06 May Long-Term Health Effects of Xanax Use
It should be no surprise to you that in every state, city, and town of this country, substance abuse is a disease, a societal epidemic, that continues to grow unmitigated resulting in shattered families, broken dreams, and a steadily rising body count. The “War on drugs” has been carried out by Democrat and Republican alike, and in retrospect, it appears to have done little to nothing to stem this tide as we have seen increases in rates of addiction in every state for the last ten years. As you might imagine, this comes with increases in mortality rates from drug overdoses, not to mention increases in the cost of health care for taxpayers, and other problems that arise in the wake of drug abuse.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine states, “Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with over 20,000 overdose deaths.” Anti-anxiety medications, such as Xanax, while not a leading cause of overdoses pose a growing threat, especially to the youth of our country.
According to the ASAM, in 2016 alone, more than 8,000 men and women died of Xanax related overdoses. Further, the total number of U.S. overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines from 2002 to 2015 saw a 4.3-fold increase. These days, anti-anxiety medications are given out like candy. So, if you or your family members are prescribed Xanax, buyer beware, it is vital that you know the possible long-term ramifications of Xanax use and abuse.
What is Xanax
Xanax is the world’s most commonly used and abused anti-anxiety medication. Xanax’s generic name is alprazolam and was first created in 1976 and released in a tablet form. A part of the benzodiazepine family, Xanax affects the brain and the central nervous system by augmenting the potency of the chemical of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at the GABA receptor, leading to tranquilizing, anti-anxiety, muscle relaxant, hypnotic and anticonvulsant effects. Basically, the GABA decreases nerve cell activity within the neural region, resulting in a tranquil, relaxed feeling. Benzodiazepines were originally created with the intentions of being a replacement for barbiturates.
In 2018, more than 50 million prescriptions are expected to be written for the different types of Xanax, making it the leading benzodiazepine by a large margin with forecasts for others being: Ativan, Klonopan, Valium, and Restoril.
Although Xanax is only recommended for use for up to six weeks, Americans are able to refill prescriptions often times at will, with numbers of Americans seeking treatment for benzo addictions seeing a 150% increase from 2002 to 2012.
Generally, Xanax is a potent and therapeutic anti-anxiety medicine that is often prescribed to people suffering from phobias, social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder and panic disorder. While the effects of Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Restoral are relatively uniform across the board, the duration of those effects, as well as the speed of onset, differ for each drug. For those wondering how long does a Xanax high last, this will depend on the strain and dosage given. But for the most part, Xanax is quick acting, with effects being felt by the end of hour one and lasting for up to six hours.
Short-Term Effects of Xanax Use
When taken in the amount and duration as prescribed, Xanax’s results in a variety of beneficial effects to those individuals in need. It can release the body’s tension, decrease anxiety, and help with restlessness. That said, it is very very easy to become dependent on it to feel normal and you do not have to use it for a long time to experience negative effects. For some people, it won’t take long before you begin noticing the signs you have a Xanax problem. In small doses, slurred speech and cognitive sluggishness are expected and in larger doses, confusion, and disorientation.
According to the CDC, other side effects include:
- Alteration in sex drive
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty urinating
- Dry mouth
- Inability to perform sexually
- Increased salivation
- Memory problems
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rashes
- Unusual changes in your mood
- Weight changes
- Long-Term Effects of Xanax Use
Xanax Dependency – The most obvious long-term effects of Xanax use and abuse is growing either physically or mentally dependent upon it. When people move past the recommended dosage and move into recreational and abuse territory, the brain begins to adapt to the frequency and dosage and begins to acclimate to operating under its power. As this tolerance develops and builds, Xanax becomes less potent and effective in fulfilling its originally prescribed medical purpose. Further, the body becomes less and less capable of operating effectively in the absence of the substance. Most people, even those taking the recommended dose, can become reliant upon Xanax within a month, and those who use Xanax in larger more frequent doses fall prey to addiction even sooner. Many begin to use it beyond its prescribed effect, recreationally, experimentally to get the relaxing high or oblivion.
When tolerance does, in fact, build up, users will require a more significant dose or increased frequency of usage in order to get the same high. If you do continue building your doses and frequencies, chemical dependency to Xanax is likely. Although physical dependence is less common, it does occur regularly. Users who cut or lower doses may experience Xanax withdrawal symptoms upon cessation, some of which have the potential to be life threatening thing.
- Brain Issues – Long-term Xanax use can lead to failures in the brain’s communication between it and the central nervous system. As a result, frequent users and abusers may have issues with coordination, balance, and speech. Concentration is often shot and so in kind is motivation, especially for tasks that require a concerted effort. Besides physically slowing down the brain’s ability to communicate effectively, Xanax can lead to serious damage to brain cells. This damage is only worsened the more Xanax is used and the more frequently it is taken. When mixing Xanax and alcohol, as it often is the case, the toll to the brain increases exponentially.
