06 May Xanax Addiction: Is It Becoming an Epidemic?
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Since the 1960s, American doctors have been prescribing benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety medications, to the masses suffering from phobias, panic disorders, and social anxiety. While quite effective at suppressing apprehension and fear, benzos can have long-lasting ramifications that often go overlooked in a country where just about any illness or bad feeling can be treated with a pill.
Today, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) more than 5% of the American public regularly receive benzodiazepine prescriptions. Of this population, an approximate 15% to 30% of these regular, long-time users, have become dependent on the anti-anxiety medication.
According to Vice, “The percentage of benzo dependent Americans resulted in about 9,000 benzo-related deaths, since 2000, a 500% increase in the overdose death rate. Benzos are particularly lethal when combined with opioids or alcohol, accounting for about 8,000 of these deaths and were found in roughly 33% of all fatal overdoses.” World breaking, generational stars such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Elvis, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse all had large amounts of benzos in their systems when they died. While benzodiazepine addiction can be found in every socioeconomic stratum of society, it particularly affects unemployed white males ages 18-35.
The most popular form of benzo, Xanax, is one you have likely heard of or even used. Currently, it is not only the most prescribed benzo, but also the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the country, with an estimated 50 to 55 million prescriptions annually. Despite the rising addiction rates, ER visits, rehab stings, and mortality rates, Xanax and other benzos are being prescribed at an even higher rate than ever, often times for issues that are not serious enough to warrant long-term pharmacological treatment.
More and more, voices within the medical field urge caution with the psychiatric pill mill mentality, beseeching people to only use benzos as a means of last resort. This caution comes with the knowledge that we are currently in the midst of a spreading Xanax epidemic. Very likely, you, someone you love or know have been or will be prescribed Xanax. Therefore, it is important that you are aware of how Xanax works, why it is such a growing threat and what you or a loved one can do if you find yourself showing signs you have a Xanax problem.
Originally produced as substitutes for barbiturates in the 60’s, benzos increase the strength in the reaction between the neurotransmitting chemical GABA and the brain. The effects of this synthesis spread from the brain into the central nervous system, working to suppress nerve cell activity and the way the brain interprets fears.
While Xanax is the most popular Benzo, others such as Valium, Ativan, and Klonipan are all prescribed tens of millions of times. The difference between these is minimal, with small variations in duration of effects, the strength of effects, and time to act. All of these anti-anxiety medicines are regularly prescribed to Americans suffering from panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, phobias and social anxiety disorder.
Immediate Effects of Xanax
If you are prescribed Xanax to treat a social anxiety, then it is vital that you are well aware of the fact that long-term effects of Xanax abuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Therefore, it is imperative to fathom all of the conceivable side effects of Xanax before using it.
So then, how long does a Xanax high last if someone is taking the correct dose prescription? The immediate effects of Xanax can last between 4 to 8 hours, with a half-life of 6 to 26 hours, although each person will feel these effects to a varied degree. Factors that influence such feelings include their height, their weight, their tolerance to Xanax or other benzos, and whether they mixed Xanax with any other drugs.
The most common intended side-effects of Xanax include tranquility, drowsiness, anxiety relief, induced sleep.
Negative Immediate Effects of Xanax
While there are a host of beneficial side-effects, depending on the person’s physiology, the strength of the dose and whether or not they are mixing their Xanax can also result in unwanted side effects with regular Xanax use. While doctors should go over these side-effects and let a patient know what to expect, some naively assume that their patient will not exceed the recommended dose or dose frequency. For those who obtain Xanax illegally or abuse their current prescription, serious and harmful side effects may arise due to lack of knowledge on what their specific dose is and how it will interact with the body. This type of attitude obviously increases the risk of falling prey to Xanax addiction.
Negative side-effects include: Changes in sex drive, concentration troubles, constipation, disassociated state, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, headache, irritability, joint pain, and nausea.
Although not as common, Xanax can also lead to more severe side effects. According to the CDC, Xanax abuse results in over 125,000 trips to the emergency room each year. So, if you or someone you know experienced any of these symptoms and they persist, you should immediately obtain medical attention. These include appetite changes, changes in behavior, confusion, depression, hallucinations, seizures, severe mood changes, speech difficulties, shortness of breath and urinary incontinence.
Long-Term Effects of Xanax Use
According to the CDC, 86% of people who seek assistance for Xanax problems report that Xanax was used as a secondary drug. It is quite potent, and the euphoric sense of hyper relaxation leads many to abuse it and become addicted. Even those who do not intend to abuse Xanax quite often fall into addiction. Xanax was not created for long-term use nor was it ever meant to be a long-term, daily, medication. Despite this, all too often, doctors and psychiatrists prescribe or re-up a Xanax prescription past the four-month cut off point.
