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Xanax Addiction Concerns and Treatment Options

Xanax offers you a delicious promise. When you’re feeling worried, anxious, or upset, take just one pill. Soon, you’ll be wrapped up in comfort and calm, and those pesky problems will just disappear. 

For some people, Xanax pills keep their promises. But for others, that’s just not true.

Xanax is incredibly powerful, and researchers have discovered that the pills we lean on can change our brain cells. When that happens, we can develop dependence or addiction.

Could it happen to you?

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Xanax basics.
  • How Xanax addictions develop.
  • What abuse of Xanax looks like.
  • How treatment works.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is reportedly the most frequently prescribed psychiatric medication offered by doctors in the United States. If you’ve developed an addiction to the drug, you’re well aware of what it does and how it looks.

But how much do you really know about the substance you’re putting into your body? Let’s dig deeper.

Xanax is the brand name of the medication alprazolam. This drug is an approved therapy for people with:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia

These conditions center around feelings of nervousness or worry. Your heart races, you sweat, and you tremble. All of these physical changes stem from enhanced electrical activity in the brain.

When you’re under pressure, your brain is trading hundreds or thousands of electrical signals that tell your body to prepare for battle. Each little blip of electricity amps up your physical discomfort. In time, it seems impossible to think due to the electrical firestorm in your mind.

Xanax and benzodiazepine drugs like it work by tamping down those out-of-control electrical impulses. Billions of brain cells respond to the medication, and they mute their work when it’s present.

At the same time, Xanax boosts the effectiveness of a calming neurotransmitter. The result is a quieter brain and a sense of comfort and ease. 

For someone in the midst of a panic attack, this can be a lifesaving change. Rather than feeling worried and upset, they can move past the trigger.

But for someone without an underlying mental health issue, Xanax works a little differently. For them, use can cause much more harm than good.

man opening curtains

How Xanax Addictions Develop

We’ve mentioned that Xanax can block excessive electrical brain activity. It’s the secondary calming effect that is enticing to recreational users. As they escalate use, their Xanax habit moves from a choice to a necessity. Brain cell damage is to blame.

Among benzodiazepine drugs, Xanax is remarkably powerful. Since it’s designed to assist with sudden mental health issues, like panic attacks, it takes hold quickly and wears off fast.

Drugs like this are often considered “rewarding” for recreational users. When they take the substance, they can feel it working right away. When it’s gone, they want more.

Brain cells can grow accustomed to the presence of Xanax, and when they do, users need to take more of the substance to feel the same impact. Xanax manufacturers suggest that therapeutic drug doses range from 0.75 mg to 4 mg per day, and that the risk of abuse rises as the amount taken climbs.

As the body becomes immune to the impact of the drug, people might begin to take much larger doses. The amount they once took doesn’t seem to work, so they pop in more of the substance or take amounts very close together.

Researchers say it’s relatively uncommon for people to develop Xanax addictions. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says, for example, that only 0.2 percent of benzodiazepine abusers meet the criteria for abuse or addiction disorders. That’s an incredibly small number.

But people can develop an abuse habit that pairs benzodiazepines with opioid drugs, such as Vicodin or OxyContin. When used in combination, they can lead to:

  • Sedation. People may move very little or not at all.
  • Breathing difficulties. Slow, shallow breaths are common. Some people stop breathing altogether.
  • Disorientation. People may be unable to ask for help or unaware that something terrible is happening.
  • Coma-like states. Some people can’t be awakened, and they can lose their lives during this episode.

In 2015 alone, says NIDA, 23 percent of people who died due to opioid overdoses also took benzodiazepines like Xanax. This isn’t a rare issue. It’s something that happens relatively frequently.

man suffering from withdrawal

What Does Xanax Addiction Look Like?

Treatment is the best route to wellness for someone with a Xanax addiction. But if you don’t know the signs, you won’t know when to offer help.

People with Xanax addictions may seem:

  • Sedated. You may notice slurred breathing or sluggish movements.
  • Anxious. When the drug wears off, the person will want more very quickly. Pacing, quick talking, and other signs of worry are common.
  • Financially unstable. Most people who abuse benzodiazepines buy them on the street, as they don’t have a prescription. Each hit costs a lot of money.
  • Secretive. Hiding evidence of the addiction means closing doors, locking drawers, and otherwise needing extra space.
  • Unmotivated. As drugs become a crucial part of the person’s life, the need to go to work or spend time with the family fades away.
  • Odd. Xanax is sold on the street with code names, like Z-bars. Someone with an addiction may slip this slang into overheard conversations with dealers.

Spotting these signs means scheduling time for a conversation. Addictions can be treated, but it’s not unusual for people to need a push before they will accept help. Families can open that door.

join hands

Addiction Therapy Works

It’s not safe for people to tackle an addiction alone, but treatment programs can help to soothe a changed brain and unhealthy habits. Treatment often progresses in stages, and it can take months to complete the work.

Healing begins with detoxification. Here, the body learns to adjust without the presence of substances. Since Xanax is a fast-acting drug in the class, doctors often begin by switching the benzodiazepine. You’ll stop taking Xanax and move to another drug, like diazepam.

Then, your drug dose will shrink each day. This slow taper allows brain cells to adjust at a controlled and regulated rate. Cold-turkey detox can lead to seizures, as the brain can be flooded with all of the electricity held back during intoxication. With a taper, the risk of such an episode drops dramatically.

Addictions aren’t just chemical imbalances. They’re supported by habits too. Therapists help their patients to understand how their thoughts, opinions, and behaviors put them at risk for use and relapse. Then, the team works together to build up a life that just doesn’t support drug use.

Your long-term treatment plan might involve:

  • Secure employment. When you have somewhere to go each day, you have less free time to use drugs.
  • Close relationships. Sober family and friends can lift you up when you’re low. Therapy can ease the harm done during the addiction.
  • Stress prevention. Yoga, running, painting, or another activity you find soothing can help you to deal with inner conflict without drugs.
  • Resolution. Injuries from your past can bubble up and prompt new behaviors. Dealing with that trauma can reduce the risk.
  • Practice. It’s easier to turn down a trigger when you know just how to handle it. Your therapist can help you work through troubling scenarios.

Recovery takes time, and it’s something you might need to work on each day. But with the help of a therapist and the people you love, you can put a Xanax habit behind you.

What You Need to Know About Xanax. (December 2017). Medical News Today.

The Benefits and Risks of Benzodiazepines. (March 2019). Medical News Today.

Xanax Labeling. Pharmacia and Upjohn Company.

Research Suggests Benzodiazepine Use is High While Use Disorder Rates Are Low. (October 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Benzodiazepines and Opioids. (March 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Management of Benzodiazepine Misuse and Dependence. (October 2015). Australian Prescriber.

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