Xanax is a popular anti-anxiety medication, which was created and developed by Upjohn, and is now owned, manufactured, and sold by Pfizer. Xanax has been a big seller for the drug company over the years, overtaking the popular Valium for anxiety disorders. More than 50 million prescriptions are written for Xanax every year and it is consistently one of the most often prescribed drugs across the board.
Pfizer’s best-selling drug is effective at treating the symptoms of anxiety for most people. Many have found relief because of this medication, but there is a downside to it as well. Classified as a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Schedule IV controlled substance, Xanax has a potential for abuse. People using Xanax can become tolerant, may take more than is prescribed, and ultimately may become dependent on it. Addiction is a serious disease and it is a potential risk for anyone taking Xanax.
What is Xanax?
Xanax was synthesized by researchers at Upjohn in 1969, but the drug didn’t come onto the market until 1981 after receiving U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. The patent on Xanax expired in 1993 and now several versions of it are available under various brand names and the generic name alprazolam. In spite of the numerous products on the market, Xanax is still a popular choice and a big seller for Pfizer.
Xanax became a big hit almost immediately after being approved and released. It had some advantages over Valium, the previously most popular anti-anxiety medication, in that it could treat more conditions. Now, Xanax has the distinction of being the most prescribed benzodiazepine (the drug class to which it belongs) and also the most abused.
Uses for Xanax
Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that is most often used to treat anxiety. When it first came on the market it sold well because, unlike Valium, it was approved to treat panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder characterized by panic attacks. It was not only approved for this treatment, but had been shown to be effective in reducing the symptoms and the number of panic attacks.
In addition to being used to treat anxiety disorders, including those that co-occur with depression, and panic disorder, alprazolam is also sometimes prescribed to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy drugs. Some doctors may prescribe Xanax for depression, but the evidence that it is actually effective in treating depression alone, without anxiety, is limited.
How it Works
As a benzodiazepine, Xanax has the effect of reducing anxiety, of producing a calming effect. It also has properties of a sedative, a hypnotic, an anticonvulsant, and a muscle relaxant. It is a fast acting benzodiazepine, with the complete effects seen within just one hour of taking it for most people, or at the most within one and a half hours.
Alprazolam creates the sedative, anti-anxiety, relaxing, and other effects by acting on the receptors in the brain for a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA is a chemical messenger in the brain that balances the signals between nerve cells. It has a calming and relaxing effect on the brain and body. When alprazolam acts on GABA receptors it leads to an increase in this chemical and the calming effects of the medication are quickly seen.
Most people tolerate Xanax well and experience only mild side effects. These may include drowsiness and light-headedness, a headache, talkativeness, trouble concentrating, nausea, irritability, dry mouth, constipation, changes in appetite and weight, sexual dysfunction, trouble urinating, and joint pain.
More serious possible side effects, which should be reported immediately, include seizures, depression, yellowing of the skin or eyes, confusion, speech difficulties, poor coordination and balance, suicidal thoughts, mood swings, hallucinations, or a severe skin rash.
The drowsiness and potential loss of coordination mean that patients taking Xanax should be very careful about driving or operating other machinery. These types of side effects are also similar to those that occur with alcohol use. It is dangerous to mix Xanax with alcohol, as the side effects can be worse. It is especially dangerous to mix these two and then operate a vehicle.
The informational label for Xanax recommends that patients tell their doctor about any history of alcohol or drug abuse before taking the medication. This is because Xanax is susceptible to abuse. The odds of abusing it are greater for someone who has abused other substances in the past or struggled with addiction. As a Schedule IV controlled substance, the potential for abuse of alprazolam is lower than other prescription drugs in Schedules II and III, but still may cause patients to take it in a way that is inappropriate and could lead to dependence.
Some people taking Xanax may start to abuse it intentionally, seeking a high or a greater sense of relaxation and calmness, or because they have developed a tolerance to it and need more to get the same pleasant feeling. Others may abuse it because they experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. These symptoms are unpleasant and may lead a patient to keep using the drug, or to use more of it, just to get relief. This constitutes abuse.
Xanax has been shown to cause withdrawal in some people, especially when taken over a long period of time. This is one of the reasons it is considered a drug that is susceptible to abuse. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea and vomiting, irritability, anxiety, headaches, shaking, lightheadedness, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Because of the potential for withdrawal and the abuse that can lead to, many patients may need to gradually reduce intake of alprazolam instead of ceasing use suddenly.
Some people abusing Xanax may become addicted, either through physical or psychological dependence on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms may indicate a physical dependence, but psychological dependence may also be an issue. This may occur when the person taking the drug feels that he or she needs it to feel relaxed or calm, that without it they cannot cope with the anxiety or panic that led to taking the drug in the first place.
The risk for developing an addiction to Xanax increases with certain factors. These include a previous history with drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, taking high doses of the medication or more frequent doses, taking it regularly for a long period of time, and experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction is a disease of the brain that requires treatment to overcome. There is no medical treatment for addiction to alprazolam or other anti-anxiety medication, but treatment of the withdrawal symptoms is a first step. By minimizing these symptoms it helps the patient to resist the urge to use again and helps to get through detox. Getting all of the medication out of the body, detox, is crucial to beginning treatment for any addiction.
One of the most important parts of treatment for addiction to Xanax is therapy. Group therapy, one-on-one therapy, addiction counseling, or even treatment in a residential facility can all help a patient addicted to this drug learn to stop using and still cope with anxiety and other conditions. If you have been struggling with abuse of Xanax, reach out for professional help and you can beat the addiction.