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Xanax (Alprazolam) abuse, addiction & recovery

Home Substance Guide Xanax (Alprazolam) Abuse, Addiction & Recovery

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What is Xanax (Alprazolam)?

Xanax (the most popular brand-name version of the medication generically called alprazolam) belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines.  These are central nervous system depressants that work on the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to reduce calm excitability and reduce anxiety.

Like all medications in the benzodiazepine family, ongoing Xanax use can lead to addiction, causes physiological dependency and stopping abruptly can cause potentially lethal withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, taking Xanax while using other drugs, including alcohol, can be particularly dangerous.

Where does Xanax come from?

Xanax was first released in 1981 by Michigan pharmaceutical manufacturer Upjohn (now a part of Pfizer) as a panic disorder medication. It became extremely popular because it relieves anxiety quickly.

With over 50 million prescriptions written every year, Xanax is still among the most commonly prescribed antianxiety drugs in the U.S. Unfortunately, that also makes it one of the most abused. Xanax as initially assumed to have little potential for abuse.  The dangers of addiction and withdrawal only became clear after both use and abuse were widespread. Legally, Xanax is a Schedule IV controlled substance due to its potential for abuse and addiction.

What are the side effects of Xanax?

People taking prescribed Xanax may experience various combinations of the following side effects: allergic reactions, poor coordination, forgetfulness, drowsiness, depression, loss of appetite, stomachaches, blurry vision, dry mouth, nasal congestion, chills, or chronic restlessness. A few people have suffered hallucinations, significant memory loss, or bursts of uncontrollable emotion. Anyone who experiences such problems while taking Xanax should consult the prescribing doctor immediately.

Xanax is also known to be a risk factor in birth defects and fetal dependency and withdrawal, so pregnant women should avoid taking it. The drug is also particularly risky for anyone who has glaucoma, kidney or liver problems, epilepsy, asthma, or history of addiction. And, like most sedative medications, Xanax should never be used with alcohol.

What is Xanax prescribed for?

As a prescription medication, Xanax is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as insomnia. It is recommended only for short-term use (up to three months), because dependence develops easily and can quickly lead to addiction.

If you receive a Xanax prescription, take it according to instructions, and inform your doctor immediately if you notice any signs of the side effects noted above or strong urges to take more of the medication.

How is Xanax used by people illicitly?

Most people who develop an addiction to Xanax (or other benzodiazepines) start with a legitimate prescription, begin to feel the medication isn’t doing its job or enjoy the feeling from the medication and try to increase the effect or pleasurable feelings by taking “a few extra” pills on their own. Unfortunately, many find it easy to obtain even more pills by ordering online, or getting prescriptions from various doctors.  Some steal prescriptions from family or friends or buy it on the street.  Buying the drugs on the street is particularly risky as these may be counterfeit, and their ingredients and purity may be unknown.

Those whose addiction is so intense that they crave a super-quick effect, or those prone to experimenting with drugs for “fun,” may crush Xanax pills into powder and snort them, or mix them with liquids to be injected.

What are the signs of Xanax abuse?

Symptoms of Xanax abuse include excessive drowsiness or sleepiness, dizzy spells, “drunken” behavior in the absence of alcohol use, changes in breathing and heart rate.

Symptoms of addiction include symptoms of abuse plus decrease in everyday performance, missing important social, family or work obligations due to drug use, inability to cut down despite consequences of use, need increasing doses of the drug to get the same effect.

What are the symptoms of Xanax withdrawal?

Symptoms of xanax withdrawal include: extreme anxiety, hallucinations, heavy perspiration, itchiness, insomnia, nerve spasms, difficulty breathing, severe nausea, ringing in the ears, and sometimes heart palpitations or seizures.

What are the symptoms of Xanax overdose?

Symptoms of Xanax overdose include: loss of coordination, physical weakness, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, and drowsiness or unconsciousness. If you have been taking Xanax and experience withdrawal or overdose symptoms, call for medical help immediately and, after being stabilized, ask about detox recommendations.

How does Recovery Centers of America detox and treat Xanax addiction?

detoxification from Xanax dependence or addiction must be done in a facility with 24-hour medical care as it can be life-threatening.  Symptoms may start as soon as 6-12 hours after the last dose, but they are typically not severe for the first 24 hours.  The initial biochemical withdrawal typically lasts 1-10 days depending on amount used and length of time used, however, withdrawal symptoms may be present for as long as a month before the initial symptoms start to improve.  Psychiatric symptoms and craving can continue for several months.

At intake, RCA staff administer the assessment in a calm environment, providing something to eat and beverages to keep the individual comfortable.  If, due to an inability to concentrate or anxiety symptoms, the individual finds it difficult to participate, the assessment can be divided into smaller sections.

RCA also provides a clear orientation to the treatment process, program rules, and expectations for participation to assist in decreasing any externally related anxiety about the process. It’s also very important to involve significant others. During the initial assess­ment and intake processes, RCA identifies family members or significant others who will support the patient and their treatment goals and get them involved immediately.

A slow and controlled tapering of the medication is the safest method and will result in the least discomfort.  Additional medications such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, and others may be useful in treating the symptoms during withdrawal.

After medical detoxification, treatment will include small group therapy sessions, individual sessions, educational seminars, and workshops.  For our patients struggling with Xanax or other benzodiazepine problems, or difficulties with anxiety or panic, additional services to assist with calming the body and the mind such as mindful meditation, yoga, progressive relaxation, and other therapeutic techniques may be helpful.

We focus on coping with cravings for the instant relief Xanax may have brought the patient in their early days of its use through cognitive behavioral techniques by teaching patients to examine the circumstances, situations, thoughts, and feelings that increase the likelihood that they will return to use.

Through wellness seminars, life skills workshops, and various therapies, RCA focuses patients on developing a balanced lifestyle that includes restoring healthy eating and sleeping habits, participation in physical exercise and recreational activities, as well as building a healthy support group to get them started on the road to long-term recovery.

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