Xanax is a fast-acting benzodiazepine medication. That means it brings about a big change in the brain in a short period of time. As a result, it is considered one of the most addictive benzodiazepine medications on the market today. Risks are higher in people who take the doses of 4 mg/day for longer than 12 weeks, but anyone who abuses the drug could be at risk for addiction.
Xanax was first approved for the treatment of panic disorder in the 1970s. Over the years, it has come to be recognized as an effective remedy for anxiety, nausea caused by chemotherapy, depression, and other health issues.
Xanax belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, and it is a Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning it is considered to have a low potential for abuse. That being said, the evidence speaks for itself, as thousands seek treatment every year for dependencies on this drug. In 2012, 17,019 people were admitted to treatment facilities across the nation citing benzodiazepines like Xanax as their primary or sole drug of abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states.
These drugs are some of the most highly addictive prescription drugs on the market, and they can hook a user within a matter of mere weeks. Daily use of benzodiazepines for six weeks or more will result in dependency for four in every 10 users, the Royal College of Psychiatrists states.
Addiction is characterized by both psychological and physical dependency. To manage the effects of withdrawal on both the mind and body, it is best to taper off benzodiazepines on a schedule that permits decreasing the dosage by 25 percent for every quarter of the withdrawal period. As with all benzos, withdrawal should only be done via medical detox to ensure the safety of the patient.
Even when used in a medicinal fashion, dependency will generally still occur. The first sign of this is tolerance. With tolerance, Xanax stops working as well, even as a treatment medication. Those with anxiety will see a return of symptoms and may feel inclined to up their dose in order to keep symptoms at bay. Throughout this process, the brain is becoming more reliant upon the drug to feel normal.
When people are mentally addicted to Xanax, they won’t be able to keep their minds off thoughts of the drug. In addition to the health risks associated with detoxing alone, quitting without professional intervention is extremely hard to do since users’ minds are compulsively driving them to use again.
The mental impact of withdrawing from Xanax can be turbulent. The mind becomes accustomed to the drug and can go through periods of insomnia, depression, paranoia, and irritability while trying to come off it. The majority of withdrawal symptoms can be treated during medical detox to make the process as comfortable as possible for those in detox.
As many as 44 percent of chronic benzodiazepine users ultimately become dependent on their drug of choice, the Journal of Addictive Behaviors notes. Addiction is often due to psychological factors that influence individuals to keep using.
Physical addiction is apparent when a person’s body can no longer function in a healthy way without the substance it’s become accustomed to abusing.
In the case of Xanax, physical addiction is marked by physical withdrawal symptoms that ensue when the substance is discontinued. Some common side effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting, profuse sweating, blurred vision, and convulsions.
Physical dependency develops over time as the individual’s body becomes used to the substance. Without it, the person may feel achy all over as the body starts processing the substance out. This discomfort can be treated with mild over-the-counter pain relievers. These side effects, among others, are common occurrences that land many in emergency rooms when they try to detox without professional help. Last year, 44,796 people were treated in American emergency rooms for issues stemming from the use and abuse of benzos like Xanax.
No one is exempt from drug dependence, but there are certain demographics that are more prone to it. It is thought females account for more benzo addictions than males, but this may merely be due to women being more likely to receive a prescription for the drugs. Erowid notes two times as many women are using these drugs as men.
Age plays a significant factor in prescribing trends, too. A 2008 report by the National Institutes of Health points out only 2.6 percent of people aged 18-35 used benzodiazepines, versus 8.7 percent among those aged 65-80. It is unclear whether these prescriptions are truly more likely to be given to an older individual or if older people simply have more access to healthcare and are more inclined to seek treatment.
Individuals battling mental illness may be on Xanax to treat symptoms or simply abusing it in attempts to self-medicate, and this abuse can often cause mental health conditions to worsen. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports around half of all people with severe mental illness also have co-occurring substance abuse problems, so this issue is a common one.
Dependency is more likely to occur if a person is abusing large amounts of Xanax or using it too frequently. Even prescription users who adhere to a recommended dosing schedule can end up addicted to Xanax though. Poly-drug abusers are far more likely to grow dependent since the other substances they abuse often intensify the effects of benzos like Xanax. For instance, alcohol is commonly abused alongside Xanax and can significantly increase the chance of injury or death, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states. Study results show a broad range, between 3 percent and 41 percent, of people who struggle with alcoholism also abuse benzodiazepines, per the American Family Physician.
Therapeutic techniques, such as music and arts therapy, and wellness-focused support groups, are beneficial in combatting the psychological impact of an addiction to Xanax. In addition, the physical part of addiction requires medical detox. With this combined form of treatment, users can take charge of their lives again.