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Signs & Symptoms of Xanax Abuse

Signs of Xanax abuse include using it in ways not prescribed, like snorting, and combining it with alcohol or other drugs. Addiction may manifest as personality changes, risky behaviors, and physical symptoms like slurred speech and insomnia.

Struggling with Xanax Addiction? Get Help Now

Signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse include any use of the drug outside of prescribed instructions (such as crushing and snorting the drug), combining Xanax with other substances like alcohol, and increasing use.

While Xanax (alprazolam) is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, just as with any benzodiazepine, it comes with the risk of developing tolerance and dependence, especially when used outside of prescribed guidelines.

What Is Xanax?

When following prescription guidelines, Xanax (alprazolam) can help curb episodes of fear, panic, and/or anxiety. 

Xanax comes in two forms: extended-release and regular form. Both forms of Xanax can work quickly and influence the central nervous system (CNS). Xanax calms the brain as well as nerves by increasing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels in the brain. 

Classified as a central nervous system depressant, Xanax has the ability to slow down vital functions, such as the respiratory system as well as heart rate. Taking this drug outside of prescription guidelines and/or mixing Xanax with other drugs (especially alcohol and other prescription medication) can result in oversedation, overdose, coma, and even death.

Due to Xanax being popularly portrayed in entertainment, it is being used and abused by younger individuals. It has become a serious problem in the United States as well as around the globe.

Defining Xanax Abuse

When do a person’s signs of Xanax abuse become so severe that they meet the criteria for addiction? Doctors use screening tools to make educated decisions about their patients and how best to help them.

The DSM-5 criteria for classifying substance use disorders are as follows:

  • Consuming Xanax in larger amounts and for longer periods than intended
  • Wanting to quit or cut back on Xanax use, but being unable to do so
  • Spending a lot of time buying, using, or recovering from Xanax
  • Experiencing Xanax cravings
  • Xanax use impairing your ability to meet your obligations at home, work, or school
  • Continued use of Xanax despite the problems it causes
  • Less time spent in recreational, social, or occupational activities due to Xanax
  • Using Xanax in unsafe environments
  • Continued use despite knowing that Xanax makes physical or psychological problems worse
  • Needing more Xanax to get the same effect
  • Experiencing Xanax withdrawal when you try to quit

Xanax addictions are classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on how many of these 11 symptoms people experience. Mild cases may have only two or three symptoms, while severe cases have six or more.

Common Signs of Xanax Abuse 

Since Xanax is categorized as a tranquilizer or anxiolytic, sedative effects will start to occur shortly after use. Individuals who abuse Xanax will often exhibit symptoms with varying severity, depending on the magnitude of the misuse.

Warning signs of Xanax abuse can include the following:

  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work, or home
  • Drop in performance at work or school
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Changes in friends
  • Unexplained changes in attitude or personality
  • Fearfulness or anxiety for no reason

Since benzodiazepines are associated with relaxation and sedation, people who abuse them may doze off suddenly and exhibit other irregular sleeping patterns.

Those who abuse prescription drugs often forge or steal medication to maintain their use. This may involve visiting multiple doctors in attempts to get multiple prescriptions for the drug. People may maintain large amounts of pills to ensure they can get high when they want to.

With continued use, tolerance to the drug will build, necessitating increasingly higher doses of Xanax. The user may also use it in alternative ways, such as chewing the tablets or crushing and snorting them. They may also begin to combine Xanax with alcohol and other drugs, especially opioids.

Physical, Mental & Emotional Effects of Xanax Abuse

Xanax abuse can eventually affect virtually every area of a person’s life, including physical, mental, and emotional effects.

Researchers examined the long-term risks associated with benzodiazepines by conducting a survey. They asked 1,207 people who were either using benzos now, tapering their doses, or had used them in the past to answer questions about their health. More than half of respondents experienced symptoms like nervousness, distractedness, memory loss, and anxiety. Those problems lasted for a year or longer.

In a study of more than 2,000 older adults, researchers found that chronic benzodiazepine use led to a small but significant change in intelligence. The shifts were most dramatic in people who took high doses.

