06 May Xanax abuse and Teens in Georgia: Know the facts
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One of the biggest problems the nation faces is how to deal with the issue of drug abuse. In the U.S., drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of death for citizens under the age of fifty. Yet, addressing the issue seems like a problem without a solution. Whether the strategy is focused on punishment, prevention, rehabilitation, the public health crisis doesn’t seem to go away.
This is a problem to which Georgia is not immune. Over the last decade, Georgia averaged more than 1,000 deaths a year from complications because of drug use. There are approximately 10.7 drug overdose deaths for every 100,000 Georgia residents. And while Georgia falls below the national average in overdoses, the number of drug overdoses tripled since 2000. A majority of those deaths were related to prescription drug abuse.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the crisis is that it often starts with teens. In a recent CDC study, it was found that 11.1 percent of Americans ages 13 and up use an illicit drug at least once a month. Every day, 2,500 U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17 abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. And in Georgia, specifically, around 70,000 adolescents — around 9 percent of the state’s population in that age group — reported illicit drug use within the past year.
And the fact that teens are using exacerbates the overall problem. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 74 percent of adults participating in a substance abuse treatment program initially started using drugs or alcohol before they were 17 years of age. In addition, those who started using at age 11 or younger were more likely to have multiple addictions, as opposed to people who didn’t use until they were 25 or older.
Given the potentially deadly outcome of drug abuse, it’s incumbent on us to learn more about the different drugs and their avenues for abuse. There are a variety of different highly dangerous illicit substances out there — each of which we should all become informed about — but for this article we’re going to focus on Xanax, the most common sedative prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. Though opioids (painkillers) and not benzodiazepines (sedatives) are the main cause of the drug overdoses that plague the nation, Xanax doesn’t sit too far down on the killer-drug totem pole — and its use has been increasing expeditiously.
With the national crisis, Georgia also needs to take stock and be aware of the implications of Xanax misuse in its own state. Whether you or someone you care about is dealing with Xanax addiction, or if you’re simply a concerned citizen, understanding the drug and how it permeates through society can help. The first things to understand are how Xanax came to be so popular, and how it works.
Xanax abuse: A rapidly expanding problem
Used to treat and mitigate to toll of anxiety, Xanax is rapidly becoming more popular in the U.S. Doctors write more than 50 million prescriptions for the drug per year — up 20 million from the 30 million prescriptions that were written in 2003. Because of its incredible efficacy, within 50 years, production of Xanax increased in volume by 1000 percent. Today, it is prescribed 10 times more than it was 20 years ago. It is one of the most widely used prescriptions in the country, which makes it easy to acquire illegally. Unfortunately, the rate of addiction has increased with almost the same rapidity.
The increase of legal prescriptions written for Xanax and other forms of alprazolam tracks closely with drug-related deaths and admittance to treatment centers. This suggests that the drug’s legal availability could be in part feeding the issue. Xanax alone now accounts for one-third of prescription drug-related deaths in the U.S.
Further, since 2006 there has been an increase in the number of people admitted to treatment centers for the use of sedatives or tranquilizers, including Xanax. Twenty years ago, there were barely a couple thousand addicts in treatment homes dealing with a Xanax addition. Today, that number has risen to more than 30,000.
Whether this is new or old news to you, Xanax is finally starting the be at the forefront of people’s mind when talking about drug abuse. Xanax is overprescribed, frequently abused and one of the most dangerous drugs that have been introduced into our society. Though it is incredibly helpful for those who struggle with anxiety and panic disorders, Xanax can wreak havoc on the lives of those who get their hands on it illegally. But what exactly does it do? How does it work? Why is it so dangerous? Here’s a run-down of what Xanax is.
What is Xanax?
As mentioned earlier, the intended use of Xanax is for treating anxiety or panic disorders. Xanax is the brand name, the name of the synthetic drug being alprazolam. A type of benzodiazepine, alprazolam slows down brain activity and calms its users to the point that they no longer feel the symptoms of their anxiety or panic. When combined with alcohol or opioids, Xanax creates a deadly cocktail that can stop your heart from beating, take over neural activity and slow breathing — sometimes to the point of death.
It was initially developed in the ‘60s as a safer alternative for treating anxiety. And it is safe — when used as prescribed. But during the pharmaceutical boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s, people started using the drug with the deadly purposes that we see so often today.
When Xanax is ingested, it stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps regulate someone’s mood, into the nervous system. Once GABA is released into the nervous system, it has a sedative effect on the mind. It keeps the brain functioning at minimal levels and also suppresses neurotransmitters that create feelings of anxiety and panic. If people without anxiety disorder use Xanax, their normal GABA release can become stunted, causing them to be entirely reliant on Xanax simply for normal GABA release. This often results in physical dependence.
How Xanax is abused
It’s common for people to purchase Xanax as a way to cope with stress in their life, whether that be work, family turmoil, school, or anything. Xanax is also often intentionally combined with other drugs and substances to achieve a higher level of intoxication or high. For example, when alcohol is combined with Xanax, the user can lose sense of themselves and where they’re situated in their surroundings. This state is characterized by feelings of mental satisfaction and tiredness. One loses motor control and memory as well.