This repetitive and persistent interaction of chemicals in the brain fundamentally alters the way the brain works. The brain’s ability to process information is severely hampered over time, leading to a decrease in one’s inhibitions, which leads to poor decision making and a willingness to take unusual risks such as driving dangerously, fighting with strangers, arguing with loved ones or making unwise sexual decisions. Confusion is a common consequence, as well as cases of paranoid delusions and experiences of hallucinations.
- Turbulent Mood Swings – Persistent use or abuse of Xanax often leads to erratic behavior and moods. These feelings can shift rapidly, leaving the user feeling an array of discordant and conflicting things; a mixture of joy, sorrow, peace, anger, hilarity, and depression. This pendulum of emotions makes it exceedingly difficult to behave in a nonerratic fashion, which means interacting with others as one regularly would becomes exceedingly difficult. This challenge only mounts if the user is attempting to hide their long-term abuse or dependency on Xanax. This emotional turbulence only serves to heighten underlying anxiety or social issues that the Xanax was intended to combat in the first place.
- Violence – As one might imagine, these chemical interactions within the brain and the mood swings produced include erratic, violent behavior. In the short term, when mixed recreationally with alcohol, the user “blacks out.” In this zombielike trance, they lose control of motor functions and inhibitions. As a result, they can become quite aggressive, obstinate or flat out violent. The processing speed of the brain is severely diminished, so all of the mental speed checks we usually use to tamper our emotions when upset are ineffective, and the inner rage that can be channeled emerges unfiltered. Long-term use and addiction can lead to a general rise of irritability and anger, which in turn increases the rate of violent outbursts or actions. In fact, according to Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), it is the second most likely substance to be associated with a violent crime.
- Lethargy – Xanax serves to suppress neurological impulses. Because of this, Xanax makes the user sleepy or lethargic. In this trans like state, lack of appetite or binge eating can be quite common, although it depends on the user. When you combine this natural state of lethargy with poor diet and decision making, you end up with unhealthy weight gains or losses. Neither obesity nor anorexia are healthy states of being and both come with their own health consequences and long-term ramifications. Further, the negative feelings that arise from these body image issues may only serve to increase the spiral down into depression or anxiety.
- Forgetfulness – Users often report a general feeling of haziness, a soothing malaise, that creates a sort of sepia tint to life. While for some users, this is a preferable state of being and a way to forget their pain, heartbreak or apprehensions, many who got clean of Xanax did not realize how deeply it affected their lives until the fog was lifted. Regular users may have issues with both their short-term and long-term memories. They become forgetful and negligent of their duties and responsibilities. It is quite common for them to miss meetings, work deadlines, dates or other social functions due to sheer forgetfulness.
- Depression and Suicide – Depression is quite commonly seen in those who use Xanax long term. This unnatural chemical imbalance can inhibit the way the brain produces and releases dopamine. Morbid thoughts are also quite common, and with the way Xanax functions, these thoughts can lead you down a tailspin of dark, self-fulfilling thoughts of hopelessness. In order to quiet these thoughts and feelings, quite a few people unfortunately decide that suicide is the only route available to them. Accordingly, those treated in ER’s for adverse results of Xanax use and attempted suicide has increased by more than 200% since 2004.
- Alzheimer’s – A Harvard Health study found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increased by 32% for people who had used benzodiazepines for spans of three to six months. Shockingly, 84% of those who used Xanax for longer than six months developed the horrible disease.
- Overdose – Obviously, overdose can happen when someone takes more than their prescribed dose, or if they take the dose at a more frequent rate. Overdose is also possible when someone has started or restarted their substance abuse. Indicators of a Xanax overdose include blurry vision, coma, slurred speech, weakness, complete lack of motor function, and respiratory depression. An overdose is infinitely more likely to occur when mixed with other substances. Alcohol, in particular, shows up in toxicology reports in a large majority of overdoses and hospital visits linked to Xanax abuse.
- Withdrawal – As you become more and more dependent upon Xanax, the less time you can spend without it in your system and not feel the effects of withdrawal. Such side effects include anxiety, depression, insomnia, muscle tension, numbness in extremities, seizures, tremors and upset stomach. Such symptoms are exceedingly unpleasant and compounded by the growing need to have the drug in the system and thus feel normal once more.
- Seizures – Some users have prescribed Xanax as a form of seizure medication. Also, some alcoholics are given Xanax to counter seizures caused by sudden alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Due to the high potential for Xanax addiction, some may attempt to get off the drug, which could accidentally induce a seizure. While the vast majority of those who stop taking Xanax only deal with minor repercussions, a select few may develop seizure issues.
For those who need it, Xanax and other benzodiazepines can be extremely beneficial in alleviating certain issues they are dealing with. However, trends in the U.S. and abroad show that such anti-anxiety medications have a high potential for abuse and addiction. The long-term health consequences of repeated Xanax use are not pretty, with increases in the likelihood of dependency, negative health ramifications, brain issues, and overdoses. If you have been prescribed Xanax, be sure to be responsible with it and know the signs of dependency. Be careful, otherwise, the thing intended to “fix you” may only hurt you more in the long run.