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Xanax Misuse: Side Effects, Symptoms & More

Xanax can be a critical part of a treatment program for people with insomnia or anxiety. But typically, people take the medication for a few weeks (or less) before moving on. Misusing the drug for long periods comes with real risks and side effects, including the potential for seizures and even death.

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In 2019, doctors wrote more than 17 million prescriptions for alprazolam (brand name: Xanax).

Below, we cover what Xanax is, how it works, and why you should remain aware of its dangers. 

What Is Xanax?

Electrical activity deep within your brain translates into emotions like fear, anxiety, and mania. Benzodiazepines like Xanax slow electrical surges, making worrisome moods less powerful. 

Almost 13 percent of adults in the United States use benzodiazepines like Xanax. Of those users, just 2 percent qualify for a benzodiazepine use disorder. Statistics like this suggest that most people either:

  • Use these drugs as directed. They get a prescription from a doctor that they follow exactly. When it’s time to stop taking the medication, they do so.
  • Use these drugs occasionally. They use benzos without a prescription on occasion, but they don’t use them all the time. 

Experts say Xanax addiction risks are low among people with prescriptions, but people who use the drug recreationally could face unintended consequences. Most people who misuse the drug have a history of some form of substance misuse or a substance use disorder (SUD). Without help, they could become addicted to Xanax bars

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Xanax Side Effects

Most prescription medications, including Xanax, can cause unintended physical and psychological issues. If you have a prescription for the drug, your doctor and pharmacist can explain these risks to you and help you avoid serious problems. If you’re using the drug recreationally, you may have no idea of the dangers you face.

Common Side Effects

Most people who take Xanax experience drowsiness accompanied by a slight headache. As your brain and body grow accustomed to the drug, these problems typically fade away. After even just a few days of continued use, you may not notice any side effects when you take Xanax.

Rare Side Effects

Some people have unexpected reactions to Xanax, and they feel very ill with each dose. Rare side effects include the following:

  • Changes in sex drive 
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty urinating 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Talkativeness
  • Weight gain 

Serious Side Effects

Some people have life-threatening reactions to Xanax. These issues can happen while taking alprazolam alone, but they’re more common in people who combine drugs. 

Serious side effects include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination 
  • Seizures
  • Skin rashes 
  • Speech problems 
  • Yellow skin or eyes

People who take Xanax with opioids like Vicodin can lose their lives. Researchers say people with prescriptions for both drugs have a 10 times higher overdose death rate than those getting opioids alone. 

Long-Term Side Effects

Brain cells adjust to Xanax with each dose you take. In time, your body grows accustomed to the drug and cannot function properly without it. Try to quit, and you’ll develop difficult withdrawal symptoms such as these:

  • Anxiety
  • Blood pressure shifts
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Seizures 
  • Tremors

Some long-term Xanax users develop a form of mental fogginess. They struggle to concentrate, learn new things, and remember details. 

Researchers say some people don’t recover their cognitive function for six months or longer. Some people never get better. 

Signs of Xanax Misuse

To qualify for a diagnosis, people must have at least two of the following symptoms within 12 months. 

People with a substance use disorder related to Xanax have clear symptoms doctors search for via questionnaire. To qualify for a diagnosis, people must have at least two of the following symptoms within 12 months. 

A person with a misuse issue may not be clinically addicted to the drug. Even so, looking for these signs can help a Xanax issue to become clear. 

Physical Signs

Someone with a Xanax problem will generally meet the following criteria:

  • Need bigger Xanax doses due to tolerance for the drug 
  • Try to cut back on use but will feel ill or unable to do so
  • Feel cravings for Xanax 
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit

Psychological Signs

Someone with a Xanax problem will do the following:

  • Spend a lot of time trying to get or use Xanax 
  • Continue use even when it causes problems 
  • Stop spending time doing social or recreational activities they previously enjoyed because of Xanax
  • Keep using, even in hazardous situations

Xanax Overdose: Is It Possible?

People with an ongoing Xanax habit must take more pills to feel the effects that once came with one pill. Their bodies are tolerant to the impact, so they must take more to get high. 

Over time, they can take so much that they slow down the body’s critical functions. Breathing and heart rates can even slow until people pass away. 

Some of the earliest reports of Xanax overdose came in the 1990s. At the time, experts were shocked that people could overdose on benzodiazepines. It didn’t seem possible. 

Since then, more deaths have occurred due to benzodiazepine overdose. Experts now agree that Xanax can be toxic in large doses. 

Researchers say Xanax is a particularly dangerous benzodiazepine that is much more toxic than other drugs in its class. Take too much, or take it in concert with an opioid, and it can cause death. 

Xanax Withdrawal Dangers Explained

As your body and brain grow accustomed to Xanax, you must keep up the continual supply. Taper your dose too quickly or stop drug use altogether, and you could experience very real health problems. 

People in the midst of Xanax withdrawal can experience the following:

  • Catatonia: Even quitting a dose as small as 4 mg per day can lead to a reduced mental state. Your family may think you’re not awake and aware, but the drugs are to blame. 
  • Nervousness: Quitting a Xanax habit can push your brain into overdrive, and you could exhibit hypervigilance. This can manifest as anxiety and general uneasiness.
  • Seizures. Some people develop mild tremors in their hands and feet as their once-sedated brains begin to wake up. Other people may develop full-body seizures. 
  • Long hospital stays: Doctors often need to administer drugs to reverse these problems. It’s not uncommon for people to spend weeks in the hospital as they recover. 

Whether you’re taking Xanax prescribed by a doctor or you’re using illicit drugs, quitting abruptly isn’t smart. You must work with a doctor on a slow taper that allows your brain to heal. If you stop benzodiazepines suddenly, you could risk your health and even your life.

Xanax Misuse Prevention & Treatment

The best way to avoid Xanax hazards is to avoid recreational use. Don’t borrow or buy pills, and don’t look for opportunities to steal them. The drug is too dangerous to toy with.

If you already have a misuse habit, you must enter a Xanax or benzo treatment program. Here, doctors can help you develop a safe tapering schedule from the drug. 

As your body chemistry resolves, therapy can help you build healthy life habits. Treatment programs like this work. With some commitment, you can safely leave Xanax misuse in your past and embrace a new life in recovery.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated May 8, 2023
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