pills laying next to glass

Xanax Addiction: Dangers and Risks of Its Abuse

Xanax is a brand name for the drug alprazolam, one of several in a group of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines act on the brain and central nervous system by producing a calming or tranquilizing effect. Xanax is commonly prescribed for the treatment of panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder. It provides rapid symptom relief for these disorders (within a week of beginning treatment) and there is no decrease in its efficacy over several years.1

Xanax works by boosting the effects of a natural chemical made in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter amino acid that induces inhibition of postsynaptic neurons, thereby slowing down the activity of nerve cells in the brain. This results in a reduction in nervous tension and anxiety.1

Xanax Facts and Stats

Although alprazolam was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1981, the drug Xanax has soared in popularity in the last few years. If the 1990s were the decade of Prozac, we currently appear to be living in the era of Xanax. Many people suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders that inhibit normal functioning and can be extremely debilitating. However, for an astounding number of other people, anxiety has become a more general mindset and cultural stance, one defined by the increasingly uncertain and volatile world around us.2

A study published in the journal Psychiatry in 2008 showed that 55% of all prescriptions for benzodiazepines were written by general practitioners. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people in treatment for psychological problems spend half their budgeted dollars on drugs and less than one-third on therapy. America has become a place in which popping a pill has chiseled away at the number of people in psychotherapy, where talking about problems is the core philosophy of treatment.2

Here are a few sobering statistics that underscore the impact of benzodiazepine and Xanax on the U.S. population.

  • In 2015, Xanax was the ninth bestselling drug and fifth most prescribed drug in the U.S.3
  • From 2004-2009, Xanax saw the second largest pharmaceutical increase in production, with rates increasing 148%. The only drug that saw higher levels of production was oxycodone.3
  • As a generic, Xanax is prescribed more than the sleeping pill Ambien and more than the antidepressant Zoloft.2
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, rehab visits involving benzodiazepine use tripled between 1998 and 2008.3
  • Physicians write more than 50 million benzodiazepine prescriptions every year — more than one per second.4
  • According to the American Psychiatric Association,11% to 15% of all adults in the U.S. have a bottle of Xanax in their medicine cabinet.4
  • In teens addicted to Xanax, seven out of 10 obtained these pills from their home medicine cabinets.3
  • One in 11 high school seniors has admitted to abusing Xanax at some point in their lives.3
  • The average person with a Xanax addiction takes about 20 to 30 pills every day.3

Long before a person becomes addicted, Xanax use carries a number of risks and dangers. The most serious risk of Xanax abuse is associated with taking it with other drugs and alcohol. When taken with other GABA-inducing drugs such as opiates, hypnotics, barbiturates or alcohol, the risk of overdose rises exponentially. The central nervous system is assaulted with billions of messages to slow down all at once. This can result in a dangerously slow heartbeat, cessation of breathing and death.4 Particularly alarming in this context is that 49% of teens take Xanax with at least one other drug including alcohol.3

Xanax: How Addiction Starts

We live in a consumer culture amenable to “taking a pill for whatever ails you” and one in which there is a pervasive perception that prescription drugs are less harmful than illicit drugs. This has contributed to increasing numbers of people becoming addicted to prescription drugs such as Xanax.5 People without a prescription often abuse this drug and other benzodiazepines for their fast-acting sedative and relaxing effects.

There have been a limited number of studies analyzing factors that might increase one’s risk of abusing or becoming addicted to benzodiazepines. A Norwegian study found that a greater number of people who started on alprazolam became excessive users compared to those starting on any other benzodiazepine.6 Other research indicated that the most common abusers of alprazolam are cocaine and heroin addicts who use the drug to sleep, and adolescents who take the drug with alcohol to reach an altered state of euphoria, lethargy and reduced inhibitions or a type of high.7

Xanax Addiction Symptoms

According to two clinical studies, the majority of people who are prescribed Xanax by a medical professional do not develop a substance use disorder. However, it is fairly common for users to become physically dependent, which equates to an addiction to Xanax. Physical dependence means the body has become accustomed to the drug and escalating doses are required to attain the intended results.8 Even after a relatively short period of use at recommended doses for the treatment of transient anxiety and anxiety disorder, there is some risk of dependence. Psychological dependence is well documented with some users experiencing considerable difficulty reducing and discontinuing use of Xanax, especially at higher doses for extended periods of time.9 Data suggests that the risk of dependence and its severity appears to be more pronounced in clients treated with doses of more than 4 mg/day and in excess of 12 weeks. There are several symptoms associated with long-term use of a benzodiazepine-based drug.8

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory impairment
  • Aggression
  • Depression

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

While the severity and incidence of withdrawal symptoms appear to be related to dosage and duration of treatment, people taking Xanax for brief periods at recommended doses (e.g. 0.75 to 4 mg/day) have reported withdrawal symptoms including seizures. The physical withdrawal symptoms of Xanax are similar to those of sedative-hypnotics and alcohol.7,8

  • Mild dysphoria
  • Insomnia
  • Increased anxiety
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

If you or a loved one has a physical dependence or addiction to Xanax, start your recovery today by speaking confidentially to a Promises recovery advisor.

  1. Xanax: Side Effects, Drug Information. Medical News Today website. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263490.php Updated February 4, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2016.
  2. Miller L. Listening to Xanax. How America learned to stop worrying about worrying and pop its pills instead. New York Magazine. http://nymag.com/news/features/xanax-2012-3/ March 18, 2012. Accessed July 25, 2016.
  3. 20 Profound Xanax Addiction Statistics. Health Research Funding website. http://healthresearchfunding.org/20-profound-xanax-addiction-statistics/ Published February 1, 2015. Accessed July 25, 2016.
  4. Is Xanax Dangerous? What’s Hype and What Are the Real Threats? http://www.alternet.org/story/154165/is_xanax_dangerous_what’s_hype_and_what_are_the_real_threats Published February 15, 2012. Accessed July 25, 2016.
  5. Prescription Drug Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/director Updated November 2014. Accessed July 23, 2016.
  6. Fride Tvete I, Bjørner T, Skomedalc T. Risk factors for excessive benzodiazepine use in a working age population: a nationwide 5-year survey in Norway. Scand J Prim Health Care. December, 2015; 33(4): 252–259. Published online 2015. doi: 10.3109/02813432.2015.1117282.
  7. Alprazolam Dependence – Signs of Alprazolam Use Vs. Abuse, Tolerance Dependcy.net website http://www.dependency.net/learn/alprazolam/ Accessed July 25, 2016.
  8. Xanax Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms. Drug Rehab Treatment Help website. http://drugrehabtreatmenthelp.com/drugs/xanax/ Published 2010. Accessed July 25, 2016.
  9. DailyMed Label: Xanax – alprazolam. National Library of Medicine website. https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=388e249d-b9b6-44c3-9f8f-880eced0239f Updated March 24, 2015. Accessed July 25, 2016.

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