06 May Xanax Addiction in College Students
College is a time of incredibly high stress. Students have to balance work, classes, extracurricular activities, relationships, increasing competition in the workforce and the pressure of building one’s resume to make oneself competitive in their future career field. And that’s not to mention trying to have a regular sleep schedule, eating healthy and working out.
Given the stressfulness of life as a college student, it’s not surprising that many turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Sedatives, in particular, can help college students cope with this stress. One of the most common substances abused by college student populations is Xanax, the brand name for a sedative called alprazolam. As a drug that slows down brain activity to calm the user, Xanax was originally created to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
Since the drug works to relax the user, one can see why it has a high appeal for college students. But it’s not only used to take the edge off of a long day. Students can also use it in combination with other drugs or alcohol to enhance their intoxicating effects. In 2011, more than 50 percent of the 176,000 benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits also involved other drugs or alcohol. This is a major problem our nation faces. Whether an individual realizes it or not, the dangers of mixing Xanax and alcohol is incredibly high, and can even result in death in some cases.
Overdoses are the most common cause of death for Americans below the age of 50, higher than gun violence, disease, and car accidents. Because of the current opioid epidemic, the issues of Xanax abuse often get overlooked. Opioid abuse, is indeed, the primary cause of overdose deaths, but Xanax (often used in combination with other substances, creating deadly cocktails) follows not far behind.
In addition, the prescribing of Xanax and the number of people admitted to treatment centers from its abuse have increased alongside each other. In 50 years, the production of Xanax has increased by 1000 percent. Today 50 million prescriptions of Xanax are written per year, compared to the 30 million that was written in 2003. At the same time, the couple thousand addicts who were in treatment homes twenty years ago has risen to more than 30,000 today.
Despite the potential for fatal consequences, a lot of college students don’t seem fazed by how dangerous the drug is. With nearly half of all college students using illegal drugs, substance abuse in college students is commonplace. In 2016, 42 percent of female college students used an illicit drug, and 45 percent of male college students did.
According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, young adults were the most likely to have used Xanax, or closely related sedatives, for recreational purposes. According to the survey, 10.3 percent of 18-25-year-olds had used an alprazolam, compared to 5.7 percent of people aged 26 and over. That means college-aged populations abuse drugs nearly twice as often as older populations.
For college students, it is as if Xanax has become a sort of “miracle drug” to deal with the stresses of life. Though the drug is incredibly valuable — and sometimes even essential — for those who struggle with anxiety or panic disorders, it can be disastrous for those who use it without a prescription. It can also wreak havoc on the lives of those who have a prescription, but still abuse the drug, using it in ways that would never be recommended by a doctor.
The abuse of the drug is a public health crisis that impacts communities across the nation, leaving many dead and many others panged by the loss of loved ones. The first way we start addressing the issue is by becoming informed about the drugs themselves. Whether you’re a college student struggling with Xanax addiction, a student who has been tempted by Xanax, a concerned parent or someone who has a friend that has been impacted by Xanax, being equipped with knowledge about the drug could save your or someone else’s life.
What is Xanax?
As stated before, Xanax is a sedative. Xanax is the brand name for a drug called alprazolam.
It is a part of the benzodiazepine family of drugs, which are hypnotic drugs that can be used to help people become calm and relaxed. They’re used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and insomnia. To treat these types of issues, Xanax slows down brain activity and calms the user so that they no longer feel the symptoms of their anxiety — something that can be life-changing for people who struggle with panic and anxiety disorders.
Xanax accomplishes this by causing the release of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps regulate people’s moods. Once GABA is released into the nervous system, it sedates the mind, keeping the brain functioning at minimal levels and suppressing the feelings of anxiety and panic. When people who don’t deal with panic or anxiety use Xanax, it interferes with the natural release of the calming GABA neurotransmitter. This makes it so that when they stop using Xanax, they have trouble releasing GABA, making them more anxious than before they started using the drug. So though some might use it to take the edge off of a long day, they’re actually causing themselves more stressful emotions in the near future.
Though this is helpful for those who have panic disorders, it can be deadly when used in combination with other substances. College students often use Xanax to enhance the effects of other substances, but this is a dangerous situation. For example, when used with alcohol, it can stop your heart from beating, hamper neural activity, or slow your breathing so much that you are killed. Plus, Xanax also makes you forgetful, so you might not remember how much you took and end up taking another dose again and again until it’s too late.
A culture that fuels abuse
Despite the dangers of Xanax and other illicit substances, there has been a cultural shift in the U.S. in terms of attitudes toward prescription drugs. There is a growing acceptance of engaging in self-medication. Many show a sort of allegiance to the drug, outspokenly talking about their support of its illegal use. Rappers and artists have lyrics about Xanax and the high that it can provide. Stores sell t-shirts, jewelry and hats celebrating Xanax. Many U.S. citizens, especially students, don’t bat an eye when Xanax abuse comes up.
This sort of apathy to the dangers of Xanax only serves to exacerbate the problem. Abusing Xanax is seen as something that is fun and worth taking a personal stand on, rather than something that could easily lead to one’s death.
