Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication that was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981. Over the years it has overtaken Valium as one of the most popular of all prescribed drugs and the most commonly prescribed medication for anxiety disorders. Today, more than 50 million prescriptions per year are written for people who use this popular drug.
While Xanax is extremely popular and has helped a lot of people cope with intense feelings of anxiety, it is not a perfect medication. It has a potential for abuse and some people will end up abusing it and even developing a Xanax addiction. Addiction can cause serious physical and mental health consequences and leads to a lifelong struggle. Anyone taking Xanax needs to be aware of this risk and to take the drug responsibly to avoid addiction and dependence.
History of Xanax and Its Uses
Researchers at now defunct Upjohn first developed the drug that would be Xanax in the 1960s. The generic name for the drug is alprazolam and it has been available in the U.S. since 1981. The patent expired in the 1990s for Xanax, so now it is available as generic alprazolam, as other brand name products and as Xanax through the current owner of the brand, Pfizer. Although there are other options, Pfizer still makes a lot of money from sales of Xanax.
Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine. It is a drug that has several different effects. It is a muscle relaxant, an anticonvulsant, and a sedative. It depresses the central nervous system, produces a relaxing effect, and reduces anxiety. It acts quickly too, within an hour or less of taking a dose.
One reason that Xanax became more popular than Valium, which is a similar type of drug, is that it can be used to treat a wider variety of conditions. Xanax is largely used to treat anxiety, but it can also be used for preventing panic attacks. It treats the nausea and vomiting that often accompanies the chemotherapy treatments that cancer patients receive. It may even be useful for treating depression in some people.
Xanax Abuse Leads to Addiction
Many drugs that affect neurotransmitters in the brain to alter mood, as Xanax does, have a potential for abuse. That means that people using it are tempted to use more to achieve a certain feeling or people who have never been prescribed it may seek it out to get that feeling. With Xanax it is the feeling of relaxation and general well-being that most people seek when they abuse it.
The Drug Enforcement Administration considers Xanax to have some potential for abuse. It listed the drug as a schedule IV controlled substance. There are much more addictive drugs in schedules I, II, and III, but schedule IV does include drugs that are addictive and that people tend to abuse. Abuse of a drug like Xanax can easily lead to a lifelong addiction that is difficult to beat.
Tolerance and Withdrawal: The Path to Addiction
Not everyone who abuses Xanax will definitely become addicted, but it is likely. One of the first things that will happen to someone on the path to Xanax addiction is they will develop a tolerance to the drug. Tolerance occurs when more and more of the drug is needed to get the desired effect. This causes abuse to escalate quickly, so that the person using the drug takes more and more with time.
Once a person has gotten to this point, experiencing tolerance, and taking more and more Xanax to get the desired mood and feeling, quitting becomes difficult. This is when an abuser may experience withdrawal, the body’s response to not getting a drug it has become dependent on. Withdrawal from Xanax may include headaches, nausea, vomiting, shaking, high blood pressure, lightheadedness, insomnia, and anxiety and agitation.
Addiction to Xanax
When a person who has been abusing Xanax experiences tolerance, takes more, and tries to stop but is struck with the withdrawal symptoms, they may then be struggling with a Xanax addiction. Addiction occurs when you are either physically or psychologically dependent on Xanax, or you may experience both kinds of dependence. Your body craves the drug and you don’t feel normal without it, on the other hand you feel like you need it just to relax and feel like yourself.
Addiction, whether to Xanax or another drug, is a serious disease of the brain. Using Xanax over and over at high doses makes actual changes to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to stop. Being addicted to something like Xanax causes serious life complications. When a person can’t stop using drugs, it can break up marriages and families, it can lead to job loss and loss of income, it can even lead to homelessness.
Not only can addiction lead to relationship problems and other lifestyle complications, Xanax addiction can also cause some serious health consequences. It can cause cognitive deficits like trouble thinking and loss of memory. It can lead to psychosis, depression, aggression, and impulsive behaviors.
Treating Xanax Addiction
Treating addiction is long process and one that requires professional help from trained counselors, medical caregivers, and therapists. Some drugs have medications that can assist with treatment, but benzodiazepines like Xanax do not have assistive medications. People addicted to Xanax have to rely on psychological and behavioral interventions to overcome the dependence.
The first step in treating Xanax addiction is to stop using the drug and let it all leave the body. This is called detoxing and it means experiencing withdrawal. It is difficult but necessary to do. Having support during this crucial first step is so important to success. Anyone trying to go it alone is likely to have a setback and start using again.
Following detox, a Xanax addict needs to choose a method of treatment. There are 12-step programs for people addicted to drugs. Group counseling is also a possibility, as is individualized therapy or counseling. Some people trying to overcome addiction turn to residential rehabilitation because this gives them the most supervision. Others feel that they can actually resist the urge enough that they can stay at home and receive outpatient treatment.
The bottom line is that all people struggling with Xanax addiction are facing an uphill battle and they cannot do it alone. Support, both from professionals and from loved ones, is essential to getting to a point of being able to stop using and avoiding relapses. Addiction is a lifelong condition, but with the right treatment, it is possible to find a solution and to never abuse Xanax or other drugs again.