When a person is diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorder, a commonly prescribed medication is alprazolam—better known by its brand name, Xanax. If taken as directed for a specific period of time, it can be helpful. Unfortunately, it’s also a frequently abused drug that causes severe dependance and even addiction.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax is a type of benzodiazepine, a psychotropic medication that depresses the central nervous system by increasing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming neurotransmitter in the brain. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), “benzodiazepines produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures.”
Alprazolam was first developed in 1971 by the drug manufacturer Upjohn, and released as Xanax in 1981 to treat anxiety disorders and even stress. Dosage is determined by a person’s age, weight, and condition, and issued in solution form or as a disintegrating, extended release, or regular tablet.
Some health care providers might also prescribe Xanax for depression, insomnia, or premenstrual syndrome, but these are considered “off-label” uses and aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Problems with Xanax
The DEA classifies all types of benzodiazepines—including Ativan, Hacion, Klonopin, Librium, and Valium—as Schedule IV drugs, “with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence” when taken as prescribed. The general recommendation is 30 days to help initiate more comprehensive care for anxiety management.
However, in September 2020, the FDA required an updated boxed warning for all benzodiazepine medicines, including Xanax. “Our review found that benzodiazepines are widely prescribed in the U.S., often for long periods of time. They are also widely abused and misused, often together with alcohol, prescription opioids, and illicit drugs, which worsen the risks of serious problems.” The Anxiety & Depression Association of America has also posted information from physicians cautioning long-term use of Xanax.
Many people who might have co-occurring disorders or who also misuse alcohol or other drugs can develop a serious dependency on Xanax and an even more complicated substance use disorder. Alcohol and Xanax are a particularly dangerous combination, as both are depressants and intensify the effects of the other. This could cause potentially fatal outcomes such as cardiac arrest, a loss of consciousness, or respiratory failure.
Additionally, a group of concerned medical professionals created the Benzodiazepines Information Coalition. Its goal is to reduce overprescription of Xanax and other benzodiazepines to avoid “a growing national epidemic of benzodiazepine injury” that could be as catastrophic as the opioid crisis. The coalition cites many studies and programs and works with various media to sound the alarm about challenges with Xanax, including the Netflix documentary “Take Your Pills: Xanax”
Xanax is also a popular illicit drug because when taken in excessive amounts, it produces a more euphoric effect. Common street names include Benzos, Blue Footballs, Bricks, Upjohn, and Zanbars.
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
In its recommendation of boxed warning expansion, the FDA noted, “We also found that some patients have had serious withdrawal reactions after benzodiazepines were stopped suddenly or the dose was reduced too quickly. Some patients experienced withdrawal symptoms lasting many months.”
So it’s critical that treatment for Xanax addiction include a medically managed detoxification program to ease the withdrawal process. Here are some typical Xanax withdrawal symptoms:
- A rebound of anxiety symptoms, including paranoia
- Aggression and mood swings
- Blurred vision, dizziness, and headaches
- Body aches
- Hypersensitivity to light and sound
- Nausea and vomiting
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities or face
- Respiratory issues
- Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or nightmares
- Suicidal thoughts
- Tense muscles
The length of detoxification varies by each person, depending on their overall medical condition and history, if other substances are used, severity of use and so on.
Find Comprehensive Anxiety Treatment at Willingway
Medication like Xanax can be an essential tool to help someone learn to manage anxiety and other health issues. But if the opioid epidemic taught us anything, it’s that even prescription drugs can cause numerous problems without the proper guidance, regulated issuance, and a continual understanding of an individual’s background and needs.
Our inpatient rehabilitation facility in Statesboro, GA, treats all levels of addiction, especially more complex cases. While detoxification from substances is a critical first step to whole-person wellness, it only touches on part of someone’s experience. For someone to truly heal from the inside out, they need additional care, such as:
- An analysis of their root condition, as well as influences and addiction risks
- Therapeutic techniques and support groups
- Trigger and craving management
- A detailed recovery plan
Knowing what causes anxiety and other mood disorders is a vital first step to moving forward with clarity. If you or a loved one needs this kind of approach to recover from Xanax addiction, talk with a member of our admissions team. We’re available 24 hours a day.