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Xanax Addiction: Symptoms, Causes, Effects and Treatment

Prescription drug addictions are a prevalent issue in today’s world, and Xanax (alprazolam) dependency is one of the most common examples. Although the drug has legitimate medical uses, it’s also addictive and has a high potential for abuse. If you or someone you care about has taken Xanax for a prolonged period of time, it may prove very challenging to decrease the usage or stop taking it. For those who take it regularly, there can be significant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that start to appear after it leaves the system. Underlying behavioral issues that make it extremely difficult to avoid taking the medication. 

Xanax, generically known as alprazolam, is a prescription benzodiazepine used primarily for treating anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax addiction develops when the drug is used in larger doses or for a longer period than prescribed, leading to physical dependence and addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 12.5 percent of adults in the U.S. currently use a benzodiazepine medication like Xanax. This equates to roughly 30.5 million people.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is the most common brand name of the drug alprazolam, a benzodiazepine meant to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Benzodiazepines work by acting on the brain and nerves to produce a calming effect, which they achieve by enhancing the effects of a natural chemical in the body called GABA. The medication comes in the form of a tablet to be taken orally, and the effects typically kick in within one to two hours. Xanax is prescribed in strengths of 0.25, 0.5, 1, and 2 mg, with the pills coming in different shapes and colors depending on the dosage. 

Although Xanax does help numerous people, it also comes with a significant risk of addiction as well as overdose. These risks are quite a bit higher for people with substance use disorders, such as addictions to alcohol or other drugs.

What is Xanax Addiction?

what is xanax addiction

Xanax addiction refers to a physical and psychological dependence on the prescription drug Xanax (alprazolam), which is commonly used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. This form of addiction develops when the drug is used in larger doses or for a longer period than prescribed, leading to tolerance (needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect) and withdrawal symptoms when usage is reduced or stopped. The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that young adults were the most likely to have ever used alprazolam for non-medical purposes. The rate of abuse among those aged 18-25 (10.3%) was nearly double that of people aged 26 or over (5.7%).

Addiction to Xanax can occur due to its potent and rapid-acting effects on the brain’s neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which promotes calmness and relaxation. Over time, the brain may become less responsive to natural GABA activity and more reliant on the drug to maintain normal function, making it challenging to discontinue use. This dependency is marked by a strong craving for the drug, compulsive use, and continued use despite negative consequences to one’s health, social life, and overall functioning. Xanax addiction is a serious condition that requires professional treatment to safely manage withdrawal symptoms and address the underlying issues contributing to the addiction.

What are the Signs And Symptoms of Xanax Addiction?

xanax addiction symptoms

Because Xanax is an actual medication with legitimate uses, it can be difficult to determine when someone has an unhealthy addiction to the drug. In some cases, the lines between genuine medical use and abuse can be blurred. Xanax addiction manifests through a range of symptoms that can be categorized into physical, behavioral, and psychological aspects. 

11 behavioral signs of Xanax addiction are listed below:

  1. Inability to stop taking Xanax despite wanting to
  2. Lack of interest in doing things
  3. Obsessing about obtaining and taking Xanax
  4. Regularly increasing the amount of Xanax taken
  5. Continued use of Xanax despite it causing personal problems
  6. Erratic or risky behavior
  7. Legal problems relating to Xanax use
  8. Doctor shopping: Visiting multiple doctors to obtain more prescriptions.
  9. Increased secrecy: Being more secretive or lying about the amount of drug taken.
  10. Neglecting responsibilities: Failing to fulfill work, school, or home duties.
  11. Social withdrawal: Pulling away from family and friends and losing interest in activities once enjoyed.

The physical signs and symptoms of Xanax addiction are listed below.

  • Drowsiness: Frequently appears as excessive sleepiness and lethargy due to the sedative effects of Xanax.
  • Slurred speech: Impairment in speech clarity, making communication difficult.
  • Decreased coordination: Users may appear clumsier or have trouble with motor skills, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Blurred vision: Vision may become fuzzy, impacting the ability to perform tasks that require visual precision.
  • Respiratory depression: Slowed breathing, which can be dangerous and lead to severe health issues, especially when mixed with other depressants.

