Xanax (Alprazolam)

Xanax is the brand name for the medication alprazolam. It is also known by its street names, which include “benzos,” “handlebars,” “blue footballs,” and “xannies”/”zannies.” There is also a dissolvable version called Niravam.
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Alprazolam is classified as a benzodiazepine depressant drug and is one of about 15 or so drugs of this class approved for medical use in the United States. These types of drugs are most commonly prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders, though Xanax is also used to calm tremors and treat insomnia. Today, Xanax is the most prescribed drug in the United States.

The misuse of benzodiazepines is currently considered to be one of the most serious drug problems in the United States. The drug is far more potent than other common benzodiazepines, such as Valium, which increases the risk of misuse. While not especially risky on its own, the combined use of Xanax and other benzodiazepines with alcohol and opioids has led to a dramatic rise in emergency room visits and fatalities since the beginning of the 21st century.

Here we will explore what Xanax is, its effects on the body, and what withdrawal and treatment for problematic Xanax use are like for individuals hooked on the drug. 

A Brief History of Xanax

Alprazolam was created by Dr. Leo Sternbach in 1956, one of many benzodiazepine drugs developed in that period. However, alprazolam would not hit the U.S. market until 1981, when it began to be sold under the trade name “Xanax”. The popularity of the medication can be attributed to its rapid symptom relief, especially when compared to Valium and other benzodiazepine drugs that have been made available previously.

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As with other benzodiazepines, Xanax soon demonstrated a high risk of misuse. Young adults, in particular, have been found to be the most likely to misuse Xanax. The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use showed nearly double the rates of abuse among people ages 18-24 than in those over age 26. Treatment facility admissions for people addicted to Xanax began increasing in 2006, which correlated with a rise in the number of legal prescriptions.

In light of the real dangers of compulsive misuse, Xanax is now classified as a Schedule IV drug by the FDA and individual states have introduced legislation to limit its availability.

What Are the Medical Applications of Xanax?

Xanax is a medication often prescribed to treat anxiety, as well as sleeping disorders and muscle spasms. Anxiety disorders occur when the brain is not producing enough GABA neurotransmitters. The function of GABA is to bind itself to stimulate neurotransmitters and stop them from firing. Xanax allows GABA neurotransmitters to release more chloride ions that bind to nerve cell receptors. The ions slow the cell activity, brain chemistry settles, and the mind and body experience a calming effect.

Xanax acts faster than most other available depressants, which take days or weeks to slow down this activity: Xanax works almost immediately. Because Xanax creates this desired calming effect and works so quickly, it is easy to develop a tolerance for the drug. Xanax is meant to be a short-term solution for anxiety, but if someone stops taking it abruptly, the brain may overcompensate and create a surplus of chemicals, which leads to the symptoms of withdrawal. Long-term side effects of Xanax abuse on the brain are suspected, but so far, studies are inconclusive.

How Is Xanax Used?

Xanax is often taken orally, though people misusing it may crush the pills and snort, smoke, or take it intravenously to speed up or heighten its effects. People may also misuse it by mixing it with other substances, like alcohol for a synergistic effect.

When consumed, Xanax causes surges of dopamine in the brain, which creates euphoria. Xanax’s short half-life leads to quick symptom relief but causes the body to develop tolerance faster than it would to other medications.

As a person seeks more Xanax and takes the medication without a prescription, those around them will notice changes to their behavior. People habitually misusing Xanax often find that their drug-seeking behavior can cause strains in their relationships, their finances, and their workplace. 

Xanax’s Immediate Effects

As is the case with any medication, there is a range of expected immediate side effects. Xanax may cause:

  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Poor balance

These side effects may not be desirable, but they are normal. Xanax can cause much more severe side effects, however, when the medication is habitually misused. These symptoms are warning signs of withdrawal and a possible Xanax use disorder. If you experience any of these side effects, seek help and treatment as soon as possible.

The following symptoms may indicate a serious problem:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Confusion, agitation, and hostility
  • Chest pain or fluttering heart
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts, or risk-taking behavior

Xanax’s Long-Term Effects

While there is no conclusive evidence of lasting side effects of Xanax abuse on the brain, some studies have shown a possible link between long-term use and a greater risk of dementia and brain atrophy. If a person is habitually misusing Xanax, its mental side effects can be just as significant and detrimental as physical consequences. Long-term users are at a high risk of developing a substance use disorder, which can lead to other risks as a result of their compulsive drug-seeking.

