Xanax and Depression: Cause, Side Effects and Suicide Risk

Content Overview

What is The Relationship Between Xanax and Depression?

Xanax is sometimes used as a frontline treatment for depression. The drug calms electrical activity in the brain, and that can help people feel a sense of euphoria and contentment. When Xanax is removed, people can experience a rebound form of depression. Therapy, possibly augmented by antidepressant medication, can help.

With so many people in need of an effective treatment for these issues, it isn’t surprising that Xanax alone was prescribed nearly 48 million in 2011, per Psych Central. Xanax is a brand name for generic alprazolam, which is routinely prescribed for the treatment of:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Agoraphobia
  • Depressive disorders

Xanax works by calming nervous impulses in the brain caused by firing neurotransmitters. The drug increases the dispersion and flow of GABA, which are natural tranquilizers the body already makes. The drug merely ramps up production of them. This central nervous depressant can cause euphoric feelings, but it typically soothes unruly and out-of-control emotions. Sometimes, it can work a little too well in certain individuals and cause adverse reactions, including depression.

What Is Depression?

depressed-manDepression is classified as a disorder that inflicts the sufferer with feelings of worthlessness, despair, lethargy, and a general lack of interest in life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 15.7 million American people experienced a major depressive episode during 2013, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in the country. This disorder can be born out of chemical imbalance, hormone issues, or brought about by substances.

In substance-induced situations, the depression generally resolves once the substance abuse stops. However, there are instances in which prolonged use or abuse of Xanax may cause lasting depression even in the absence of its use. In addition, when you have one disorder, it is more likely you will develop others. Thus, those individuals who suffer from anxiety may also develop depression.

Psych Central notes the results of one study in which 85 percent of people diagnosed with depression also fit the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, and 35 percent had signs of co-occurring panic disorder. This may be even more likely in people who use or abuse Xanax.

Linking the Two

Unfortunately, some prescribing physicians may be perpetuating the cycle of abuse when it comes to benzodiazepines like Xanax.

While it is known that these drugs are safest when used for no longer than six weeks, many doctors continue to allow patients multiple refills for far longer periods of time. The Bend Bulletin notes 1.9 million prescriptions were filled for Oregon residents in 2013, and 45 percent of them refilled their medication at least three months in a row.

Often, symptoms of anxiety can lead to depressive symptoms, too, and Xanax may be prescribed to treat the original symptoms. Depression and anxiety are cited as primary reasons for drug abuse among 63 percent of older adults, per the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. While many may begin using these medications in a prescribed fashion to treat their symptoms, those same symptoms may resolve over time but the individuals remain medicated. When they attempt to come off the drug and familiar symptoms return, they assume they still need them, but sometimes, it’s merely that the drug itself, and dependence on it, causes feelings of depression and anxiety to manifest during withdrawal.

Adverse Reactions

The most serious side effect of depression caused by Xanax is suicide. Drug-related attempts at suicide appear to be on the rise as a whole. From 2005-2011, the number of people treated in emergency rooms as a result of these attempts rose by 51 percent, per the Drug Abuse Warning Network. Among overdose deaths stemming from prescription painkiller abuse, benzodiazepines are a contributing factor in 30 percent of cases, PBS reports.

The likelihood of adverse mood reactions like depression occurring is significantly increased when Xanax is abused in conjunction with other substances. The most common cocktail is benzos and opioids, but alcohol abuse alongside Xanax is also very dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes 2010 data from 13 states showed alcohol was a contributing factor in 27.2 percent of emergency department visits involving benzos and 21.4 percent of overdose deaths involving drugs like Xanax.

People who mix Xanax and alcohol are at a very high risk of overdose due to the way alcohol intensifies the depressant effects of benzodiazepines.

Alcohol use presents enough of a risk that even moderate amounts are not advised, even when taking Xanax as prescribed. People who crush and snort Xanax rather than ingesting it orally are at greater risk of overdose, too.

An individual’s age may also have a lot more to do with the potential outcomes of abusing Xanax than originally thought. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, serious outcomes stemming from benzo abuse carry a 36 percent greater risk for individuals aged 65 and older than for those between the ages of 12 and 34.

Likewise, there may be reason to believe the risk of depression increases over the years of an individual’s life. Suicide occurs more than twice as often among people aged 80-84 than in the general population, WebMD notes.

Depression and Insomnia

It is widely understood that despite being a central nervous system depressant, Xanax can and often does cause insomnia, especially in those who abuse the drug. Everyday Health notes that while insomnia is only a problem for around 15 percent of the general population, up to 80 percent who suffer from depression are afflicted.

Furthermore, ties have been drawn by the American Psychological Association that link people who experience insomnia and hypersomnia to being at an increased likelihood of committing suicide, something most people battling depression are already at a greater risk of. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has shown great success in reducing the risk of suicide in clients with insomnia. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports people suffering with these sleep disturbances who were treated with six rounds of CBT experienced a 33 percent drop in suicidal ideation.

Effective Care

Getting help for an addiction means you have the courage to admit you need treatment and the fortitude to overcome this hurdle. That’s something to be proud of. You can use those feelings to drive yourself forward during the rehabilitation process, which should start with a medical detox program that is geared toward tapering the dose of Xanax you’ve been abusing until you are completely drug-free. Additionally, support groups and individual therapy should be combined into your treatment plan to give you the best chance at sustained recovery.

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