Xanax for Anxiety: Is it a Good Long-Term Solution?
Xanax is the brand name for a fast-acting benzodiazepine medication, alprazolam. This medication is prescribed for the short-term treatment of generalized anxiety, panic disorders, anxiety associated with depression, and social anxiety disorder.
Rarely, it is used to treat insomnia or seizures, but among benzodiazepine medications, Xanax is not the most efficient at this. Even more rarely, alprazolam may be prescribed to treat more intense and immediate symptoms of depression.
This page will cover whether using Xanax for anxiety is considered a long-term treatment solution, effects of long-term use, other treatment options, and how to get help for Xanax misuse.
Benzodiazepines, especially Xanax, work rapidly, so they are prescribed to treat the intense and sudden symptoms associated with panic or related conditions. These medications are no longer seen as a long-term treatment.
There are many reasons why Xanax and other benzodiazepines are not considered an appropriate long-term treatment for most conditions:
- Most people rapidly develop a tolerance to the drugs.
- They can cause euphoria so they may lead to compulsive or addictive behaviors.
- They can take time to detox from.
People who misuse Xanax may doctor shop, steal prescriptions from friends or family, or get multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors. This increases the risk of addiction to Xanax, which can lead to long-term health problems.
Xanax Misuse Long-Term Effects
Although the immediate effects wear off fairly quickly, metabolites of the drug remain in the body for up to 15 hours, so drinking alcohol, taking more benzodiazepines, or taking other sedatives like Ambien or opioids can be very dangerous.
Most physicians or therapists will prescribe Xanax for “as-needed” treatment. When someone suffering from anxiety feels a surge of panic, or their anxiety prevents them from performing a task like driving or sleeping, taking a dose of Xanax can be extremely helpful.
Taking Xanax regularly is rare since the medication acts on the brain so quickly. Those who frequently take Xanax may be misusing their prescription.
People who misuse Xanax are at risk of developing an addiction to this drug or at least a physical dependence on it to regulate their brain chemistry. This can lead to long-term misuse, which includes taking this medication for months or even years without appropriate medical supervision.
Xanax misuse may lead to chronic health problems, including:
- Paradoxical reactions: A long-term side effect of misusing Xanax is symptoms that mimic the underlying conditions the drug is prescribed to treat, like insomnia, panic attacks, or intense anxiety. People who misuse Xanax are at risk of taking even more in an attempt to treat paradoxical symptoms rather than seeing their doctor; this can lead to addiction and even overdose.
- Physical side effects: Xanax and other benzodiazepines are sedatives, so slow heart rate, irregular or slowed breathing, and low blood pressure are associated with taking too much of these drugs. While these can also be overdose symptoms in their most extreme forms, mild versions of these symptoms can lead to memory problems, cognitive difficulty, and damage to organs due to slow, steady oxygen deprivation.
- Brain atrophy: Xanax has been associated in some studies with enlargement of an area of the brain called the cerebral ventricular, which is associated with brain atrophy that can lead to dementia-like symptoms.
- Psychological changes: Drug misuse and addiction change behaviors, so people who struggle with addiction may make poor decisions, become abusive, stop taking care of themselves, or display other problems. Xanax in particular can trigger narcissistic personality traits, hyper-confidence, and carelessness. By depressing neurotransmitters, the brain chemistry associated with empathy is reduced, according to some small-scale studies. This can lead to problematic behaviors that strain personal relationships, making other psychological problems worse.
- Tolerance and dependence: With tolerance, the original dose no longer produces the same effects, and the person feels like they must take more of the drug to compensate. This is especially harmful if the person changes their Xanax dose without consulting a doctor first. Tolerance often leads to physical dependence on the drug.
Solutions for Treating Anxiety or Insomnia Without Xanax
Taking Xanax for anxiety can be helpful for some people who need to take the drug regularly for certain panic disorders, with a doctor’s oversight. But finding ways to manage and understand anxiety can also help people suffering from these conditions.
There are other long-term solutions that involve approaching anxiety or insomnia treatment without medication.
Dozens of areas of medicine involve benzodiazepines in some capacity: anesthesiology, emergency rooms, and immediate psychiatric treatment. Half of people who take any benzodiazepine do so for short-term insomnia treatment, and about 26% take this class of drugs to treat:
- General restlessness.
- Agitation or tenseness.
- Consistent, intense nervousness.
Again, a medical professional will only prescribe a benzodiazepine like Xanax for anxiety after speaking with their patient to understand the symptoms, and they will only prescribe these drugs for a short time.
Other drugs, like Z-class drugs (e.g., Ambien, Lunesta) have been developed to replace benzodiazepines in some short-term treatments for sleep problems. Long-term anxiety disorders may benefit from a different medication regimen, involving antidepressants or similar drugs.
For those with insomnia, sleep therapy can be effective. Other approaches can also be helpful, such as:
- Sticking to a set schedule of waking up and going to bed at the same time.
- Restricting the bed to just sleep.
- Avoiding stimulating entertainment, food, or devices before sleeping.
Anxiety disorders require more complex treatment, but working with a talk therapist using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or a similar evidence-based approach provides a solid foundation for managing anxiety on a long-term basis.
Complementary treatments may help manage more immediate responses to anxiety or sleep disorders. These treatments can include:
- Mindfulness meditation.
Sometimes, working with a therapist on exposure therapy for more intense panic disorders is beneficial.
Xanax Medical Detox
For many, overcoming Xanax misuse or addiction begins with supervised detox. This process may start with a tapering regimen as prescribed by a doctor, or it may involve managing withdrawal symptoms as they appear—if the person does not experience intense withdrawal.
For short-acting drugs like Xanax, withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 1-2 days after the final dose, and they usually mimic the underlying psychiatric condition they were designed to treat, such as:
Some people who misuse Xanax for a long time may be at risk of seizures, so working with medical professionals is extremely important.
Other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Rebound symptoms like anxiety or insomnia.
- Intense cravings for the drug.
- Foggy thinking.
- Poor memory.
- Muscle aches and tensions.
- New symptoms of psychiatric conditions if they did not exist prior.
Xanax Misuse Treatment
Don’t go through the pain of Xanax withdrawals alone. At River Oaks Treatment Center, we offer a variety of addiction and withdrawal treatment services including medical detox and several other levels of addiction treatment.
Detoxing from Xanax with medical help may take a couple of weeks, but the slower process is important since the body must relearn to manage its own neurochemistry. Once detox has been completed, an evidence-based treatment program can continue the process of overcoming addiction.
Talk therapy in groups and individually is an effective approach during rehabilitation. An aftercare plan is also key to staying sober and managing an anxiety disorder or insomnia.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use issues and are unsure of where to turn, call us today at . River Oaks, an American Addiction Centers drug rehab near Tampa, FL, is ready to help you overcome addiction and find long-term recovery.
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