Alprazolam, more commonly known by its brand name Xanax, is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, because the drug is a CNS depressant and can cause euphoria when taken in large doses, it is often abused as well. Consistently taking large doses can lead to addiction.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Alprazolam is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorders.” This drug is a benzodiazepine and has a relaxing effect on those who take it. It can be safe and beneficial to use alprazolam if you require its help to minimize consistent feelings of anxiety, but many people take it illicitly and in large doses to experience a euphoric high, which can be dangerous.
Those who abuse alprazolam usually aren’t considering the severe consequences of their use. Sometimes, a person may start out taking the drug as prescribed and eventually begin taking larger doses to combat tolerance or because they feel better when they are on the drug. Any time someone uses alprazolam in ways other than prescribed, it is a form of substance abuse that can quickly lead to addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Alprazolam Abuse
Alprazolam causes sleepiness and relaxation in those who take it, which is necessary for individuals with anxiety and panic disorders. However, doctors advise patients on this drug not to drive or operate heavy machinery, as it can be very dangerous. Those who abuse drugs of this class, though, will usually experience more intense signs and symptoms of use, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, including
- Impaired motor coordination
- Slowed reflexes
- Altered vision
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal cramps or pain
- Slurred speech and stuttering
- Impaired thinking and memory
An individual on incredibly high doses will often experience severe mood swings, moving back and forth between erratic behavior and relaxation. Benzodiazepines are particularly intense drugs, and alprazolam can cause all of these issues and more when taken in large doses. Those who abuse it put themselves in extreme danger of experiencing intense physical and psychological side effects.
Dangers of Alprazolam Abuse
Alprazolam can be a relatively dangerous drug, in some ways even more so than other benzodiazepines. According to the British Pharmacological Society, alprazolam itself is actually more toxic than other benzodiazepines, and its use is more likely to lead to dangerous and deadly overdose, especially in populations prone to self-poisoning. Because its misuse is so popular, this is a serious risk associated with alprazolam. Others include
This is what often causes deadly overdose, as benzodiazepine drugs slow one’s respiration to a dangerous point when taken in large doses. A person could stop breathing entirely, leading to brain damage, coma, and death.
Long-term mental problems
- People can struggle with long-term mental effects of alprazolam abuse including impaired thinking and memory. Judgment can also be affected by one’s consistent abuse of this drug.
- This can also lead to overdose and occurs when a person takes large doses of the drug continuously over a long period of 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, alprazolam causes a dependency syndrome, but the withdrawal symptoms associated with drugs of this type are extremely dangerous. According to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, these can include
- Physical tremors
- Sleep disturbances
Certain other benzodiazepines are meant to treat seizures, which is why the drug can sometimes cause this issue to occur. It is more likely to occur in those who have experienced seizures before, but there is no way to be certain when it might happen, especially if one is abusing the drug. Seizures may occur during withdrawal as well.
Many of the other issues associated with illicit drug abuse may also occur as a result of alprazolam abuse, including contracting HIV or hepatitis from a shared needle. Those who drink alcohol while abusing the drug put themselves at an even higher risk of respiratory depression, slowed heart beat, and death. In addition, CNS depressants are sometimes used to facilitate sexual assault by those who give them to other individuals without their knowing.
Who Abuses Alprazolam?
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, alprazolam is the first of the five most frequently prescribed benzodiazepines as well as the most encountered of these drugs on the illicit market. As such, it is unfortunately true that individuals of all ages abuse alprazolam, and it is extremely common that those who do misuse drugs like to drink in addition to their substance abuse, making overdose even more likely.
- Of the estimated 345,691 emergency department visits attributed to benzodiazepines, 124,902 were caused by alprazolam misuse, the most of any drug of this type.
- “Alprazolam is one of the top three prescription drugs diverted from the licit market.”
- Tranquilizers and sedatives are the sixth and seventh most abused drugs among 12th graders, according to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, directly after Vicodin.
A person can become addicted to alprazolam if they begin abusing it. At first, their abuse may be voluntary and they may not take the drug all the time. Over time, however, it will begin to change the way the brain works. Nothing that the individual used to enjoy will matter, and they will only be able to gain positive feelings from using the drug. In addition, they will become dependent on it and tolerant, which will cause them to use more and more to experience the same effects.
Individuals who abuse alprazolam consistently often steal prescription pads to write fake prescriptions or participate in doctor shopping, which involves going to different doctors looking for someone to write them a prescription. And because the withdrawal effects are so dangerous and intense, people will not want to stop using alprazolam once they start. Addiction is an extremely difficult cycle to break.
Am I an Alprazolam Addict?
It may be time to ask yourself if your alprazolam abuse has become a full-blown addiction. Answer the questions below to find out.
- Do I misuse my or someone else’s prescription every day?
- Do I take the drug in ways other than prescribed, in larger doses than prescribed, or more often than prescribed?
- Do I try to hide my substance abuse from others? Is it starting to get harder to do so?
- Have I considered moving on to a stronger drug in order to combat tolerance?
- Do I make excuses for myself to use?
- When I am not on alprazolam, do I experience severe, uncomfortable, and frightening side effects?
- Has the drug caused problems in my personal and/or professional life?
- Do I think that I wouldn’t be able to stop abusing alprazolam even if I tried?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is time to seek help for your substance abuse. Drugs that cause severe side effects like alprazolam 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.
Alprazolam 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. Once this stage ends, the true treatment process for addiction can begin.
Behavioral therapy is the most beneficial treatment option for alprazolam addiction. Different methods such as
- Contingency management
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- 12-step facilitation therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
can help patients change their negative behaviors and attitudes toward substance abuse and recognize how to cope with the effects of that abuse. In addition, co-occurring mental disorders like anxiety disorders, depression, and schizophrenia can be treated during behavioral therapy as well. Drug addicts often suffer from these in addition to their addictions, and especially if a patient was taking alprazolam as a treatment medication for an anxiety disorder before beginning to abuse it, this issue must be addressed.
Alprazolam can be taken safely when used as prescribed, but once it is abused, it can cause severe addiction and other issues. But the sooner you seek help, the easier your recovery will likely be.