Xanax is the brand name of alprazolam, a sedative-hypnotic from the benzodiazepine drug class. The benzodiazepine medications (commonly called “benzos”) are central nervous system depressants and are used for three main medical purposes:
- Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
- Seizure treatment or prevention
- Sedation and inducing sleep
Can You Get Addicted to Xanax?
If people abuse Xanax they can quickly find themselves struggling with a Xanax addiction. Xanax is the most-prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States and one of the most abused benzodiazepines.
How is Xanax Abused?
Xanax is commonly abused alongside other drugs. Many people believe that taking two drugs together can enhance the positive effects or negate the negative effects of the drugs. This form of drug use is known as polysubstance use. Drugs commonly misused by people who also abuse Xanax include:
Many people take Xanax orally, as it was intended to be used. When people decide to abuse Xanax they may shift to snorting Xanax, mistakenly believing that snorting enhances the drug’s effects. Injecting Xanax and smoking Xanax are also ways people misuse Xanax, but these methods only pose additional health risks without any enhanced effects.
Signs of Xanax Abuse
Recognizing when proper medical use of Xanax crosses the line to abuse of the drug may be difficult. This difficulty is because being secretive and in self-denial are common behavioral symptoms of addiction. However, there are some obvious signs of Xanax abuse that include:
- Using the drug more often or at higher doses than prescribed
- Asking a doctor for early refills or dose increases
- Using someone else’s Xanax or purchasing it illegally
- Craving the drug
- Developing a tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms occurring when decreasing or stopping the drug
- Concealing drug use
The physical signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse are mostly related to the drug’s effects as a sedative-hypnotic. Xanax slows brain processes and functions with resulting effects on physical and mental function. Physical signs of Xanax abuse include:
- Poor coordination
- Falling down
- Poor memory
- Withdrawal symptoms developing when reducing or stopping Xanax use
- Excessive sleep
The behavioral signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse are related to the psychology and behavioral characteristics of addiction in general. Behavioral signs of Xanax abuse include:
- Hiding or lying about Xanax use
- Taking Xanax without a prescription or taking more than prescribed
- Drug-seeking behavior (doctor shopping or seeking early refills)
- Using Xanax for other than its prescribed purpose
- Purchasing Xanax illegally
- Obsessive or intrusive thoughts about using Xanax
Side Effects of Xanax Abuse
Xanax side effects are mainly due to its sedative-hypnotic effects. Side effects of Xanax use include:
- Grogginess or drowsiness
- Rebound insomnia after the drug wears off
- Poor coordination and balance
- Impaired memory, short-term amnesia
- Possible birth defects in pregnancy
Because of its sedative-hypnotic effect, Xanax should not be used when driving or engaging in activities that are dangerous or that require concentration.
The side effects of Xanax use are usually increased when the drug is used with alcohol or used by the elderly.
Almost all of the effects of Xanax use are short-term side effects because the drug has a short half-life and is eliminated from the body quickly. In addition to the sedative-hypnotic side effects already listed, the following short-term effects of Xanax may occur:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Blurred vision
Long-term side effects of Xanax are a concern when individuals have taken Xanax continuously for longer than a few days. The main concern with dose reduction is seizures occurring. Additionally, the discontinuation of Xanax after prolonged use can cause:
- Muscle spasms
- Agitation, irritability or aggression
Xanax should only be discontinued under the supervision of a medical professional. The drug should be tapered down by no more than 0.5 mg every three days, or less if Xanax was used for an extended period or at high doses.
Data shows that polysubstance use is a significant cause for concern. Polysubstance abuse results in higher doses of benzodiazepine being used than in people who use benzodiazepines alone.
People who are prescribed an opioid and a benzodiazepine are 15 times more likely to die of an overdose than those who are prescribed either drug alone. Treatment admissions for polysubstance use of opioids and benzodiazepines increased by 570% between 2000 and 2010.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are the two most common prescription drugs involved in overdose deaths with benzodiazepines being involved in nearly one-third of all opioid overdose deaths. Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, worsen respiratory suppression, the primary cause of death in overdose deaths. Mixing Xanax and alcohol or Xanax and heroin (or other opiates) is therefore especially dangerous.
Causes of Xanax Addiction
Xanax addiction can develop once someone decides to abuse the drug. There are a few likely reasons that people abuse Xanax:
- To enhance the drug’s euphoric effect
- To reduce side effects caused by other drugs (such as hyperactivity, insomnia or agitation)
- To alleviate the withdrawal effects of the primary drug
Among adults who abuse benzodiazepines, some common reasons for their drug abuse are:
- For relaxation or dealing with stress and tension
- For use as a sleep aid
- For getting high
- For help with emotions
- For helping with the side effects of other drugs
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms for individuals who have developed dependence to Xanax are the same as the long-term side effects listed and may also include additional side effects of Xanax withdrawal:
- Low moods
- Muscle cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Profuse sweating
Xanax withdrawal symptoms may occur with low doses and short duration use.
Seizures are the major concern when it comes to Xanax withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, withdrawal from Xanax is safest when medically supervised.
Xanax Abuse Facts and Statistics
Xanax abuse statistics show that it is the most prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States.
