Xanax Abuse: Symptoms and Signs of Addiction

3 min read · 2 sections

The brand drug Xanax (generic: alprazolam) is well-known in American households.

It is a benzodiazepine, which means that it has a sedative effect; it is also categorized as a tranquilizer or anxiolytic. Xanax is indicated for the medical treatment of panic disorders, anxiety disorders, and anxiety that is caused by depression. However, Xanax is also a drug of abuse with high addiction potential.

When Xanax abuse progresses, it can become what mental health professionals call a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder. This term derives from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), a reference book that is considered indispensable to the mental health community. Earlier editions of the DSM-5 distinguished between physical dependence and addiction; however, the DSM-5 merged these concepts into a substance use disorder classification.

A sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder (hereafter referred to a sedative use disorder) is one of nine individuated disorders recognized in the DSM-5. In order for a person to be diagnosed with a sedative use disorder, at least two of a possible 11 symptoms must emerge in the same 12-month period. The more symptoms that are present, the higher grading the sedative use disorder will receive along a continuum from mild, to moderate, to severe.

Physical and Psychological Symptoms and Signs of Xanax Abuse

treatmentInsight into Xanax abuse comes, in part, from research findings and clinical feedback on what occurs when a person overdoses on Xanax. There appears to be a general dearth of research that reflects the day-to-day reality of people who are currently addicted to a drug. For this information, it is often helpful to read online forums. Though unofficial, these forums can provide personal accounts of Xanax and other drug abuse. Since medically reported accounts of overdose are instructive, they will be considered here as well.

WebMD, lists the following signs and symptoms that are associated with taking too much Xanax:

  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma

Two of the most common physical and psychological symptoms and signs of Xanax abuse are physical dependence and addiction. These are natural body processes. In short, the brain and body habituate to drug use over time. Due to this new status quo, when the drug use stops, the body will issue its demand for more of the drug in the form of withdrawal symptoms.

couple in therapyNotes Mental Health Daily, the following are some of the most common psychological effects associated with Xanax:

  • Anxiety: The lack of Xanax during withdrawal causes the opposite of a benzodiazepine-calm.
  • Concentration difficulties: Research has found that people can have cognitive problems for weeks after stopping Xanax.
  • Depression: Individuals have reported feeling deeply depressed and sorrowful.
  • Hallucinations: Although rare, some people have reported that when they suddenly stop using Xanax, they experience hallucinations.
  • Insomnia: Overtaken by anxiety and stress, individuals who are in withdrawal from Xanax may have trouble sleeping at night.
  • Memory problems: Research shows that long-term Xanax abuse can lead to dementia and memory problems in the short-term. Typically, memory functioning is restored within a few months of the initial withdrawal.
  • Mood swings: Unpredictable shifts in mood have been reported, such as quickly going from feeling elated to being depressed.
  • Nightmares: This side effect of withdrawal is often reported.
  • Suicidal thinking: The anxiety, stress, and excessive nervousness that can occur during withdrawal can lead to or coexist with suicidal thoughts.
  • Psychosis: Though rare, this may occur when a person stops using Xanax altogether, rather than being weaned off it.

medical issuesAs the above symptoms suggest, there is a general advisement that individuals undergo medical detox when they stop taking Xanax. There is also the threat that by stopping Xanax suddenly and completely, a person may suffer from seizures. There may also be convulsions and tremors that occur.

Legendary singer Stevie Nicks has publicly spoken out about her difficulty with benzodiazepine abuse and addiction. She makes clear in interviews that she thought sedative drugs were benign, but found them to be exceptionally difficult to stop abusing, even more so than cocaine. It seems strange to some that a sedative drug would be acutely difficult to stop abusing, but the addictiveness of this drug class is well-documented among addiction specialists. Subsequently, the withdrawal process can be exceptionally difficult.

Xanax is also associated with a host of physical symptoms during withdrawal. Mental Health Daily notes the following:

  • Muscle pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Sleep troubles
  • Sweating
  • Tingling sensations
  • Vomiting

During medical detox, medical professionals will set up a plan that provides for a gradual transition from Xanax abuse to total detoxification. The dosage of Xanax may be slowly reduced over time, though in many instances, individuals are switched to a longer-acting benzodiazepine and then weaned off that drug. The timeline for the detox period will vary depending on the person’s sustained dosage level and personal factors.

As a general rule of thumb in the addiction treatment world, there are three drug categories that require a medical detox process: benzodiazepines, opioids, and alcohol. Quitting Xanax cold turkey can potentially precipitate the above withdrawal symptoms and cause them to present with greater severity.

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Abuse

When a person begins to abuse Xanax, there will likely be noticeable changes in their behavior. Per Medical News Today, the following are some of the main behavioral symptoms and signs of Xanax abuse:

Taking risks in order to buy Xanax: Some people may steal money or items, often from loved ones, in order to pay for Xanax.

  • Losing interest in normal activities: As the Xanax abuse takes firmer hold in one’s life, it is likely that the person will lose interest in activities of former interest.
  • Risk-taking behaviors: As abuse continues, the person may become more comfortable taking risks, such as driving while on Xanax.
  • Maintaining stashes of Xanax: To ensure that the day doesn’t come where there is no Xanax, the person works to stockpile it.
  • Relationship problems: Xanax abuse leads to interpersonal problems, but that doesn’t motivate the person to stop.
  • Using a lot of Xanax: A person may be seen “pill popping” with greater frequency than would be expected.
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: This may involve spending an inordinate amount of time and energy getting and using Xanax.
  • Run-ins with the law: This may be related to illegally obtaining Xanax, such as buying it on the street.
  • Solitude and secrecy: This may involve withdrawing from friends and family to protect one’s use of Xanax.
  • Financial difficulties: To pay for Xanax, a person may drain financial resources.
  • Denial: This includes setting aside concerns about Xanax abuse to protect the ongoing use of the drug.

Recovery can progress from that point to primary care for the addiction.

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