Xanax and cocaine are considered relative opposites, with one being an upper and the other a downer. Individuals may take one or the other to counteract some of the negative effects of one of the drugs. For example, cocaine use can make it difficult to sleep and can cause an intense crash that Xanax may seem to help smooth out. Cocaine may also increase energy and focus in someone taking Xanax.
Both cocaine and Xanax are addictive substances, and chronic abuse of either drug can lead to physical drug dependence and the psychological inability to control drug use. With physical dependence come withdrawal symptoms when the drug stops being active in the body. Individuals may turn to other drugs to try and manage these difficult withdrawal side effects. Xanax may seem to ease cocaine withdrawal, for instance.
Polydrug abuse, or the abuse of more than one drug at a time, can be extremely risky, however. Polydrug abuse can increase the risk for the following:
- Potentially life-threatening overdose
- Increased side effects of both substances
- Heightened odds for the formation of a dependency and/or addiction
- Worsened symptoms of any co-occurring medical or mental health disorders
- Treatment complications
Cocaine is an illegal stimulant drug that increases energy, focus, happiness, and excitement while also elevating wakefulness, body temperature, heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain, which is one of the brain’s chemical messengers responsible for feelings of pleasure. Powdered cocaine is typically abused by snorting or injecting the drug, and crack cocaine is generally smoked for a quick and short-lived “high” or rush.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that cocaine is a potent stimulant drug that is highly addictive. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) publishes that at the time of the 2014 survey, 1.5 million Americans who were at least 12 years old were currently abusing cocaine. Considered an “upper,” cocaine may often be abused in a binge pattern since it takes effect so fast and wears off quickly as well. Bingeing on cocaine means that an individual will take back-to-back doses to prolong the drug’s positive effects. Once cocaine wears off, a “crash” may ensue, leaving individuals fatigued, hungry, depressed, and with low energy levels.
Particulars of Xanax
Xanax is the name-brand formulation of the benzodiazepine drug alprazolam, which is prescription medication approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the temporary relief of anxiety and panic disorders, and also to relieve muscle tension and tremors. Xanax is formulated as a standard tablet, liquid, and extended-release (Xanax XR) tablet.
Benzodiazepines, often called benzos for short, may be regularly abused for their stress-reducing and mellowing “high.” Xanax, and other benzos, are central nervous system depressants, or “downers,” slowing down heart rate, respiration levels, blood pressure, and lowering body temperature. Levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are increased with the presence of Xanax. This neurotransmitter works like a kind of natural tranquilizer in the brain and body, relieving anxiety and toning down the “fight-or-flight” stress reaction.
Xanax may be abused orally by swallowing the drug in doses that are too high, or the tablets may be crushed and then snorted, smoked, or injected. More than 20 percent of the American population (over age 11) had abused a psychotherapeutic prescription drug, including Xanax, at least once in their life, according to 2014 data published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Overdose and Amplified Side Effects of Concurrent Xanax and Cocaine Abuse
Xanax and cocaine can interact with each other, creating negative and adverse reactions and even possibly a toxic buildup of drugs in the body that can lead to a fatal overdose. Drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high, with around 125 people dying every day in the United States from a drug overdose, The New York Times publishes (based on 2014 data). Many of these overdose fatalities may be the result of polydrug abuse.
A Xanax overdose is typically recognizable by shallow or difficult breathing, cold or blue-tinged skin, mental confusion, slow heart rate, low blood pressure, weakness, lack of motor coordination, loss of consciousness, and extreme drowsiness. Cocaine overdose can cause stroke, heart, or respiratory failure. It is indicated by a racing heart rate, high blood pressure, heightened body temperature, sweating, tremors, agitation, psychosis, nausea, and possible seizures.
Any underlying medical or mental health conditions or disorders can be negatively impacted by polydrug abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes that close to 8 million American adults (ages 18 and older) battle co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders. Co-occurring disorders require specialized treatment methods.
Introducing more than one drug at a time, such as cocaine and Xanax, may only increase the potential complications and adverse reactions as well as interfere with or complicate treatment methods. The Florida Poison Control Centers reports that many callers cite polydrug abuse when seeking help and warns that abusing multiple drugs at the same time can result in poisoning and death. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) publishes that in 2011 close to a quarter-million people in the United States received medical care in an emergency department (ED) for complications resulting from the combination of an illicit drug and a pharmaceutical drug.
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Complications in Treatment due to Polydrug Abuse
Taking more than one drug at a time on a regular basis may increase the odds for dependence on these substances. Since cocaine and Xanax both interfere with transmission, production, and reabsorption of some of the brain’s naturally occurring chemicals that are related to willpower, mood regulation, and feelings of happiness and pleasure, they can create physical dependence and lead to addiction and powerful drug cravings. Abusing both Xanax and cocaine simultaneously may lead to cross-tolerance of these substances since both impact dopamine levels in the brain. An individual dependent on one of these substances may more rapidly form a dependence on the other, for instance.
Once dependence to a drug is created, addiction may soon follow. NSDUH reports that in 2014, approximately 21.5 million people in America who were over the age of 12 suffered from a substance abuse disorder. The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) which examines data on individuals admitted to public substance abuse treatment services nationally, shows that more than half (56 percent) of the TEDS admissions in 2012 involved polydrug abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes that individuals who are addicted to cocaine are more likely to become addicted to heroin as well.
Treatment for polydrug abuse may be more complicated that what is required for single drug abuse and dependence, as the introduction of multiple substances may interfere with treatment methods. Medications are often useful during medical detox and addiction treatment, for example, and when more than one drug is present, these medications may have negative interactions with the drugs involved. Certain medications may need to be avoided altogether.
It is important therefore for individuals to report any and all drugs used when receiving substance abuse treatment. A drug screen may be performed upon admission to a substance abuse treatment program in order to determine what drugs are in the body and to ensure the individual’s safety during detox and beyond. Comprehensive treatment models that address both co-occurring disorders as well as any potential polydrug abuse, and use a combination of pharmaceutical and therapeutic methods, are generally considered ideal for long-term recovery.
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