The psychological symptoms of benzodiazepine use disorder are listed below.

  • Anxiety: Paradoxically, increased anxiety may occur, especially when the drug is not available.
  • Depression: Feelings of sadness or emptiness that don’t seem to go away, which may be intensified by drug use.
  • Irritability: Quick to anger or frustration, often over seemingly minor issues.
  • Cognitive impairment: Difficulty concentrating or remembering things, which may affect daily functioning.
  • Mood swings: Rapid and extreme changes in mood, unrelated to external circumstances.

NOTE: This is a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms that can be used to identify a problem with Xanax or other Benzodiazepines for purposes of self-assessment or identification of problematic use in someone else. However, the opinion of a professional is always best.

What are the factors causing Xanax addiction?

The factors causing Xanax addiction are categorized into biological, psychological, and social elements. These causes not only initiate the use of Xanax but also contribute to its misuse and the progression to addiction.

What are the biological factors causing Xanax addiction?

  • Genetic predisposition: Individuals with a family history of addiction are at higher risk of developing addiction themselves, due to inherited traits that affect the brain’s response to drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, genes and environmental stressors on gene expression represent 40–to–60 percent of an individual’s addiction risk.
  • Brain chemistry: Xanax works by enhancing the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety. Over time, the brain may become reliant on Xanax to produce these effects, leading to physical dependence and addiction.

Psychological Factors

  • Mental health disorders: People suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues might start using Xanax as a way to self-medicate. This can unfortunately lead to dependency and addiction as tolerance to the drug’s effects builds up. According to a research study, Xanax prescriptions account for 44% of all doctor’s orders for anxiety problems. Also, Prescriptions for Xanax increased by about 27% from 2006 to 2011, reaching almost 50 million orders. 
  • Stress and trauma: Individuals who experience high levels of stress or who have gone through traumatic events may use Xanax to cope with negative emotions, which can quickly lead to misuse and addiction.

Social Factors

  • Peer pressure: Social environments where drug use is common can influence an individual to start using Xanax, increasing the risk of addiction.
  • Accessibility of medication: The ease of obtaining Xanax, whether through prescriptions or illicitly, can play a significant role in the development of addiction.
  • Lack of information: Not understanding the risks associated with benzodiazepine use, including the potential for addiction and dependence, can lead individuals to misuse the drug.

Behavioral Factors

  • Misuse of medication: Taking Xanax in a way not prescribed, such as in higher doses or more frequently than directed, greatly increases the risk of addiction.
  • Polysubstance abuse: Combining Xanax with other drugs, especially alcohol or opioids, not only increases euphoria but also the risk of developing an addiction to one or more substances.

What are the effects of Xanax addiction?

Xanax addiction has effects on both the physical and psychological aspects of a person’s health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In 2012 alone, 17,019 individuals were admitted to treatment facilities all across the nation quoting benzodiazepines like Xanax as their fundamental or singular drug of abuse. There were also over 48 million prescriptions written for Xanax in 2013. Below are the effects of Xanax categorized into short-term and long-term impacts:

Short-term Effects:

  • Drowsiness: Xanax is often prescribed for its sedative effects, but this can lead to excessive sleepiness and lethargy.
  • Impaired Coordination: It can affect motor skills, resulting in clumsiness or trouble walking.
  • Confusion and Disorientation: Users may experience moments of confusion or difficulty in understanding basic instructions.
  • Slurred Speech: Communication may be impaired due to the relaxing effects on the muscles involved in speech.

Long-term Effects:

  • Cognitive Decline: Long-term use can impact cognitive functions, leading to difficulties with memory, focus, and decision-making.
  • Physical Dependence: The body may become accustomed to the presence of Xanax, leading to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not taken.
  • Emotional Dependency: Users might feel unable to cope with daily stresses without the drug.
  • Social and Behavioral Changes: Relationships and social interactions can deteriorate due to the behavioral changes and dependency on the drug.