Physical effects include slurred speech, poor motor skills, damage to internal organs, respiratory issues, and balance problems. Regular abuse can affect sleep patterns and muscle tone.

Xanax abuse can also result in mental and emotional side effects, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, hallucinations, suicidal ideation, mood swings, and even psychosis.

An analysis published in the journal Australian Prescriber suggests that people who abuse benzodiazepines benefit from a slow taper to help them quit. Medications should be accompanied by therapy, so people can build relapse prevention skills and stay sober. These programs can take months to complete, but they can help people to build a better life.

How to Recognize Xanax Addiction

Similar to other kinds of addiction, Xanax addiction eventually results in changes in various areas of a person’s life, including relationship problems, issues at work or school, physical health complications, and mood swings.

Someone who is addicted to benzodiazepines will often exhibit slurred speech and irregular sleep patterns. They may frequently appear out of it and have trouble carrying a conversation. Addiction can also manifest in increased risk-taking behaviors, such as forging prescriptions for Xanax and stealing prescription drugs from friends or family members. Ultimately, the desire to always have Xanax on hand begins to trump logic.

People who are addicted to benzodiazepines may also act strangely when they are not using the drugs. When they are not on Xanax, they may appear fidgety, excessively sweaty, or irritable. If you notice major personality changes, it can be a sign of addiction.

Withdrawal Symptoms 

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can vary, though the severity of symptoms is linked to the level of substance abuse. Those who used the drug for longer and in higher dosage amounts are at higher risk of more intense withdrawal symptoms due to heightened physical dependence.

Xanax withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable mood
  • Mood swings
  • Body pain
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

In some cases, Xanax withdrawal symptoms can become so severe that medical intervention is required. As a result, medical professionals generally do not recommend quitting Xanax cold turkey if you’ve been using the drug for a while. Instead, tapering off the drug over a period of around eight weeks is recommended for safely discontinuing use.

Xanax Overdose

Symptoms of Xanax overdose include the following: 

  • Intense relaxation
  • Slurred speech 
  • Poor mobility
  • Reduced motor skills
  • Drowsiness 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coma

Chances of overdosing on Xanax increase exponentially when the drug is used outside of prescription guidelines and in conjunction with alcohol and/or other prescription medications, such as opioids. It’s rare for benzodiazepine overdose to be fatal on its own, but it is not uncommon when benzos are combined with other depressants like opioids.

Crushing and snorting Xanax also increases the chances of an overdose.

Help Is Needed

If you or someone you know has been abusing Xanax, it’s important to get treatment right away in order to avoid serious health issues as well as potential overdoses.

Addiction is a disease, and it’s not enough to simply want to stop misusing benzodiazepines like Xanax. Professional help is generally needed to effectively reach and maintain recovery from substance abuse. 

Since benzodiazepine withdrawal can be potentially life-threatening in some situations, medical detox is always required. Consult a doctor or addiction treatment specialist before you attempt to suddenly stop taking Xanax. Instead, they will likely recommend a gradual taper over a period of weeks to months.

In therapy, you’ll identify triggers that led you to abuse Xanax, and you’ll develop strategies to avoid or manage those triggers so you don’t return to substance abuse. You’ll gain support from peers in treatment as well as support groups. In treatment, professionals will help you to build a life that supports your recovery, so you can leave Xanax abuse in your past.

What to Do When You See Signs of Xanax Abuse

If someone you love is abusing Xanax, a conversation could help the person to enter treatment. However, these talks can be very delicate. Planning is important, as it will help you to find the right words to say at the right time.

These are good steps to help you get started:

  1. Pick your time and place. Determine when the person is most likely to be sober, and find a place that’s quiet and private.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Explain the signs of Xanax abuse that you’ve seen. Be honest and straightforward.
  3. Offer support. Tell the person how much you care about them. Identify how you’ll go to meetings with them, find the right treatment program, and talk to them when they need help.
  4. Listen to them. Give the person time and space to explain how they’re feeling.
  5. Discuss next steps. Identify treatment options in your area, and attempt to get the person to explore them with you.
Updated April 28, 2024
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