Xanax is a brand name of alprazolam, a type of benzodiazepine. This prescription medication is used to treat various anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, which involves sudden and uncontrollable periods of intense anxiety. Alprazolam can lessen anxiety by decreasing abnormal excitement within the brain.
While Xanax can be very effective in the treatment of anxiety, it does have abuse potential. Some people become addicted to Xanax, particularly if it is used too frequently or in high doses. When alprazolam is abused, it is often combined with other illicit substances or alcohol. Combining alprazolam with other drugs that also have sedative effects can be very dangerous.
Short-term Effects of Xanax Abuse
Xanax can cause unintended side effects, even when used as directed. This medication is typically prescribed to be used as needed, rather than as a maintenance medication that is taken every day. Overusing alprazolam by taking it more frequently can cause side effects to worsen.
Most acute effects of alprazolam use are mild and subside on their own. Common side effects include:
- Increased talkativeness
- Trouble concentrating
- Dry mouth
- Increased saliva production
- Altered sex drive or sexual ability
- Appetite fluctuations
- Weight changes
- Trouble urinating
- Joint pain
Abusing alprazolam can have a heavy toll on the body. Some people do not react well to alprazolam, and negative reactions are more likely if the drug is misused. More serious side effects of alprazolam include:
- Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
- Skin rash
- Yellowish skin or eyes
- Trouble with memory
- Difficulty speaking
- Alterations in behavior or mood
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Discoordination and lack of balance
One of the most dangerous potential outcomes of alprazolam abuse is an overdose. A benzodiazepine overdose is a serious medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of an alprazolam overdose include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Mental confusion
- Difficulty with coordination
- Loss of consciousness
Long-term Effects of Xanax Abuse
When used as directed, alprazolam and similar medications are relatively safe, but abusing benzodiazepines may have long-term effects on the brain, particularly regarding memory. A study published by American Family Physician found that combining alcohol with alprazolam led to increased loss of episodic memory, as well as deficits in visuospatial ability. While these effects seem to fade over time, another study found that individuals treated on a long-term basis with benzodiazepines may not recover fully from the cognitive effects.
Increased tolerance to benzodiazepines is a common result of alprazolam abuse. Taking this drug repeatedly over time decreases the body’s response to the substance, so higher doses must be used in order to achieve the effects once experienced after a small dose. Physical dependence can also occur, in which the body relies on the presence of the drug in order to function normally. Once dependence occurs, the user will experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping use of the drug.
If you are using alprazolam regularly, you must be slowly tapered off the drug under medical supervision, rather than stopping use abruptly. Stopping all use of the drug suddenly can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, that can even be life-threatening. As a result, medical detox is always required for Xanax withdrawal.
A more mild withdrawal syndrome is common even when tapering the dosage of alprazolam. The most common symptoms are anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure, tremors, and insomnia. Most people recover from withdrawal within 5-10 days, but extensive alprazolam abuse can lead to a withdrawal syndrome that lasts for several months.