Xanax is typically prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, but misusing the drug can lead to a potentially life-threatening overdose. When someone takes more Xanax than prescribed ⁠— or uses it without a prescription ⁠— they are putting themselves at risk of an overdose. Additionally, using Xanax with other medications or substances like opioids and alcohol can increase the risk of an overdose.

Xanax (alprazolam) is part of the drug class known as benzodiazepines. The drug is a sedative and is classified as a Schedule IV drug because it has the potential to lead to misuse, dependence, and addiction. Xanax works quickly in the central nervous system to combat anxiety or nervous thoughts, and it can also produce feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Misuse and subsequent addiction usually happen because of the desire to feel these pleasurable effects. People sometimes try to amplify the effects by mixing Xanax with other sedatives, such as alcohol. This is extremely dangerous, however, and can easily lead to an overdose.

Signs of Xanax Overdose

An overdose occurs when someone takes more Xanax than prescribed and their body has an adverse reaction. This reaction may be mild, severe or even fatal.

Mild Xanax overdose symptoms may include:

  • Mild Xanax Overdose Symptoms

    Uncontrolled muscle movements and tremors

    Rapid heartbeat

    Slurred speech

    Confusion

    Problems with reflexes and coordination

More severe signs of Xanax overdose may include:

  • Severe Xanax Overdose Symptoms

    Trouble breathing

    Respiratory arrest

    Chest pain

    Irregular heart rhythm

    Hallucinations

    Seizures

    Coma

    Death

Causes of Xanax Overdose

The amount of Xanax required to overdose depends on a variety of different factors. These include:

  • Xanax Overdose Causes

    The presence of other substances, such as opioids or alcohol

    Age (people over the age of 65 are at an increased risk for overdose)

    Current weight

    The body’s individual ability to process medication

    Genetics

    Heart, kidney or liver conditions

The average dose doctors prescribe is 0.25 mg to 0.5 mg taken three times per day, but higher or lower amounts may also be prescribed. Taking more than the prescribed amount or taking non-prescribed Xanax can lead to an overdose — one person’s prescribed dose could be too high for another person to take without overdosing.

Substance Interactions

The prescribed amount of Xanax can still cause an unintentional overdose if someone combines it with other substances. Because of this, it’s important for patients to speak with their doctor about all the medications they’re taking. Xanax should only be taken as prescribed, and it is important to avoid opioids and alcohol when using Xanax.

For example, when someone mixes Xanax and alcohol, an overdose can occur because both substances slow down the central nervous system. This reduces the ability of certain bodily functions, especially the ability to breathe normally. Xanax also makes alcohol more potent.

The same effects occur when combining Xanax with opioids. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 30% of opioid overdoses involve benzodiazepines like Xanax. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even issued new guidelines suggesting that doctors no longer prescribe opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time.

Beyond alcohol and opioids, there are other substances that can also lead to an overdose when combined with Xanax. These include:

  • Substances Mixed with Xanax that Cause Overdoses

    Any type of sedative that affects the central nervous system

    Antifungal medication

    Muscle relaxers

    Certain medications prescribed for obsessive-compulsive disorder and heartburn

    Certain antidepressants

Tolerance

When someone uses Xanax for a while, they may not feel the effects as quickly as when they first started taking it. This is known as tolerance. If someone has developed a Xanax tolerance, it’s easier to unintentionally overdose because the symptoms don’t occur right away or may seem milder than they actually are.

Xanax Overdose Complications

The effects of a Xanax overdose vary from person to person. Some people may experience mild symptoms, such as confusion, rapid heartbeat, and trouble with coordination. For others, a Xanax overdose can lead to death.

The best way to prevent complications from occurring is to seek emergency medical treatment immediately, even if only mild symptoms are present. When someone seeks prompt treatment, the chances of a full recovery are much higher — there are few long-term effects when early treatment is given.

Xanax Overdose Statistics

According to the CDC, alprazolam contributed to 6,209 overdose deaths in 2016. Approximately 96.2% of those overdoses involved other substances, including hydrocodone, methadone, heroin, and fentanyl. Alprazolam was also the fifth-leading cause of drug overdoses that year.

Another study found that more people are taking benzodiazepines than ever before. Between 1999 and 2013, the number of prescriptions in the United States rose from 8.1 million to 13.5 million — a 67% jump.

Xanax Overdose Treatment

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on Xanax, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Paramedics and emergency room staff know how to counteract a Xanax overdose and are able to help improve the chances of recovery. If a person takes an ambulance, they may receive a dose of activated charcoal to help absorb some of the drugs in their system.

At the hospital, overdose treatment may consist of pumping the stomach or using medication to counteract the effects of Xanax. Patients may receive IV fluids to help with rehydration, and they may stay in the hospital for a few days for observation.

The next step in recovery is to seek further treatment at a drug rehabilitation program. If you or someone you love is struggling with a Xanax addiction, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Contact us today to learn more about our peaceful South Florida treatment facility and find an individualized program that works well for your situation.