risk for harm to their own health and that of their baby.

What Is Xanax Abuse?

A major concern when prescribing Xanax is its high risk for addiction and misuse. Xanax abuse can occur when a person takes the drug in higher doses or more frequently than directed, or without a prescription altogether.

Repeated misuse of Xanax can lead to drug tolerance. This requires a person to take more of the drug in order to experience the same effects. Taking frequent and excessive doses can quickly lead to addiction, which can make it harder for a person to lower their dose or stop using the drug.

Signs And Symptoms Of Xanax Abuse

If you are or know an expectant mother who takes Xanax, it may be helpful to know how to recognize signs of drug misuse.

The reason a person may abuse drugs can vary. Many people who abuse Xanax do so in order to feel its rapid sedative effects, which can begin within minutes after use. This produces a sense of calm, and slows activity in the brain, relieving moderate to severe bouts of anxiety.

People who abuse Xanax may also show certain behavioral changes that can indicate when a person has developed a problem.

Some signs of Xanax abuse include:

  • snorting the drug (powder produced from crushing Xanax tablets)
  • taking it in any way other than prescribed
  • hiding tablets (e.g. in desk drawers, clothing pockets)
  • lying about how much they are taking
  • stealing tablets from friends with family members with prescriptions

Taking excessive amounts of Xanax can pose serious consequences to someone’s short and long-term health. It also increases the risk for overdose, which can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

If an expectant mother is abusing or addicted to Xanax, a doctor will likely recommend inpatient treatment. This may be necessary in order to safely detox from the drug, and decrease the risk of harming the fetus during pregnancy.

Dangers Of Taking Xanax While Pregnant

Xanax abuse can pose several health risks during pregnancy, starting within the first trimester. This is a major concern in part because some women may not even realize they are pregnant until they are well within their first trimester.

Women who abuse Xanax may also be at increased risk for miscarriage and other serious problems related to their drug use. Specific dangers of Xanax abuse may depend on what stage in the pregnancy the drug abuse occurs:

First Trimester

Some studies show that using benzodiazepines like Xanax within the first three months of pregnancy can increase the risk for certain birth defects in newborns. This may include a cleft palate or cleft palate, which can having lasting effects on appearance and development.

Second And Third Trimesters

Frequent use of Xanax in the second and third trimesters (fourth to ninth months) of pregnancy can cause fetuses to develop a dependence on Xanax in the womb. Newborns that are born addicted to Xanax may experience withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be serious.

Some symptoms of withdrawal in infants may include:

  • sedation
  • increased irritability
  • excessive crying
  • sleeping difficulties
  • low heart rate
  • tremors
  • seizures

Taking Xanax in late pregnancy has also been linked to what’s known as floppy infant syndrome (FIS). Infants with FIS have weak muscles, and may be unable to control movement of their head, legs, and arms for two to three weeks after birth. The disorder can also affect a baby’s heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rate.

To avoid drug-related harm during pregnancy, expectant mothers are encouraged to seek treatment as soon as they know they are pregnant.

Treatment For Xanax Abuse And Addiction

Xanax abuse is a significant concern for women who are pregnant, posing harmful effects that can last beyond birth into the early stages of a child’s development.

The first step in seeking treatment for Xanax abuse is to enter an inpatient facility for medical detox. This can provide a safe environment for you to be monitored as you undergo withdrawal from Xanax. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can pose uncomfortable and sometimes serious side effects, which can make it dangerous to undergo alone.

People who are addicted to Xanax may also need further treatment within an inpatient drug rehab program. These programs may offer medical monitoring for women who are pregnant as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be effective for treating addiction to benzodiazepines.

Treatment for drug addiction is often personalized to meet the needs of each patient, including patients that are pregnant. If you are addicted to Xanax, help is available to guide you towards overcoming your addiction.

Contact one of our treatment specialists today to learn more about treatment options for Xanax abuse and addiction.

U.S. National Library of Medicine - A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Prescription CNS Depressants

Food and Drug Administration - XANAX Label

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