A large study compiling prescription data from the United States showed that benzodiazepine use increased over time. Between 1996 and 2013:
- The number of American adults filling prescriptions for benzodiazepine increased by 67% (from 8.1 million to 13.5 million)
- The total quantity of prescribed benzodiazepines increased by more than 300%
- The quantity prescribed per prescription increased by 140%
- The number of drug overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines increased by more than 400%
Xanax Abuse & Treatment Trends in South Florida
Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows that among deceased persons with a benzodiazepine in their system, Xanax was by far the most common. The National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that for south Florida (Miami-Dade and Broward Counties), the use of Xanax decreased.
A study using data from a prescription database in the United States provides an idea of prescription benzodiazepine use in different populations:
Prevalence in Men vs. Women
Women are nearly twice as likely to use benzodiazepines as are men, but men are more likely to use long-acting benzodiazepines.
Teen Xanax Abuse
The Pew Center reports that use of Xanax is surging among adolescents, and benzodiazepines are overtaking opioids as the primary prescription drug of abuse among the country’s youth. Teens tend to take very high doses of benzodiazepine compared to adults. Xanax is the tranquilizer that is most commonly abused among 12th graders.
Senior Xanax Abuse
Use of Xanax in the elderly population is a significant cause of falls due to the drug’s effects on coordination, balance and its sedating effects. The percentage of people who use benzodiazepines increases with age, with the 65 to 80-year-old age groups comprising the largest percentage:
- 18 to 35-year-olds: 2.6% use benzodiazepines
- 36 to 50-year-olds: 5.4% use benzodiazepines
- 51 to 64-year-olds: 7.4% use benzodiazepines
- 65 to 80-year-olds: 8.7% use benzodiazepines
Seniors are more likely to use long-acting benzodiazepines than are other age groups.
Overdosing with Xanax or other benzodiazepines on their own is not usually lethal, but they can be deadly when mixed with other drugs, especially when mixed with opioids or alcohol. When people die of an acute overdose from alcohol or opioids, it is usually from respiratory suppression – the drug stops the brain from telling the body to breathe and the person dies. Xanax and other benzodiazepines increase the respiratory suppression effects of other drugs so that people can die from a much lower dose of alcohol or opioids.
The Xanax overdose symptom that is most prominent is marked sedation or coma. However, when the individual is unconscious it can be difficult to differentiate the signs of overdose from other drugs from the signs of Xanax overdose. Call 911, administer Narcan (if available) and provide supportive measures if an overdose is suspected.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Xanax
Before individuals can address a substance addiction they must first admit that they have a problem and that they need help. Helping people recognize the addiction and agree to seek help is crucial to getting them started toward recovery from their substance use. This may be difficult, as individuals are often secretive and defensive about their drug use.
For people who are ready to stop abusing Xanax, the best way to help them is to make sure that they seek professional advice prior to stopping the drug, as withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. People should be encouraged to be truthful about other substance use, so that the drug misuse can be addressed properly.
People in treatment and in recovery require supportive family and friends, even if these people don’t fully understand how addiction works. An understanding and encouraging support system is a major asset to successful, long-term recovery.
An intervention is a confrontational approach to helping individuals with substance addiction to realize the extent of their addiction. A group of friends and family, sometimes with an addiction professional, gather and share their observations and concerns. They may even make an ultimatum. Interventions are usually complete surprise so the person can’t avoid the intervention.
People with substance addictions often deny having one. It is also typical of the psychology of substance use disorders that people convince themselves that they can stop or control their drug use on their own, even if they have failed on multiple attempts in the past.
Xanax Addiction Treatment Options
Xanax detox involves allowing the body to cleanse itself of the drug and adjust to functioning without it. The withdrawal symptoms may be uncomfortable and the risk of seizure is significant. For this reason, medical detox – where individuals are medically supervised and are given the medication and other supports necessary to prevent seizures and manage withdrawal symptoms – is the safest way to get through this initial phase of recovery.
Residential treatment — also known as inpatient treatment or inpatient rehab — involves staying at a rehab facility during treatment, with 24-hour supervision.
Outpatient treatment involves living at home or in a sober living home and attending treatment activities (similar to those offered at an inpatient facility) during the day.
Dual diagnosis refers to the situation where an individual has a substance use disorder – such as Xanax addiction – and a mental health disorder. Substance use and mental health disorders are closely related and can cause and worsen each other. Because of this interaction, the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder should both be treated so as to optimize the individual’s health and recovery.
Key Points: Understanding Xanax Abuse
Keep the following key points in mind when considering Xanax abuse:
- Xanax abuse is a serious problem and contributes to overdose death rates
- Xanax addiction usually develops from the secondary use of Xanax in people who are already addicted to another drug
- Withdrawal from Xanax use can be dangerous and should be done under medical supervision
- Xanax addiction is treatable, and there are many options for getting help
If you struggle with Xanax addiction, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
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Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “Drugs identified in deceased persons by Florida medical examiners.” November 2017. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Food and Drug Administration. “Xanax.” September 2016. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Harvard Medical School. “Benzodiazepines (and the alternatives).” March 15, 2019. Accessed July 5, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug abuse patterns and trends in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, Florida—Update: January 2014.” January 2014. Accessed July 5, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Research suggests benzodiazepine use is high while use disorder rates are low.” October 18, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Olfson, Mark; King, Marissa; Schoenbaum, Michael. “Benzodiazepine use in the United States.” Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, February 2015. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Schmitz, Allison. “Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review.” Mental Health Clinician, May 2016. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Vestal, Christine. “Teen Xanax abuse is surging.” Pew Charitable Trust, August 24, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.