Xanax Addiction: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
Table of Contents
What is Xanax? Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine primarily prescribed to treat panic and anxiety disorders as well as anxiety caused by depression. It’s most commonly known by the brand name Xanax. Despite the fact you or a loved one may be taking it ‘under doctor’s orders’, you can easily become addicted.
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Xanax has a powerful sedative effect and is therefore also categorised as a tranquiliser or anxiolytic. Like any benzo, Xanax works by activating the brain chemical gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
The short-term effects of Xanax are appealing. You feel calm, relaxed and happy, and it may explain why people, many of whom have never taken an illegal drug in their lives, turn to Xanax when they want to feel less stressed, anxious, or scared. Xanax is highly addictive. In fact, roughly one in five people who take benzos (such as Xanax) will misuse them. It’s often only prescribed for short-term use and doctors will decrease your dosage over time.
Xanax addiction can happen very quickly as you build up a tolerance to your usual dose and require more and more to achieve the desired effect. You might not notice this is happening. Symptoms of alprazolam addiction range from drowsiness and headache to delirium and psychosis. They are vague and wide-ranging which means you may not realise these are signs of dependency.
Some people use Xanax recreationally and become addicted, while others become addicted while taking a prescription. Xanax is often combined with other drugs to increase its sedative effect, which can prove fatal.
The safest and most successful way of dealing with Xanax addiction is to seek professional help and have addiction treatment under medical supervision. Attempting to come off Xanax ‘cold turkey’ can be dangerous and lead to serious withdrawal symptoms.
Xanax goes by the street names xannies/zannies, z-bars, school bus, and yellow boys.
Is Xanax Addictive?
It can be difficult to accept that a drug prescribed by doctors to make you feel better can actually cause you harm, but yes Xanax is addictive. Addiction happens very quickly and if you take Xanax for just three to four weeks and then stop, you can expect to experience addiction-related withdrawal symptoms.
This is why Xanax should only be used for a short time and is usually prescribed for only one to two weeks. The drug works by calming down your central nervous system so its functions, which include heart rate, breathing, and brain activity, also slow down. This is great on a short-term basis if you’re anxious or panicked and unable to sleep.
Xanax is more addictive than other benzodiazepines because it works quickly, absorbing into the brain rapidly, so you get an almost instant hit. It is also much stronger than other commonly known benzodiazepines such as Valium. For these reasons Xanax is a popular party drug, chilling you out immediately, ridding you of your inhibitions, and making you feel euphoric.
There is a misconception that Xanax is not dangerous and is a medically proven ‘quick fix’ if you’re feeling stressed. Illegal sales of the drug have risen sharply in the past few years with many young people now battling a Xanax addiction after buying it off the ‘dark web’. Obtaining the drug this way is especially dangerous as it has almost certainly been cut with other substances to increase its profitability.
Addiction to Xanax can also be exacerbated by long-term use, using a high dose and taking it with other drugs and alcohol. A Xanax addiction is also known as an anxiolytic use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms are particularly unpleasant with this drug.
What Causes Xanax Addiction?
When you take Xanax, you’re likely to experience decreased anxiety and tension, sleepiness, and a sense of contentment. These pleasurable effects can reinforce your desire for repeated use.
Each time you take Xanax, the drug alters the neuron signals in your brain. With repeated use, your brain becomes dependent on Xanax to produce dopamine, the ‘feel good’ chemical that it produces on its own. You’re at especially high risk for addiction if you find yourself taking Xanax for an extended period of time, using it at high doses, or mixing it with other substances.
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While Xanax is highly addictive on its own accord, it’s also frequently prescribed to, or recreationally used by, people who struggle with anxiety or panic disorders. If you’re generally an anxious person, the relief that Xanax provides can make it an appealing option for escaping the difficult feelings you experience as part of your anxiety.
The more you take Xanax, the more your body becomes dependent on it as your tolerance builds. And once your brain is dependent on Xanax for normal functioning, you’ve likely become addicted.
Is Xanax Psychoactive?
If something is psychoactive it means it causes changes in the brain that affect thoughts, feelings, behaviour, awareness, and mood. In extreme cases, this can lead to seeing and hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations) or feeling depressed to the point of suicide.
Xanax is a psychoactive drug. It binds to the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and blocks the brain from sending certain signals to the central nervous system. This is why you feel so calm.
However, once the Xanax starts to leave your body and the mellow feeling dissipates, you reach for the Xanax once again. It can stay in your system for more than 11 hours so taking more before your body has undergone a Xanax detox can result in an overdose.
As it is easy to build up a tolerance to Xanax, you need more and more to achieve the same feeling again
Signs & Symptoms of Xanax Addiction
Symptoms of Xanax abuse can be physical and psychological and range from mild to serious. As these are multiple and vague it can be difficult to identify if you or a loved one has developed a Xanax addiction. This is especially so if you’ve been taking it in good faith, having had it prescribed.
