Xanax Effects & Warning Signs

One of the most significant dangers of Xanax abuse is that the drug is commonly mixed with alcohol and other substances, which can significantly increase the risk to a user’s health and wellbeing.

Understanding Xanax

Learn about Xanax and substance abuse

Xanax is used to help people who are at risk for seizures or who are suffering from nausea as a result of undergoing chemotherapy. When a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder, Xanax can reduce both the frequency and the intensity of symptoms present.

Xanax was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in anxiety treatment in 1980. Ten years later, it became the first medication to be granted FDA approval for use in the treatment of individuals who suffered from panic disorder. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified Xanax/alprazolam as a Schedule IV controlled substance.

Alprazolam produces its sedating effect by binding with central nervous system (CNS) receptors that are associated with the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Once bound to these receptors, alprazolam enhances GABA’s effectiveness at regulating the excitability of CNS neurons. Xanax is a relatively fast-acting medication. When it used as directed by a qualified prescribing physician, Xanax usually begins to take effect within 30 minutes.

As is also the case with other prescription medications that are considered benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, Halcion, Klonopin, and Valium, Xanax’s sedative properties make it a popular option for individuals who are searching for a recreational high or who are attempting to self-medicate physical or psychological pain. Compounding the problem is that Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, which means that acquiring these substances for illicit purposes is not a particularly difficult process. The good news is that seeking and receiving treatment is an effective means of overcoming a Xanax abuse problem.


Xanax addiction statistics

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that more than 50 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines are written every year in the United States. Among U.S. doctors, only 10 medications of any type are prescribed more often than Xanax.

Since Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines, it is perhaps unsurprising that the abuse of this drug continues to increase. For example, in 2005, fewer than 50,000 emergency room visits were attributed to the misuse of Xanax. By 2010, Xanax abuse accounted for more than 120,000 ER visits.

According to information in the FDA’s database of adverse medication-related events, Xanax overdose was responsible for 98 suicides and 76 deaths in 2011.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for Xanax addiction

Substance abuse and addiction are related to both internal (genetic or biological) and external/environmental influences. Most commonly, illicit drug use is caused by a combination of factors, some of which are more readily identifiable than others. The following are among the more common genetic influences, environmental causes, and risk factors for Xanax abuse and addiction:

Genetic: Multiple studies have identified a strong genetic component to substance abuse and addiction. Substance use disorders are much more common among individuals whose parents or siblings have struggled with drug abuse and/or mental illness. With Xanax commonly prescribed to treat symptoms related to anxiety disorders, a biological predisposition to developing one of several types of anxiety disorders will also increase a person’s risk of abusing and becoming addicted to this drug.

Environmental: Being a victim of or witness to physical violence, verbal abuse, sexual assault, serious accidents, and other traumatic experiences can be a precursor to several forms of substance abuse, including the misuse of Xanax in a misguided attempt to self-medicate unresolved physical and psychological pain. Other environmental influences that can lead to Xanax abuse include being impoverished, living in a neighborhood or community where Xanax is easily accessible via illicit sources, and working at a high-stress job.

Risk Factors:

  • Problems with managing stress or pressure
  • Having an anxiety disorder
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, and/or mental illness
  • Prior personal history of mental illness and/or abuse of other substances
  • Age (Xanax abuse is most common among young adults)
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Easy access to Xanax
  • Peer pressure

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of Xanax addiction

No single symptom or set of symptoms are associated with all instances of Xanax abuse. However, people who display some or many of the following characteristics may be engaging in this dangerous and self-destructive behavior:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get several prescriptions for Xanax
  • Visiting websites that traffic illicit prescription medications
  • Change in peer group
  • Borrowing or stealing Xanax that has been prescribed to someone else
  • Stealing money or belongings that can be sold to support a drug habit

Physical symptoms:

  • Insomnia or Hypersomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth and/or throat
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision or double vision
  • Tremors, twitches, or tics

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Problems with focus or concentration
  • Impaired coordination and/or problems with spatial relations
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Memory deficiencies
  • Lowered inhibitions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in activities or events that were previously the source of pleasure
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Anger and agitation
  • Sense of emotional detachment
  • Obsession with acquiring and using drugs

Co-Occurring Disorders

Xanax addiction and co-occurring disorders

Drug abuse is often caused by or a contributing factor in the development of other mental health issues. Individuals who abuse Xanax may also be struggling with one or more of the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Other substance use disorders


Effects of Xanax addiction

The following are among the many negative outcomes that can result from engaging in the abuse of Xanax:

  • Tolerance and addiction
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Delirium
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irreversible cognitive impairments
  • Career setbacks, including loss of job
  • Legal problems, including criminal charges that lead to incarceration
  • Injuries from drug-fueled reckless behaviors
  • Thoughts of and/or attempts to commit suicide

Withdrawl & Overdose

Effects of Xanax withdrawal and overdose

Effects of Xanax withdrawal: When individuals whose bodies have become dependent upon Xanax either attempt to stop or are no longer able to acquire the medication, painful and possible dangerous withdrawal symptoms can occur. The symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can include the following:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle spasms
  • Cramps
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Depression

Effects of Xanax overdose: Taking Xanax in an amount or at a frequency that exceeds the body’s ability to safely metabolize it can lead to several negative outcomes, of which can include the following:

  • Extreme muscle weakness
  • Profound dizziness
  • Dangerously shallow breathing
  • Slowed heartbeat and pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
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