Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Joshua M. Gleason, M.D.
SA Content Team
Table of Contents
Understanding Xanax Abuse
Alprazolam, more commonly known by its brand name Xanax, is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. Consistently taking large doses of this medication can lead to addiction, and worsening of the condition for which it was prescribed in the first place.
Xanax is a benzodiazepine that can be safely used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, but taking it in larger than prescribed doses or for longer than four to ten weeks can create a tolerance to the drug’s effects, and put the individual at risk of addiction. Abusing Xanax illicitly and in large doses to experience a euphoric high can be very dangerous, and will quite easily lead to tolerance and addiction.
Xanax is the first of the five most frequently prescribed benzodiazepines as well as the most commonly encountered benzodiazepine on the illicit market. As such, individuals of all ages and backgrounds in the United States abuse Xanax.
Signs of Xanax Abuse
There are a number of signs of Xanax abuse that can lead to side effects, and these are amplified in individuals who abuse this drug. Some of these effects include:
- Mood swings or irritability
- Loss of interest in sex
- Loss of inhibition
- Dry mouth
- Poor coordination
- Lack of focus
- Memory problems
- Impaired ability to drive
- Increased risk of falls
Dangers of Xanax Abuse
Chronic use of Xanax can also lead to a cumulative form of overdose that occurs when a person takes large doses of the drug continuously over time. Because the drug builds up in the individual’s system, they will experience slurred speech, coordination problems, and cognitive issues for a long period of time, even after the drug’s high wears off.
Like other addictive drugs, Xanax causes a dependency syndrome, and the withdrawal symptoms associated with an abrupt discontinuation or rapid reduction of benzodiazepines are extremely dangerous. Being able to recognize the symptoms of alprazolam withdrawal and getting immediate medical help can save a life. These symptoms can include:
- Sleep disturbances
Xanax can be a relatively dangerous drug, in some ways even more so than other benzodiazepines. Alprazolam is actually more toxic than other benzodiazepines, and more likely to lead to dangerous and deadly overdose, especially in populations prone to self-poisoning.
Signs of an Alprazolam Overdose
Abuse of Xanax and other forms of alprazolam can definitely be fatal, especially when used with other depressant-type drugs, including alcohol and opioids. Xanax overdose effects can include confusion, slurred speech, incoordination, muscle tremors, hallucinations, seizures, rapid or irregular heartbeat, slowed breathing, and unconsciousness. These may change depending on what other drugs may have been used.
The first step to helping someone overdosing from Xanax is to call 911 for emergency medical assistance. If there is no trauma to the patient, turn them onto their side to keep them from inhaling any vomit. Provide as much information as you can to emergency medical personnel and be ready to provide rescue breathing and/or chest compression if instructed to do so by the 911 operator.
At first, an individual’s abuse of alprazolam may be voluntary and they may not take the drug every day. Over time, however, regular Xanax abuse will begin to change the way the user’s brain works. Nothing that the individual used to enjoy will matter as much as drug seeking and using, and they will only be able to gain positive feelings from using the drug.
Individuals who abuse Xanax consistently often steal prescription pads to write fake prescriptions, or participate in doctor shopping, which involves going to different doctors and clinics to find someone willing to write them a prescription. They may attempt to buy alprazolam illegally, which can result in using counterfeit drugs with even more dangerous potential.
Am I Addicted to Xanax?
It may be time to ask yourself if your Xanax abuse has become a full-blown addiction. Answer the questions below to find out.
- Do you take Xanax in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to?
- Have you tried and failed to cut down or quit before?
- Do you spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from Xanax?
- Do you experience cravings and urges to use the drug?
- Have you experienced failures to fulfill responsibilities at work, home, or school because of substance use?
- Do you continue to use, even when it causes relationship problems?
- Have you given up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use?
- Do you use Xanax repeatedly, even when it puts you in danger?
- Do you continue to use, even when you know you have a psychological or physical problem caused or made worse by Xanax?
- Have you developed a tolerance to the effects of Xanax?
Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug wears off, which can be relieved by taking more Xanax? If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, it is time to seek help for your addiction. Drugs that cause severe side effects like Xanax should always be taken exactly as prescribed, and if you haven’t been doing so, you will need professional treatment in order to ensure that you are able to safely recover from your substance abuse.
Xanax Addiction Treatment
A safe detox process is usually the very first concern during alprazolam addiction treatment, as the withdrawal symptoms caused by the drug can be so dangerous and sometimes even deadly. Therefore, the patient is usually weaned off the drug or a similar medication in order to avoid experiencing these severe effects. This process should usually take place in a treatment facility staffed with medical professionals and with 24/7 medical oversight, to ensure a safe passage through detox and withdrawal.
Although detox is a necessary step in recovery, it is not a cure for addiction. The most beneficial treatment options for alprazolam addiction are actually counseling and behavioral therapy. Different methods include:
- Contingency management
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- 12-step facilitation therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
Therapy helps patients to uncover the root causes of their substance abuse and learn new skills and ways of thinking to overcome addiction and maintain a healthier life.
Therapies may be provided in an inpatient program, or on an outpatient basis. Inpatient treatment programs provide a 24/7 immersion in a recovery environment, and keep patients safe from relapsing early on, when they are most vulnerable to returning to active addiction. Outpatient treatment usually follows inpatient treatment, so the patient can have a gradual step-down in treatment intensity. Outpatient programs provide continued recovery support to patients after they return to independent living and outside relationships.
Xanax abuse is a serious problem, but the sooner you seek help, the easier your recovery will be.