Early signs that someone is abusing Xanax or taking far more than their prescribed dose include extreme tiredness, slurring their words, and lacking energy and interest in things that had previously brought them pleasure.
It can be difficult to raise your concerns with people who are taking it as prescribed. Maybe speak to another friend and ask if you can consult your loved one together to suggest they visit their GP or access other professional help.
Because denial is an inherent part of addiction, it can be hard to accurately assess your own behaviours while you’re in the midst of it. If you’re growing concerned that your level of use may be a problem, ask yourself the following:
- Do you have a hard time controlling how much Xanax you take each day?
- Have you tried to quit taking Xanax and been unable to?
- Do you feel anxious, depressed, get headaches, or have trouble sleeping when you stop taking it?
- Have you missed work or cancelled plans with friends when Xanax was involved?
- Do you engage in risky behaviours like driving while under the influence of Xanax?
- Do you mix Xanax with alcohol or other substances to increase its effects?
Addiction takes place when we can’t stop using despite the negative consequences in our lives. If you exhibit any of the above signs, it may be time to reach out for help.
Physical Symptoms of Xanax Abuse
- Slurred speech
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Prolonged sleep
- Feeling weak
Psychological Symptoms of Xanax Abuse
- Feeling lightheaded
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory loss
- Poor coordination
- Loss of interest in life
The impact of Xanax addiction on behaviour, mood, and brainpower can have dangerous side effects, such as impairing your ability to drive a car or operate machinery.
Xanax is particularly dangerous if mixed with alcohol. As they are both sedatives, the symptoms of both substances are exacerbated and this leads to excessive sleepiness, extreme memory loss, and aggression.
Signs of Xanax Addiction in a Loved One
Xanax addictions are – compared to other drugs with more noticeable effects – often easy to hide. If you’re close to your loved one, however, you’ll likely notice changes in their behaviour. Some signs of Xanax abuse to watch out for include:
- Running out of their prescription sooner than they should
- Lying or being more secretive than usual
- Doctor shopping: visiting new doctors to obtain additional prescriptions
- Engaging in risky behaviours they normally wouldn’t do
- In partners, lowered sex drive
Xanax abuse is most obvious when people use excessive amounts or start to experience withdrawals from going without it for too long (see Symptoms and Side Effects of Xanax Abuse below). You should also be aware that Xanax addiction looks very similar to other addictions. If you suspect a loved one may be abusing Xanax, you can also contact our admissions team for advice on what you can do.
Dependence vs Tolerance
Dependence and tolerance are not the same. Typically, tolerance leads to dependence, and dependence leads to addiction.
You can quickly and easily grow a tolerance to Xanax. Over time, your body requires increasingly higher doses to feel the same effects.
Once your tolerance grows and you begin to take more Xanax, you build a dependence on the drug. Eventually, you may find it difficult to function normally without it. And as its effects diminish, it may no longer give you the same pleasurable relief from anxiety or other difficult feelings.
Once you’re dependent on Xanax, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut down or stop using. Once addiction takes hold, it can be very hard to quit even when you want to, and even when you experience the negative consequences of Xanax misuse in your life.
Long-Term Abuse of Xanax
Xanax is prescribed for short-term use and isn’t intended to be taken for more than a few weeks. If you continue to use it you’ll feel constantly feel ‘out of it’ as you lack alertness, have brain fog, are listless, and have no energy.
You may struggle to hold down a job as you can no longer tackle complex office-based projects or your motor skills are sluggish so you are no longer on top of your manual work.
Symptoms and Side Effects
Xanax works by calming down the parts of your brain that handle feelings of anxiety and fear. Over time, your brain becomes accustomed to Xanax and relies on it to regulate the feel-good chemicals that make you feel at ease.
This is how it changes your brain function over time. If you’ve taken Xanax for an extended period of time, or at higher doses than prescribed, you may be starting to notice its effects on how you think, feel, and act. Some side effects of Xanax use include:
- mood swings
- violent or aggressive episodes uncharacteristic of your personality
- taking risks you normally wouldn’t
- withdrawing from social activities
- poor coordination
- slurred speech
- difficult concentrating
- decreased appetite or bingeing episodes
Withdrawals and Detox
Xanax withdrawal symptoms are often more severe than those of other benzos. Detoxing from Xanax on your own is not only uncomfortable but can also be dangerous. When withdrawing from Xanax, you may experience:
- heart palpitations or increased heart rate
- difficulty sleeping, nightmares
- aches and pains, numbness, and or tingling sensations in the body
- excessive sweating
- nausea or vomiting. aggressiveness
- mood swings/increased anxiety or panic
- suicidal ideation
Due to the severity of Xanax withdrawal symptoms, we recommend a medically assisted detox programme. Here at Castle Craig, we operate our own medical detox centre to help you through the detox process as safely and comfortably as possible. Nurses are close by and can be reached at the press of a button if you need medical attention.
