Xanax (Alprazolam) Addiction
Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed and misused benzodiazepines in the US.1 While it is used for legitimate medical purposes, Xanax has the potential for misuse and dependence.2
This page will cover the side effects, risks, and signs of Xanax misuse, as well as how to get treatment if you’re struggling with Xanax addiction.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax is the brand name of the generic drug alprazolam.2 It is a benzodiazepine medication available by prescription in Xanax pill/tablet form.2
Xanax bars usually contain bisects, or indentations, so people can break them apart to take different doses.3,4
Benzodiazepines like Xanax are sedatives and anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which means they slow down the activity of your CNS; this helps calm an otherwise over-excited nervous system.2
Xanax is generally indicated for short-term use to minimize misuse or nonmedical use.5
Xanax is used for the:2
- Management of certain anxiety disorders such as panic disorder.
- Short-term relief of the symptoms of anxiety.
- Treatment of panic disorder with or without agoraphobia (a fear of places and situations that can cause you to feel panic, helplessness, or trapped).
Xanax is a prescription medication that is intended to be taken as prescribed by doctors for the above-mentioned conditions, but it is often misused, such as by:6,7
- Taking someone else’s prescription.
- Taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed.
- Using it to achieve a euphoric effect.
Many addiction medicine doctors believe that alprazolam has a high misuse liability, especially if used by people with a history of a substance use disorder.5
People who misuse Xanax usually swallow the pills, or they may crush the pills and snort them; people also misuse it in combination with other substances.6,7
Xanax Misuse Side Effects and Risks
Using or misusing Xanax can cause numerous short- and long-term side effects and pose risks to your physical and mental health.
The likelihood and severity of certain adverse effects of Xanax can be increased with higher doses or with the concomitant use of other substances, such as opioids, alcohol, or other CNS depressants.2
Common short-term Xanax side effects can include:2
- Slowed thinking.
- Decreased motor skills.
- Problems with coordination.
- Hypotension (low blood pressure).
- Trouble saying words clearly (dysarthria).
- Changes in sex drive (libido).
Serious adverse effects—especially when Xanax is misused—have been reported to include:2
- Difficulty breathing.
- Suicidal thoughts or actions.
Chronic use or misuse of benzodiazepines such as Xanax may cause long-term adverse effects. The manufacturer’s labeling guide reports that it is not known if alprazolam is safe and effective for use longer than 10 weeks for panic disorder treatment or longer than 4 months for anxiety disorder treatment.2
Long-term effects may include:
- Cognitive impairments in many areas, such as perceptual motor, recent memory, visual perception, divided attention, visuoconstruction (the ability to perceive and process spatial information), sustained attention, working memory, and processing speed.8
- Impaired psychomotor performance, such as tasks that require you to use cognitive and motor processes together, like reaction time or hand-eye coordination.9
Other risks associated with benzodiazepine/Xanax use and misuse can include:
- Hip fractures in the elderly.10
- Motor vehicle accidents.10
- Misuse and addiction.2
Xanax misuse and addiction can lead to potentially life-threatening outcomes, including overdose.2
Signs of Xanax overdose include:2
- Somnolence (sleepiness).
- Impaired coordination.
- Diminished reflexes.
Mixing Xanax with Other Drugs
The risk of overdose and fatality due to overdose significantly increases with polysubstance use, which means using more than one substance at a time or within a short time of each other.2,11
People who misuse benzodiazepines like Xanax also often misuse other substances, such as other medications, opioids, alcohol, and/or illicit substances, like heroin or cocaine.2
Why do people misuse Xanax, and why do they mix it with other substances? People often misuse Xanax to experience euphoria, and they may combine Xanax with other substances to increase their euphoric effects, but there are also other reasons behind polysubstance misuse.6
People may use Xanax with cocaine to relieve the unpleasant side effects of a cocaine binge.6
They mistakenly think that using a stimulant with a depressant will cancel out the effects, but each substance can mask the effects of the other and can make you think you’re not experiencing any effects at all, which could make it easier to overdose.11
One of the main dangers of mixing Xanax and cocaine is that the results can be unpredictable.11
Mixing Xanax and heroin or other opioids can be very dangerous; people may mix these substances to increase euphoria, but mixing the 2 also increases the risk of: 6,11
- Brain damage.
- Damage to other organs.
These risks are similar when mixing Xanax and alcohol. People may combine Xanax and alcohol to increase alcohol’s effects or deal with alcohol withdrawal, but the combination can lead to a significantly increased risk of overdose and serious damage to your brain, heart, and other organs.11
Is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax is listed as a Schedule IV drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which means there is a potential for misuse and addiction.2
Xanax can lead to an increase in dopamine activity, which serves to reward or reinforce continued use, which can potentially lead to compulsive patterns of use.12
Chronic substance use can lead to persistent brain changes that make it hard for a person to control their substance use, which can lead to addiction.13
Addiction is a medical condition characterized by compulsive substance use despite the negative consequences on a person’s entire life.
It is believed to be influenced due to a complex interaction of different factors, such as interaction of biological/genetic, environmental, and social factors.13
Signs of Xanax Addiction
Only a medical professional can diagnose addiction, but it can be helpful to know the symptoms of Xanax misuse, so you know when to seek help. Xanax addiction is diagnosed as a sedative use disorder.
Healthcare professionals use criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to guide their diagnosis.
Using or misusing Xanax for a prolonged period can result in physical dependence on the drug. Once you are dependent, you can experience withdrawal when you stop the medication.2
Dependence is a physiological adaptation that occurs due to chronic substance use, which results in withdrawal symptoms after you abruptly stop or cut down your dose.
Withdrawal from Xanax can lead to a range of mild to severe and even potentially life-threatening symptoms.2
Withdrawal can cause uncomfortable or distressing symptoms such as:2
- Gastrointestinal problems.
- Muscle pain.
- Panic attacks.
Dangerous and possibly lethal symptoms are also possible, such as:2
- Delirium tremens.
How to Help Someone With a Xanax Addiction
If you or someone you care about are displaying Xanax misuse signs or think you may have an addiction, you should know that treatment is available.
Xanax addiction is a serious condition that can result in harm to your health and well-being, but proper treatment can help you start the path to recovery.
The first step may be to enter a professional medical detox because people are generally advised to withdraw from Xanax under medical supervision.15
A professional detox center can help you:5,15
- Remain as safe and comfortable as possible while you withdraw from Xanax.
- Assist you with becoming medically stable.
- Provide other adjunctive medications if necessary.
- Offer medical care and attention in case of complications.
While detox can be very helpful, it’s often not enough to help people achieve long-term sobriety because it does not focus on helping people work through behavioral and psychological issues associated with chronic substance misuse or addiction.
In rehab, you’ll receive support, counseling, and different therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to work on issues and help cement the skills you’ll need to stay sober.7
If you’re struggling, or you know someone who is, please call River Oaks at to speak to a caring admissions navigator about your rehab options.
You can also learn more about getting admitted today, paying for rehab, using insurance to pay for rehab, and the different levels of care we offer at River Oaks, including inpatient rehab near Tampa.
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