woman with xanax addiction holding a sheet of blister packet pills while sitting on couch
Substance Abuse

Xanax Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Xanax is a prescription medication that is primarily used to treat anxiety and panic disorders because it is a depressant and promotes relaxation. While Xanax can be effective in managing these conditions, some people can struggle with Xanax addiction due to its highly addictive nature.
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How Xanax Affects the Brain & Body

Xanax belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines, which are informally referred to as “benzos,” are a class of psychoactive drugs that provide calming and sedative effects. 

Here are some of the different types of benzodiazepines:

Xanax is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine medication, with over 45 million prescriptions dispensed in the United States alone in 2017. Benzodiazepines like Xanax work by increasing the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (commonly referred to as GABA) in the brain. GABA slows down the activity of nerve cells in the brain because it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When GABA levels are increased, brain activity is decreased, which can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and promote relaxation.

Is Xanax Addictive?

Yes, Xanax is addictive because it activates the reward centers in the brain. When Xanax is taken, it increases the release of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. When dopamine is released, it creates a pleasurable sensation, which reinforces the desire for Xanax and can lead to continued use of the drug. Over time, the brain may become dependent on Xanax to release dopamine, leading to the development of addiction.

Xanax is also addictive due to the development of tolerance. As the body becomes accustomed to the effects of the Xanax and the release of “feel good” dopamine, and as Xanax becomes overused, the body requires higher doses to achieve the same level of relaxation or anxiety relief. When Xanax is continuously overused and abused, tolerance continues to increase and reinforces addictive behavior, leading to abuse of the prescription drug.

Xanax abuse is extremely common, too. Over 4.8 million people in the United States abused prescription Benzodiazepines including Xanax in 2020, according to the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Side Effects of Xanax Addiction

Like all prescription drugs, overuse of Xanax can cause unwanted side effects. One of the most significant side effects of Xanax addiction is cognitive impairment

As the brain becomes accustomed to the presence of Xanax, it begins to rely on the drug for basic functioning. This can lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and a decreased ability to perform tasks that require cognitive processing. This can lead to a vicious cycle where decreased cognitive performance reduces an individual’s ability to perform at work, and if Xanax abuse continues, it increases a person’s risk of losing their job.

Furthermore, Xanax abuse can aggravate the very problem that many people use it to treat: anxiety. Although Xanax produces a calming effect, which is often the very reason for its use in the first place, abuse of Xanax can eventually increase feelings of anxiety and other unwanted emotions like depression.

Finally, another common side effect of Xanax addiction is physical dependence. When the body becomes dependent on Xanax, it may experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not present. These symptoms can include tremors, sweating, nausea, and insomnia, and can be highly uncomfortable. In severe cases, withdrawal from Xanax can lead to seizures and even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Addiction

One of the most common signs of Xanax addiction is the development of tolerance. If someone has been abusing Xanax, they require more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect.

Another sign of Xanax addiction is the presence of physical symptoms. These can include:

Individuals who are addicted to Xanax may also experience withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can include:

Finally, as previously mentioned, continued abuse of Xanax can also cause mood changes like an increase in anxiety or depression. This can lead to behavioral changes such as a loss of interest in hobbies, career, and even relationships.

Polysubstance Abuse & Xanax: Common Combinations

Xanax addiction is common and prevalent, and it should be taken seriously. As someone develops a tolerance for Xanax, they may become inclined to mix the prescription drug with other drugs or alcohol to achieve more of an effect. This is known as polysubstance abuse, which is a pattern of drug or substance use that involves the simultaneous use of multiple drugs or substances. 

Combining Xanax with other drugs can be dangerous and increase the risk of adverse effects. Emergency room visits due to recreational abuse of Xanax more than doubled from 2005 to 2010. 

Some common combinations of Xanax with other drugs include:

Mixing Xanax with alcohol can be particularly dangerous, as both drugs depress the central nervous system. This can lead to increased sedation, respiratory depression, and even death.

Combining Xanax with opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, can increase the risk of respiratory depression and death. Both drugs depress the central nervous system and can lead to a dangerous decrease in breathing.

Some individuals may combine Xanax with stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines, in an attempt to balance the effects of each drug. However, this can lead to unpredictable effects on the body and can be particularly dangerous for the heart.

Using Xanax with other benzodiazepines, such as Valium or Ativan, can increase the risk of adverse effects, including sedation and respiratory depression.