Our detox programme isn’t an isolated experience, but rather a part of your overall care plan. You’ll begin to take part in individual therapy sessions and connect with others healing their addiction while still in detox. This is when the journey toward lasting recovery truly begins.
When detoxing from Xanax, the dosage is typically tapered down and discontinued over time. This eases the discomfort you may experience during withdrawal. Sometimes, you may also be prescribed other medications to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
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Xanax Addiction Treatment & Rehab
While detox (for those who require it) is a necessary first step in the recovery process, comprehensive therapy is needed to sustainably recover from addiction. At Castle Craig, Xanax detox is followed by intensive therapeutic care to address the root causes of addiction and establish healthy, long-lasting lifestyle changes.
Xanax addiction treatment can take place in either an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on what’s most appropriate for your needs. A qualified clinician can help you determine which treatment option is best for you during your initial assessment.
Xanax addiction often begins when someone takes the drug to ease uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and panic. As such, our residential treatment programme is designed to help you address the underlying issues that may have caused or exacerbated your addiction.
While in residential rehab, you’ll follow a structured daily routine of individual therapy, group therapy, 12-Step support group meetings, and experiential and complementary therapies designed to treat the symptoms of Xanax addiction and its underlying causes.
At Castle Craig, we combine cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) with other evidence-based treatment methods to help you identify what changes you need to make in your life to stay sober and feel well. We also assist you in planning how you’ll implement those changes in your life after treatment.
Inpatient rehab can be highly beneficial for those struggling with prescription medication addiction. By removing yourself from your regular environment where Xanax has become part of your daily routine, you give yourself a chance to establish new, healthier routines without relying on Xanax to get through the day.
At Castle Craig, you’ll be surrounded by a community of recovery peers in a safe and beautiful environment. Located in the Scottish Borders on an expansive, private estate, Castle Craig offers a reprieve from the daily stresses of life and a chance to focus entirely on getting well.
Another option, for those whose situation allows, is outpatient treatment.
Outpatient care differs from inpatient care in that you continue living at home for the duration of care and attend an intensive schedule of group and individual therapy. This is often a good option for people who don’t have the opportunity to step away from their responsibilities for an extended amount of time.
Outpatient care is best for those who have access to a safe and supportive living environment and who are able to function on a day-to-day basis while in the early stages of recovery.
Whether you choose to take part in inpatient, outpatient, or online treatment for Xanax addiction, aftercare is a vital part of successful recovery. Addiction recovery is a lifelong process, which is why we offer a comprehensive two-year aftercare plan for each of our programme graduates.
As part of our continuing care programme, you’ll have access to several telehealth options that are designed to help you manage the triggers you’re sure to face once you return to normal life.
If you think you may be struggling with Xanax addiction, get in touch today. Our dedicated admissions staff is here to help you take the first step on the road to healing with confidentiality and care.
What to Expect When You Withdraw from Xanax?
When you stop taking Xanax and it begins to leave your body it is known as Xanax detox. During this time you may experience withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of detox can be particularly unpleasant and more severe than with other benzodiazepines.
They can include sweating and shaking, panic attacks, insomnia, and multiple changes in mood and behaviour, from depression to lack of concentration to hallucination. In severe cases, you may experience seizures and psychosis.
In most cases, withdrawal symptoms only last for up to four days, although many people will suffer symptoms for up to two weeks and others will continue to do so until addiction treatment is sought. During this period the cravings for more Xanax will be so intense it is extremely difficult to deal with alone and you are advised to seek professional treatment.
Castle Craig offers medically managed detox where patients are supervised by a team of doctors and nurses 24/7. Patients receive a personalised treatment plan and can be prescribed medication that can help them during the difficult period of detox. Castle Craig’s medical detox ensures patients are comfortable and can start making progress in therapy as soon as possible – detox is only the first stage.
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Making that first step in seeking help can be very difficult, our team is here to help you.
Xanax Addiction FAQ
Is Xanax Once a Day Addictive?
Yes if you continue to take it for more than a few weeks.
I’m Not Sure I Can Cope Without Xanax. Is There an Alternative?
Speak to your GP about non-medical treatments or medical substitutes for Xanax.
How Can I Become Addicted to a Prescribed Medicine?
All medicines have an effect on the brain and any long-term use can result in addiction.
I’m So Embarrassed. Will Everyone Know I Have a Xanax Addiction?
No. Addiction treatment is private and discreet.
I’m Scared to Stop Taking Xanax in Case My Anxiety Returns
Talk to your GP about other available treatments such as counselling.
My Xanax Use is Recreational. Should I Worry About Addiction?
Yes. You may find yourself needing more and more to recreate the high. This is addiction.