Xanax is a brand name of alprazolam, a central nervous system depressant.
CNS depressants are used as sedatives or tranquilizers, which slow brain activity, and they are often used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Alprazolam is a type of CNS depressant in the benzodiazepine class. These drugs are generally prescribed for short-term use only because of their addiction and abuse potential.
Signs of Xanax Abuse and Addiction
People who are addicted to prescription drugs like Xanax often first start taking the drug after it is prescribed for a legitimate condition, such as anxiety or insomnia. It can be tempting to try and manage these conditions by overusing Xanax, or taking it other than how it was prescribed.
Individuals may take higher doses or use it more frequently than recommended, particularly after they build a tolerance to the medication (the same dosage level is no longer as effective as the body becomes accustomed to its presence). Once an individual begins straying from prescription guidelines, it is considered abuse, and addiction can quickly form. Other people suffering from addiction may have originally attempted to self-medicate their anxiety by getting Xanax illicitly from a friend or acquaintance.
In addition, mixing Xanax with other substances, either in an attempt to enhance or counteract the effects of either substance, is considered abuse. Combining substances amplifies the risks and effects associated with each substance, thereby increasing the likelihood of health complications, including overdose.
Prescription drug abuse eventually affects every area of an individual’s life, reaching far beyond simply one’s health. Over time, addiction becomes the sole focus of life, resulting in career, familial, financial, legal, criminal, and social issues. All other aspects of life may fall by the wayside as substance abuse becomes the person’s number one priority.
Mayo Clinic lists the following warning signs of addiction:
- Stealing or forging prescriptions
- Taking higher doses of medication than prescribed
- Sudden mood swings or unexplained hostility
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Poor decision-making skills
- Appearing unusually energetic or sedated
- Claiming to have misplaced prescriptions, so new ones must be written
- Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
- Isolating oneself to use drugs
- Lying about substance use
- Declining performance at work or school
- Strained relationships
- Poor hygiene
- Weight loss or gain
Effects of Xanax
Xanax affects the brain by acting on a neurotransmitter called gamma–aminobutyric acid (GABA). By increasing levels of GABA within the brain, Xanax can slow brain activity. This produces a drowsy, calming effect that makes it useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders; however, this sedative effect is also sought out by those who seek to abuse the drug.
The National Library of Medicine lists the following side effects of alprazolam:
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in sex drive
- Changes in appetite
- Weight changes
- Difficulty urinating
- Joint pain
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Xanax becomes addictive in similar ways that other addictive substances do. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), when Xanax increases levels of GABA within the brain, it causes a surge in dopamine, a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Repeatedly experiencing this surge in dopamine causes structural and chemical changes within the brain, which can lead to addiction.
Xanax addiction is often accompanied by physical dependence on the drug. Dependence occurs when the body adapts to the frequent presence of the drug and needs the drug in order to function. When decreasing or stopping use of Xanax, a withdrawal syndrome will occur. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry retching
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain and stiffness
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Xanax typically lasts 10-14 days.
Medical detox is always required for withdrawal from Xanax and all benzodiazepines. Because withdrawal can be potentially life-threatening, NIDA advises that detox should not be attempted without medical supervision. Dosages of Xanax have to be gradually tapered to avoid more serious withdrawal symptoms.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, almost all individuals addicted to benzodiazepines like Xanax are also addicted to another drug, usually opiates. It important that treatment for addiction addresses all drugs being abused, as well as any co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
Treatment for prescription medication primarily involves behavioral therapy. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat Xanax addiction.
Various methods of therapy have been shown to be effective in treating addiction. These therapies can be used in an inpatient or residential setting, or on an outpatient basis. Both individual therapy and group therapy, as well as support group, have been found to be beneficial to the recovery process. All therapy methods are intended to provide skills and coping mechanisms that will help the individual resist relapse and engage in healthier life choices.
Common behavioral therapies used in the treatment of prescription drug addiction include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common therapy modality that has been shown to be effective in treating many mental health disorders, including addiction. This type of therapy helps the individual recognize how thoughts and behaviors contribute to addiction, and replace the problematic patterns with new ways of thinking and behaving. Coping skills are developed that will help prevent relapse in the future.
Contingency Management offer rewards when certain milestones are met. Vouchers or other tangible rewards are given when the individual remains sober for a certain length of time or participates in the treatment process. This helps the individual stay motivated to remain in treatment until a firm foundation in recovery is established.
Many other treatment methods may be used in the recovery process, including Motivational Enhancement Therapy, adventure therapy, arts therapies, and family therapy.
The most effective method of treatment depends on individual preferences and needs. As a result, treatment plans should be individualized to each person in need of treatment and adjusted as needed as the individual progresses in recovery.