Xanax, formally know as alprazolam, is a short-acting benzodiazepine, that is used to treat anxiety disorders including panic disorder. It is also used to help wean individuals from alcohol dependence in order to avoid alcohol withdrawal, which can lead to seizures. Benzodiazepines are also known for their strong addiction potential and have resulted in approximately 8,000 overdose deaths in 2015 in the United States. Their withdrawals alone can result in seizures and even death and therefore individuals taking benzodiazepines usually need to be slowly weaned in order to prevent deadly withdrawals.  Benzodiazepines work on the same receptors in the brain as alcohol. These are known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. Enhanced GABA activity results in sedation, muscle relaxation, anxiolytic effects and anticonvulsant effects and therefore this class of medication is necessary to treat certain disorder however it has a very strong addiction potential and when abused can cause severe damage. Additionally when benzodiazepines are co-ingested with alcohol, side effects can be potentiated. Although overdose is known to occur, withdrawing from benzodiazepines, like alcohol, can be deadly and often a slow taper of benzodiazepines is necessary to prevent withdrawal seizures.

Xanax as a street drug

Xanax was the most commonly prescribed prescription psychiatric medication from 2005 to 2013 in the United States and although it has allowed many individuals to regain control of their anxiety and their life, it also became a widely used and abused addictive drug. Xanax works within minutes of entering the bloodstream and peaks within hours and results in a state of pleasure and euphoria and as a result, many individuals use this drug for recreational purposes rather than medical purposes. Due to the recreational popularity of this drug, Xanax is a well-known street drug that is often used to enhance the effects of alcohol in social situations such as parties and concerts. Xanax abuse can elicit pleasurable effects such as lightheadedness, a sense of unreality, a feeling of detachment, an emotional numbness and a greater sexual inclination.

Facts about Xanax

  • 55 percent of nonmedical users acquired prescription painkillers (including Xanax) for free from a friend or relative
  • 3 percent abused medications that were prescribed by their own doctor
  • 4 percent bought them from a friend or relative
  • 8 percent sneaked from a friend or relative
  • Whereas only 4.4 percent bought them from a dealer.
  • Seventy percent of teenagers battling a Xanax addiction acquired the drug from their family’s medicine cabinet.
  • Emergency room visits owing to recreational abuse of Xanax escalated from 57,419 in 2005 to 124,902 in 2010.
  • In 2013, 50 million prescriptions were written for Xanax, an increase from 38 million prescriptions in 2006.
  • Prescription rates for Xanax have been at a steady increase of a 9 percent rate since 2008.

Withdrawal effects from Xanax

Although overdose can occur from Xanax, withdrawal from this medication can be deadly and therefore it is important to consult a medical professional if you are trying to wean yourself benzodiazepines. Like alcohol, the immediate cessation from benzodiazepines can result in seizures and therefore a slow taper must be initiated.  Common withdrawal effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, agitation, and seizures.

Treatment for Xanax addiction

Xanax addiction, like alcohol, is usually treated with a slow taper of benzodiazepines to prevent seizures. Fumazenil (Romazicon) is a specific antidote for benzodiazepine toxicity however when used in acute overdose its potential risks may outweigh the benefits and therefore this medication remains controversial. Depending on the severity of the addiction and if there are co-occurring mental health conditions present, the duration and level of care may vary from inpatient hospitalization to outpatient therapy. Psychotherapy is needed in order to address the underlying behaviors leading to the addiction and to teach individual’s self-care and how to control their triggers and cravings.