The sedative nature of each substance simply makes them a bad combination. It can also lead to a rapid slowdown of respiratory and neural function — even if it isn’t the intention of the user. Another distinguishing side effect is that the victim will often forget how much Xanax he or she has taken because of these effects, particularly because of the lethargy and slowing down of neural activity. This can cause the abuser to dose themselves again and again, forgetting they have already done so — potentially resulting in an overdose.
Teens and Xanax and what to do about it
In a society that is putting increasing pressure on students to perform, it seems natural that students would want to get their hands on Xanax. Sometimes, abuse starts with self-prescribing to aid with stress and anxiety. But it can progress to chasing after a high.
With a drug this dangerous, Xanax abuse in teens is especially concerning. But parents can help. Teens who frequently learn about the dangers of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who have parents who don’t talk to them about drugs. But how do you tell if your kid is abusing Xanax? What signs and symptoms do you need to watch for with teenage drug abuse in Georgia? And how do we stop children from abusing the prescription before the deadly consequences occur?
Someone’s behavior when they are regularly using Xanax is often mistaken for moodiness or laziness, both of which are very common in adolescence. This makes it incredibly difficult to tell whether your kids is a Xanax abuser or simply going through normal things that accompany adolescence. If parents take a deeper look at their kids and how they are reacting to particular things, whether or not they’re using Xanax can become clearer.
Here are some common signs that Georgian parents can watch for.
Loss of coordination of cognitive function
Since Xanax acts to calm someone who is panicky or experiencing anxiety by dulling neural activity, those using the drug can experience a lack of cognitive ability and motor functionality. This might be normal for a teen or seem like it’s being caused by something else, but some examples of things a teen would experience are: having trouble holding a conversation, being unable to recall past or recent memories, or difficulty speaking. In addition, using Xanax frequently can make someone lose some control of their body, causing clumsiness. They might come home from nights out with bruises, scratches or torn clothing. This is another sign that your kid could be using Xanax.
Since the drug is a sedative and releases heightened amounts of GABA neurotransmitters, the user can feel saddened and out of energy after prolonged use. GABA also blocks the release of many neurotransmitters that give us energy and feelings of happiness, like dopamine. Without these neurotransmitters and with lots of GABA, Xanax can cause depression. If this is the case for your child — or even if your child is experiencing depression unrelated to Xanax — contact your doctor right away. Depression is the leading cause of suicide.
Sporadic episodes of anxiousness
When your child is no longer taking Xanax, they can be left extremely anxious, easily overwhelmed and highly irritable. Xanax takes over our natural GABA release processes, and can leave them broken and unregulated. Essentially, your teen might become dependent on Xanax, and need it in order to stay calm. Moodiness, in particular, is very common during puberty, but this level of anxiousness paired with other symptoms could mean your teen is abusing Xanax.
In today’s culture, it’s simply a fact of reality that many teens, even young teens drink. When combined with Xanax, alcohol can make someone drunk to the point of stumbling, even with only a couple drinks. The outcome of drinking alcohol and ingesting Xanax at the same time can be very similar to someone who has had too much to drink: slurred speech, difficulty keeping their eyes open, and an extreme lack of balance. To determine if Xanax was the cause instead of alcohol, a good indicator is how hung over they are the next day. If the severity of their hangover doesn’t match how drunk they were the night before (i.e. if they’re very hungover, but only had a couple drinks), it might be because they were using Xanax. While monitoring your child’s drinking can be challenging, it can be helpful in determining whether they’re using Xanax as well.
Refilling their prescription often
Some teens who take Xanax do have issues dealing with anxiety and have a prescription for Xanax, but even these teens can abuse the drug. If their pills are disappearing faster than they should, it’s a pretty good indicator that they’re using them dangerously or selling the pills.
Pills to watch for
Xanax comes in two forms that parents should watch for. “Bars” are 2.0mg pills that are yellow in color and have indents along their surface so they can be cut into fourths. “Footballs” are oblong in shape, come in 0.25, 0.5 and 1.0 mg doses, and are colored white, orange and blue respectively. Both will have the dosage and “Xanax” brand name printed on the surface. Off-brand alprazolam pills exist, but will closely mimic Xanax. If your child has pills like these in their possession, take action right away.
Xanax abuse in teens is growing throughout the country, and Georgia is no exception. Xanax poses a serious threat to Georgian children. It might be challenging to figure out if your child is abusing the drug, but it’s something that should always be on parents’ radars. Parents have the ability to help if they recognize the signs of a xanax problem and do something about it. If you suspect your child is using Xanax you should get help immediately, otherwise, it might be too late.
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“Teen Xanax Abuse Is Surging.” Get Smart About Drugs. 4 Sep. 2018. 14 Mar. 2019. https://www.getsmartaboutdrugs.gov/news-statistics/2018/09/04/teen-xanax-abuse-surging