Symptoms of a Xanax Overdose

The symptoms of Xanax abuse that indicate that a person has been using too much include:

  • Unresponsiveness
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Poor motor coordination

Having several of these symptoms can be a sign of an overdose. If you suspect someone has overdosed on Xanax, you should first check their responsiveness. If the person is unresponsive, call 911 immediately. Next, you should perform rescue breathing by lifting the chin, tilting the head, and pinching the nose. Give two quick breaths into their mouth, then one long breath every five seconds. But the most crucial action you can take for someone in an overdose situation is to call for professional medical help.

What Is Xanax Withdrawal Like?

Withdrawal from Xanax can be a long process. The first symptoms begin to appear within six to 12 hours of discontinued use, and the most severe symptoms occur within the first four days of Xanax withdrawal. The worst has passed after this point, but symptoms can continue up to two weeks afterward. Lingering symptoms after this period should be mild but fluctuate, and they can last up to two years.

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Xanax users are prone to panic and anxiety attacks as they go through withdrawal. These experiences are exhausting and can lead to lethargy and depression. In addition to these changes in mood, physical Xanax withdrawal symptoms may include:

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  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Tooth pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Respiration problems
  • High heart rate

The Xanax withdrawal period is non-linear, with symptoms occurring seemingly at random. Healing is emotionally tiring for those suffering from withdrawal, as they might feel better and start to have hope, only to experience a new symptom. Those struggling with withdrawal from Xanax need to have patient, compassionate support as they undergo the healing process. Rebound symptoms are another disheartening possibility during withdrawal. These consist of intensified bouts of anxiety or insomnia, the conditions the medication was originally prescribed to treat.

Because Xanax withdrawal is unpredictable and potentially deadly, Xanax use disorders are often treated in an in-patient rehabilitation center. This will ensure that the recovering individual gets access to prompt medical and psychiatric care as needed.

How Are Xanax Use Disorders Treated?

In moderate or severe Xanax use disorders, the withdrawal symptoms might be so dangerous or uncomfortable that it wouldn’t be safe or realistic to treat individuals on an outpatient basis. In most confirmed cases, they may have to undergo withdrawal management or “detoxification” in an outpatient setting.

As a person’s body detoxes, they can expect to experience a range of symptoms, which may cause complications. The withdrawal management process can be painful and frightening. To get off Xanax safely, a person should seek out medically-assisted withdrawal management rather than attempt a “self-detox” so that they can safely taper off of the medication.

During withdrawal management, patients are typically given progressively lower doses of Xanax or other benzodiazepine class drugs to lower their tolerance and prevent excessively uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling may also be given to reduce the effects of compulsive drug-taking behavior and to address the root cause of the condition.

Physical Effects of a “Xanax Detox”

The more severe the case of Xanax use disorder, the more intense detox withdrawal management tends to be. The process begins once the drug stops being active in the blood plasma. The worst symptoms of withdrawal will usually last one to four days. It is during this time that a person may experience seizures, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, insomnia, heart palpitations, and fever. The type and nature of symptoms will vary from person to person. Going through withdrawal management in a medically supervised setting will allow these symptoms to be monitored and safely managed in the most comfortable environment possible. 

The Xanax Withdrawal Management Process

A person undertaking medically supervised withdrawal management for Xanax use may be able to avoid the most intense withdrawal symptoms while following a controlled tapering-off schedule. Sometimes, other medications with longer half-lives, such as Valium, are used to replace Xanax. A small amount of this benzodiazepine can keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay until the Xanax is absent from the bloodstream. This tapering-off method of Xanax detox is often paired with other therapy methods that address psychological symptoms.

Get the Help You Need

If you are hooked on Xanax, you may feel alone and unsure of where to turn for help. Better Addiction Care can offer you understanding and support when you connect with one of our qualified client care specialists. We know that finding treatment can be confusing, as there are many treatment options available. Our team can help you decide which treatment option is the best for you or your loved one.

Better Addiction Care will help you find an individualized plan for recovery at a cost-effective treatment center near you. Fill out our contact form or call today to start healing with the help of Better Addiction Care.

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