Consequences and side effects
While many students are aware that Xanax has some dangers, most are not aware of the breadth of issues that Xanax usage can cause. In addition to the possibility of the drug being fatal, there are a number of other unwelcome side effects. It’s important for college students, and citizens in general, to know about these consequences. Increased understanding across the nation could curb some of the overdose deaths we are seeing. When looking at the physiological impacts of the drug, there are both short-term and long-term consequences when one has a Xanax addiction.
Short-term side effects
Addition to the drug starts with dependency. For those who do not grapple with anxiety or panic disorders, using Xanax becomes a vicious cycle. Xanax takes over and then disrupts our natural GABA release processes so that they can no longer regulate our neurotransmitters properly. When you use Xanax, your anxiety is curbed, but then your body becomes used to the drug. So while you might feel calmer on Xanax, when you’re not using it, your body starts to lose its ability to be able to calm itself. You start building up a tolerance to the drug, then you need more and more of it to become calm. So, even though college students are trying to become less anxious by using the drug, they’re actually gaining more anxiety issues overall.
Dependency is typically mutually exclusive to cravings. They can range from an amplified desire throughout the day to the first thing a user thinks about in the morning. Cravings can be the primary reason why someone keeps using Xanax, and is what fuels a tolerance toward the drug altogether.
With all drugs, the more you use it, the greater tolerance you’ll build up. Xanax is no exception. As said before, as you use Xanax more and more, you require a higher dosage to achieve the desired effect. Even for those who are prescribed Xanax for anxiety, it is best for being used as a short-term solution to manage panic, rather than a long term one. Over the course of an extended period of time, Xanax becomes more detrimental than beneficial to the user. Plus, the risk of addiction increases every day the user takes Xanax. But if the doctor increases the dosage, the risk for addiction increases tenfold.
In the early stages of Xanax addiction, there are also a variety of physical symptoms and consequences. Though Xanax can mitigate anxiety and make you calm and relaxed, it can also cause drowsiness and lethargy in the user. They might end up being in a constant state of drowsiness, squashing their motivations.
Xanax also has severe impacts on personality. It puts users in a quieter, lazier state. They’re often sleepy, irritable or moody. They also can have a general lack of ambition or drive to do things, leaving their lives in stagnancy.
Long-term side effects
In addition to the short-term effects, there are also an array of negative long-term effects of Xanax abuse that come with prolonged use of the medication. These effects can, however, impact a user in the short term. But they are more typically related to high dosages of Xanax over a long period of time.
Cravings and Xanax withdrawal symptoms can become entangled with each other and impact the user with varying levels of severity. From light stomach aches to muscles aches to vomiting when one can’t get ahold of Xanax right away, the drug can sink its teeth into the user, making it nearly impossible for them to go without the powerful drug. The strength of the withdrawal symptoms varies with the degree of the addiction. Common symptoms include muscle cramps, difficulty sleeping and even insomnia, vomiting, uncontrollable shaking, mental instability and worse anxiety than the user had before they started using Xanax.
And these side effects aren’t just simple annoyances or inconveniences. They can be deadly. Benzodiazepines are one of the few substances that can kill users during withdrawal. The brain uses Xanax as a substitute for GABA, and when someone goes off of the drug cold turkey it can be too much of a shock for the body. Instead of becoming stable, the body can quit, causing death. Late stage addicts often require medication to help them through the process.
Mental health impacts
Because of the way Xanax interacts with the brain, it can cause serious mental health problems, even psychosis. Many times, these issues occur during withdrawals, but they can also happen while the user is abusing them. These effects are usually attributed to long-term addiction. Possible symptoms include difficulty holding a conversation, speaking slower with slurred words, trouble recalling recent and past events, and a general lack of awareness.
And as the user becomes more tolerant to the drug, their brain essentially becomes saturated with alprazolam. The relaxation effects can then go a bit too far, as the continued exposure to the sedative can cause one to fall into depression. Addicts can feel sad, useless, and devoid of their usual energy. Sometimes, the depression can even lead to psychosis. And even if one recovers from their addiction, the toll the drug takes on someone’s mental health can cause permanent damage.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek out the help of a professional immediately. Abusing Xanax is perilous, and there are people out there who can help.
But the most troubling thing about Xanax abuse is not the serious health consequences, but that many college students don’t know about them, or at the very least don’t know nearly enough about them. To make a better society and promote the safety of young adults, it is important for everyone to become informed on the drug abuse epidemic, and spread the word accordingly. Have you ever heard that knowledge is power? The same stands for Xanax.
“Facts and Statistics in College Drug Abuse.” Addiction Center. 8 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/college/facts-statistics-college-drug-abuse/
Murdoch, Tim. “Xanax: An Unforseen Danger in College.” The Pitt News. 8 Mar. 2019. https://pittnews.com/article/120026/opinions/xanax-unforseen-danger-in-college/
“Xanax Use Among College Students Reaches “Epidemic” Proportions.” The Koffel Law Firm. 4 Feb. 2014. 8 Mar. 2019. https://www.koffellaw.com/columbus-criminal-defense-blog/2014/february/xanax-use-among-college-students-reaches-epidemi/