Health Risks:

  • Risk of Overdose: Especially when mixed with other substances like alcohol, there is a significant risk of overdose, which can be fatal.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: These can be severe and include anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and, in extreme cases, psychosis.

Psychological Impact:

  • Mood Swings: Users may experience severe fluctuations in mood, ranging from euphoria to deep depression.
  • Increased Anxiety: Ironically, prolonged use can lead to heightened anxiety or panic attacks, the very conditions it’s often prescribed to manage.

What Is A Xanax Overdose?

Xanax overdoses are common and also difficult to identify since the symptoms of an overdose are often similar to the normal effects of the drug. The risk of overdose is significantly higher when Xanax is mixed with other medications or illicit drugs, such as alcohol, opiates, and other depressants.

These are some of the most common early warning signs of a Xanax overdose according to Medical News Today:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Joint pain
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Nausea
  • Increased salivation

If you or someone you know taking Xanax begins noticing any of the above symptoms, it’s important to monitor the situation closely for the next several hours. If an overdose is indeed taking place, the symptoms may worsen, and some of the following severe symptoms may arise:

  • Confusion
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty breathing or speaking
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Memory problems
  • Significantly slowed breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • low body temperature and blood pressure
  • Low muscle tone

The above symptoms are indicators of a Xanax overdose or a serious adverse reaction to the drug. You must seek medical attention immediately if you see any of these signs. Xanax overdoses have the potential to be fatal, especially when the medication is combined with alcohol or other drugs.

Xanax addiction significantly increases the chance of an overdose. Overdose can occur when Xanax is used alone, but more devastating effects are experienced when used in combination with other drugs. In fact, people with benzodiazepine addiction are likely to abuse other drugs. Over 54 percent of individuals with benzodiazepine addiction also abuse opioids and almost 25 percent abuse alcohol, according to a 2016 review on benzodiazepine use.

xanax overdose

Note: it is imperative to avoid combining other substances with Xanax because of the high risk of an overdose. Also, people with certain underlying health problems such as acute narrow-angle glaucoma should not use Xanax.

What are the Treatment Options for Xanax Addiction?

Xanax is a very addictive drug, and for anyone who’s been taking it regularly for a prolonged period, quitting can be challenging. For one thing, symptoms of withdrawal from Xanax are typically more powerful than the withdrawal symptoms of other benzodiazepines. Because of the drug’s potency, it can also be difficult to overcome psychological cravings and dependency. The treatment options for Xanax addiction include detoxification, behavioral therapy, and support groups. The treatment of Xanax Addiction has to be done comprehensively to ensure effectiveness and minimize the risk of a relapse. Sometimes, usage is gradually tapered until it’s stopped to reduce withdrawal symptoms effects. 

1. Detoxification and Withdrawal

The process during which the use of a harmful substance is stopped or discontinued by an individual is known as detoxification, also known as detox. Depending on the drug, this process is either gradual or fast. Most times, detoxification for xanax addiction is gradual because its withdrawal symptoms can be overwhelming and dangerous. Detoxification must be done under medical supervision, to ensure treatment is provided to reduce or prevent harmful complications. Essentially, detox is focused on avoiding the adverse effects of withdrawal. 

For many people, it takes only days or weeks to develop a physical dependence on benzodiazepines like Xanax. At that point, it’s no longer a viable option to stop taking the medication cold turkey because of the powerful withdrawal symptoms that are likely to occur. That said, the withdrawal effects will be significantly more severe in frequent, long-term users than in people who have only been taking the drug for a few weeks.

Listed below are some of the milder symptoms of Xanax withdrawal that are likely to arise in most users who stop taking the medication or lower their dose significantly:

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Waking up throughout the night
  • Feeling tension in the morning
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Trouble focusing
  • Poor memory
  • Muscle aches

When someone has been using Xanax chronically for an extended period of time, more serious withdrawal symptoms may occur:

  • Seizure
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Feeling of emptiness
  • Lack of interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Suicidal thoughts

When a long-term user or someone who is used to taking large amounts of Xanax decides to quit taking Xanax, the side effects that they face could be fatal. It’s crucial that someone detoxing from benzos do so under medical supervision. 

