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Xanax Addiction & Abuse

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Xanax, which is the brand name for alprazolam, is likely the most popular benzodiazepine drug available on the market and on the streets. This is both due to its effective sedative properties and its omnipresence in popular culture.

As with any benzodiazepine, Xanax is considered highly addictive if it is misused. Dependence on benzodiazepines can form very quickly. The drug carries serious risk of misuse, abuse, and addiction.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine and considered a Schedule IV controlled substance. Schedule IV controlled substances are characterized as having a low potential for abuse when compared to Schedule III drugs, such as Tylenol with codeine. Schedule IV drugs have accepted use in the medical field in the U.S. 

With Xanax and other benzodiazepines, abuse of these drugs and/or using these drugs outside of prescription guidelines can result in both physical and psychological dependence. Because of this dependence risk, Xanax is generally only prescribed for short-term use.

Xanax is most often used in medical settings to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. The drug works by enhancing certain brain activities, influencing neurotransmitters in the brain. The brain and body both slowly become dependent on the drug’s effects. 

Quitting Xanax suddenly after developing any sort of tolerance can often result in undesirable withdrawal symptoms. In fact, you should never stop taking any benzodiazepine abruptly after a period of sustained use. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some instances.

Quick Facts Regarding Xanax Abuse 

Here are some quick facts on Xanax abuse:

  • According to the Journal of Addictive Medicine, Xanax is among the most highly prescribed medications on the market today. Most often, Xanax is prescribed for use on an as-needed basis for anxiety and panic disorders. Since it is fast-acting, its effects can be felt quickly.
  • Young adults are the most likely to use Xanax for nonmedical purposes. People ages 18 to 25 had an abuse rate of around 5.2 percent in 2015 and 2016.
  • Alprazolam and other benzodiazepines are frequently combined with other drugs when they are misused. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 16 percent of fatal overdoses that involved opioids also involved benzodiazepines in 2020. While benzodiazepines rarely lead to fatal overdose when taken alone, they are much more likely to have a fatal result when they are combined with other substances of abuse like opioids or alcohol.

    Each year, more than half of the annual emergency room visits related to benzodiazepines also involved other substances such as alcohol, marijuana, or other benzodiazepines, and/or opioids.
  • One study involving interviews that were conducted with men and women ages 18 to 29 revealed a correlation between regular attendance at EDM (electronic dance music) venues and the recent use of both club drugs and/or benzodiazepines.

    Among participants in this study, 12.6 percent were dependent on benzodiazepines, 21.1 percent abused these types of drugs, and 24.2 percent reported abuse and/or dependence on the drugs.

Xanax & Cultural Influence 

Many entertainers, especially recording artists, mention Xanax in their lyrics and other creative projects. Some musical artists, particularly hip hop and rap artists, tend to glorify the use of Xanax and opioids.

Xanax bars are often referenced in songs. The presence of Xanax references in popular media has likely contributed to its rise in popularity. 

Why Is Xanax So Addictive?

Xanax is considered physically and psychologically addictive. Due to the fact that benzodiazepines alter neurochemistry and affect the pleasure/reward system in the brain, these drugs come with a considerable risk of abuse and addiction.

Individuals using Xanax can become addicted after a relatively short period of time. This is a large part of the reason that benzodiazepines are only prescribed for short-term use.

Signs of Xanax Addiction

Individuals who may be addicted to Xanax often exhibit certain signs, including these:

  • Failure to meet work and social obligations
  • Engaging in drug-seeking behaviors
  • Crushing and snorting pills or taking them in other manners that aren’t as intended
  • Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors in an effort to get many prescriptions for Xanax)
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Mood swings
  • Financial troubles
  • Relationship issues

Common Street Names for Xanax

Xanax is most commonly distributed in tablet form. Distributors and those looking to acquire the drug on the streets illicitly often use street names and slang terms for Xanax, which include the following:

  • Xanny bars
  • Bars
  • Ladders
  • Benzos
  • Bennies
  • X-bars
  • Xan

Street names and slang terms are often used to discreetly talk about drug misuse.

The Dangers of Using Benzodiazepines Illegally 

Acquiring Xanax illicitly is never a good idea, as it’s important to have professional medical supervision when taking any benzodiazepine. 

Buying Xanax on the street also puts individuals at risk of acquiring a fake or laced product as well. For example, pills that are sold as Xanax may be cut with other drugs, such as fentanyl, which can result in overdose and even death, particularly if users aren’t aware of its presence.

Xanax Dangers Explained 

There are some of the dangers associated with Xanax misuse:

Short-Term Dangers

Short-term dangers associated with Xanax misuse include decreased mental alertness, irregular sleep patterns, mood swings, muscle weakness, slurred speech, physical dependence, and psychological dependence.

Long-Term Dangers

Dangers associated with long-term benzodiazepine misuse include addiction and overdose, particularly when Xanax is combined with other substances like alcohol. Long-term Xanax use can also result in problems with the liver, and it has been linked to dementia.

Signs of Xanax Use

When an individual is under the influence of Xanax, they will often appear extremely relaxed, even drowsy. They will likely have poor motor skills and coordination, and they may exhibit slurred speech.

Other short-term effects of Xanax use include dry mouth, difficulties with memory retrieval, poor concentration, mood swings, and other symptoms of lethargy.

These symptoms are more likely if someone takes higher doses of the drug or mixes it with other substances.

How Does Xanax Affect the Brain?

Xanax influences the reward system in the brain. Xanax and other benzodiazepines boost neurotransmitter activity, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA has inhibitory properties that depress the central nervous system (CNS), resulting in relaxation, sedation, and extreme drowsiness.

This effect on the brain increases the addiction profile of Xanax. It is also what triggers withdrawal symptoms when Xanax use stops suddenly after dependence has formed.

How Is Xanax Abuse Treated?

Xanax addiction is best treated with a comprehensive addiction treatment program that includes medical detox and therapy. 

A tapered withdrawal approach is recommended for benzodiazepines, as a cold-turkey detox can be dangerous. Instead, individuals will generally taper off the drug, taking smaller and smaller doses over a ten-week period until reaching zero doses. This should all be done under medical supervision to ensure safety throughout the process. 

While detox is crucial to recovery, therapy is the cornerstone of addiction treatment. Clients work with therapists in individual and group therapy sessions to address underlying reasons that led to substance misuse. They also begin to build coping mechanisms, so they are better equipped to deal with triggers when they arise.

After completing a rehabilitation program, aftercare is recommended as a relapse prevention tool. This may include support group participation. Groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and other peer support groups can be helpful for continued support and guidance when it comes to living a sober life.

Get Help Today

Xanax addiction is a serious issue that requires professional guidance and medical attention. If you attempt to quit benzodiazepine abuse on your own, withdrawal can be dangerous and relapse is likely. But if you have professional supervision and support, you are much more likely to successfully make it through withdrawal and continue into ongoing recovery.

With the right tools, you can effectively leave Xanax abuse in your past and begin to build a healthier future.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
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 September 12, 2023
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  8. 25 Rap Songs That Reference Xanax | Playlist. The Musical Hype.
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  10. The Epidemiology of Benzodiazepine Misuse: A Systematic Review. (May 2019). Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
  11. Benzodiazepines: It's Time to Return to the Evidence. (October 2020). The British Journal of Psychiatry.
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