Overall, it is important to use Xanax only as prescribed and to avoid combining it with other drugs without medical supervision to avoid serious side effects. If you are taking Xanax and are concerned about potential drug interactions, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider.

Side Effects and Consequences of Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction can have serious consequences and side effects on both physical and behavioral health. In addition to the potential for overdose, long-term use of Xanax can lead to physical dependence, meaning that the body has adapted to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms may occur if the drug is discontinued. 

The physical symptoms of withdrawal from xanax addiction can include:

Psychological and social consequences of Xanax addiction can include:

Chronic use of Xanax can also lead to memory problems, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Xanax can also impair judgment and motor coordination, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. In addition to these health consequences, Xanax addiction can also have negative impacts on personal relationships, employment, and financial stability.

Understanding the Difference Between Xanax Dependence & Addiction

While the terms “addiction” and “dependence” are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to different aspects of drug use.

Dependence on Xanax refers to a physical reliance on the drug. As an individual uses Xanax, their body can become accustomed to the presence of the drug, leading to changes in brain chemistry. This can result in the development of withdrawal symptoms if the individual attempts to stop using the drug or significantly reduces their dosage. Dependence on Xanax can develop with regular use, even if the drug is being used as prescribed.

On the other hand, addiction to Xanax refers to a mental or psychological dependence on the drug. Individuals who are addicted to Xanax may continue to use the drug despite negative consequences and may experience cravings or obsessive thoughts about the drug. Mental dependence can also lead to negative consequences in an individual’s life, such as difficulties with relationships, work, or school.

Treatment for Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction is typically treated through a combination of medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapy. The goal of treatment is to help individuals safely manage withdrawal symptoms, develop coping skills to manage triggers for drug use, and ultimately achieve long-term recovery.

Some specific methods used to treat Xanax addiction include:

These symptoms can be uncomfortable or even life-threatening in some cases. This is why, for individuals with severe xanax addiction, medically assisted detoxification is not only recommended but imperative.

Medically supervised detoxification helps with the symptoms of withdrawal. It involves monitoring from healthcare professionals and the use of medication-assisted treatment to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. This may include gradually tapering off the drug or using other medications to manage symptoms.

Detox can be a challenging process, both physically and emotionally, and it is important for individuals to have access to professional support and resources. Dual diagnosis is often provided at rehabilitation centers to help with both the drug addiction and any mental disorders that are present, such as anxiety or depression.

How to Reduce the Risk of Relapse After Xanax Addiction

Reducing the risk of relapse after Xanax addiction requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of addiction. These steps are covered in great detail during inpatient drug rehabilitation. Once individuals leave residential treatment, however, preventing relapse becomes an important responsibility. 

Here are some steps that individuals can take to reduce the risk of relapse:

Attend support groups

Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous can be an important source of support and encouragement during the recovery process.

Build a strong support system

Surround yourself with family, friends, and other supportive individuals who are committed to your recovery.

Engage in therapy

Behavioral therapy can help individuals develop the coping skills needed to manage triggers and stressors that can lead to relapse.

Practice self-care

Taking care of your physical and behavioral health through exercise, healthy eating, and stress-reducing activities can help to promote overall well-being and reduce the risk of relapse.

Avoid triggers

Identify and avoid situations, people, or places that may trigger drug use.

Take medications as prescribed

If you are using medication-assisted treatment, it is important to take medications as prescribed to help manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Stay accountable

Stay connected with your treatment team and attend regular check-ins to stay accountable and on track with your recovery goals.

It is important to recognize that relapse is a common part of the recovery process and does not mean that the individual has failed. It is a sign that additional support and interventions may be needed to help maintain sobriety.

Continued Support for Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires prompt and effective treatment. With its highly addictive nature and potentially lethal side effects, it is crucial to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Xanax addiction and seek help if needed. 

The use of medically-assisted detox and therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management can help individuals recover from addiction and reduce their risk of relapse. Treatment for both addiction and behavioral health disorders, such as anxiety, is known as dual diagnosis treatment.

If you are local to Orange County, California, you may benefit from the drug detox and dual diagnosis programs offered here at New Method Wellness. Give us a call at 1-866-951-1824 and we will be happy to walk you through the process and help you every step of the way.

References

  1. Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines. Retrieved on 3-15-2023 from:

https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/benzo.pdf

  1. Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Key Substance Use and Behavioral Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved on 3-15-2023 from:

https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf

  1. Mayo Clinic. Alprazolam (Oral Route). Retrieved on 3-15-2023 from:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/alprazolam-oral-route/precautions/drg-20061040

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