2. Behavioral therapy

This is a very important phase in the treatment of xanax addiction. It is focused on maintaining recovery. Behavioral therapy can last for months after detox, training individuals on taking control to avoid a relapse or abuse of another substance. The therapy types used in treating substance abuse disorder include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: this therapy is aimed at helping individuals understand how their thoughts, feelings, behavior, and addiction are connected. Motivational interviewing: this is focused on increasing individuals’ motivation for change. Questions that are expected to spark such motivation are asked by therapists. 
  • Contingency management: Here, motivational incentives are created to change behavior. For example, rewards are attached to the completion of each target or for the participation in every program.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy: emotional regulation is enhanced by this therapy, hence it enhances the chances of a full recovery and prevention of a relapse.

3. Support Groups

Individuals on a recovery journey share experiences and offer support to one another. The emotional and psychological support received in support groups helps individuals to appreciate and enjoy their journey better. 

Note: some or all of these options are often combined in stages to ensure safe withdrawal, full recovery, and prevention of a relapse. 

Is a Xanax Comedown the Same Thing as Withdrawal?

A Xanax comedown is different from a withdrawal. The letdown of high emotions that follow the peak effect of Xanax is referred to as a comedown. It may, however, present similar symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, as withdrawal. 

What are the risks of combining Xanax with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids?

Combining Xanax with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids, poses significant risks due to the compounded depressant effects on the central nervous system. This combination can lead to severe respiratory depression, decreased heart rate, and loss of consciousness, increasing the risk of overdose and death. Additionally, mixing Xanax with other depressants can amplify cognitive impairment, memory issues, and motor coordination problems. It is crucial for individuals prescribed Xanax to avoid using alcohol or other depressant substances and to seek medical advice if they have any concerns about their medication interactions.

Can Ambien addiction develop alongside Xanax addiction, and how are they treated differently?

Ambien addiction can develop alongside Xanax addiction, particularly in individuals using both medications to manage anxiety and sleep disorders. While Xanax is a benzodiazepine used primarily for anxiety, Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic prescribed for insomnia. Treatment for co-occurring addictions requires a comprehensive approach, often involving a gradual tapering of both medications to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and anxiety management techniques are crucial components of the treatment plan. Medical supervision ensures safe withdrawal, and ongoing therapy supports long-term recovery by addressing the root causes of both addictions.

Selecting the Right Detox Clinic

When you or someone you love is ready to pursue addiction recovery, choosing a quality detox clinic is extremely important. At White Light Behavioral Health, we provide a safe and supportive environment for clients working to overcome their Xanax dependence in Columbus Ohio. Our staff is highly trained, knowledgeable, and caring, and we offer a number of resources to ensure that the detoxification process goes as smoothly as possible. We understand the many challenges that come with getting past drug addiction, and we’ll provide you or your loved one with the necessary tools to succeed.

Ryan Wakim MD
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Dr. Wakim is a board-certified psychiatrist with a passion for and expertise in addiction, mood disorders, trauma-related disorders and the subspecialty of interventional psychiatry. He obtained his medical degree from West Virginia University where he also completed his residency training, finishing as chief resident. Dr. Wakim co-founded and served as the CEO of Transformations leading to a successful merger with Shore Capital in May 2021. He is purpose driven towards improving the standard of and removing stigma related to behavioral healthcare. Dr. Wakim enjoys golf, traveling and time spent with his two dogs, Lulu and Rayna.

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If you or a loved one is grappling with addiction, don’t face it alone. White Light Behavioral Health is here to guide you on the path to recovery. With a compassionate team and a proven approach, we’re dedicated to helping you reclaim your life. Reach out to White Light Behavioral Health today and take the first step towards a brighter, addiction-free future. Your journey to healing begins with a single call. Please reach out to us today at (844) 297-3995 to book your appointment! And start your healing journey at our convenient facility.

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