A variety of studies found that long-term use had a severe impairment on memory, coordination and led to serious cognitive defects such as Alzheimer’s. Long-term use is often an indicator of Xanax abuse or addiction although other signs such as a change in personality, oscillating moods, and violent behavior are regular sights in the lives of Xanax abusers. Other long-term effects include: Aggressive behavior, cognitive dysfunction, coordination issues, depression, delusions, financial problems that arise due to drug-seeking behavior, hallucinations, hostility, impulsiveness, learning problems, marital troubles, relationship issues with friends and families, memory problems, missed work, and neglecting to fulfill obligations.
Mixing Xanax with Alcohol
Xanax by itself rarely leads to overdose, unless you take a large amount exceeding your regular dose. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, “The rate of deaths from benzodiazepines is still lower than deaths from narcotic overdoses, but these deaths often involve narcotics as well. About 75 percent of overdoses that involve benzodiazepines also involve narcotics.” Xanax is especially deadly when combined with other substances. This is much in part due to the depressive effect benzos have on the central nervous system: limiting breathing and heart rate because of the suppressed neurotransmitters. As a result of this suppression, the body is left extremely vulnerable to the potency of other substances.
As a party or recreational drug, especially for people between the age of 15-25, many teenagers and young adults choose to mix alcohol with Xanax. According to SAMSHA, 49% of teens will take Xanax with at least one other drug, such as alcohol and that 70% of the teens who are addicted get it from their home’s medicine cabinet. Approximately one in two teenagers operate under the false assumption that prescription drugs are safer to take recreationally than street drugs. Do you know how to tell if your kid is abusing Xanax? It can be very difficult to spot a teenager who is abusing Xanax since common side effects include irritability and tiredness, which are often associated with teen behavior already.
What they all too often neglect to consider is that the central nervous system depressant effect of Xanax is enhanced since alcohol also acts as a CNS depressant. This creates feelings of intense relaxation and for many, euphoria. Unfortunately, however, this often produces a zombielike ‘blackout’ where the experienced Xanax user can continue to function and move, but their brain processing and ability to create memories are non-existent. As a result, Xanax users who drink may have blackouts that last for hours. This, of course, can lead to a whole host of terrible decisions, from driving under the influence, having unsafe sex or making poor sexual decisions, engaging in violence, or other harmful activities.
Further, a Xanax cocktail can result in a potentially fatal respiratory depression and coma. Other risks include fainting, extreme drowsiness, impaired coordination, impaired memory, irritability, nausea, slow breathing, slow pulse, slurred speech, stupor, syncope, unsteady gait, and vertigo. The dangers of mixing Xanax and alcohol are incredibly high, but unfortunately in today’s society, many teenagers turn a blind-eye and proceed to engage in this risky behavior.
Besides alcohol, some recreational users will take Xanax to wane from cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamine highs. Others will use it to boost heroin, oxy, or methadone highs. Using Xanax with opioids or really any other drug is extremely dangerous and increases the risk of respiratory depressant effects and overdose. Despite this knowledge, we regularly see anyone from celebrities to regular folk tragically die from a benzo cocktail. Because of Xanax’s widespread availability, studies show drug addiction in every population demographic, including teenagers.
A case could be made that Xanax is one of the most addictive legal drugs on the market, falling just behind opiates for that ignominious title. As the number of prescriptions rises by the millions per year, expect to see further increasing rates of addiction and overdose. This problem is only compounded as prescriptions for other drugs continue to rise as well.
So, if you continue to use Xanax, especially in larger quantities or in higher frequencies, you can quickly develop a chemical dependency on the drug. As tolerance rises, the number of pills taken daily will continually increase as their potency diminishes; more Xanax will be required to achieve the same or similar effect it once gave you. The CDC says the average person with a Xanax addiction will take between 20-30 pills every day.
The common trend seen in Xanax addicts is a willingness to engage in a further reckless behavior. Quite often, Xanax users will begin to combine their benzo use with other substances to enhance the high. This pleasure-seeking action is dangerous and a significant reason why we see increasing numbers of people tragically dying from overdoses. Because of this increased likelihood of developing dependency overtime, and the long-term ramifications of regular Xanax use, it is vital that you nip addiction in the bud if you see the signs you have a Xanax problem.
When chemical dependence forms, the body does not function optimally without it. If you cease using Xanax after building up a dependency, withdrawal symptoms are expected. Although Xanax withdrawal are generally not life-threatening (but can very well be), unlike withdrawal from alcohol or opioids, there are a variety of extremely unpleasant withdrawal Xanax symptoms to be aware of.
These include Agitation, Depression, Forgetfulness, Hyper Anxiety, Irritation, Insomnia, Inability to pay attention, muscle aches, muscle tension, tremors, and for some, seizures. The duration and severity of such effects depend on the length of Xanax use, the dose and frequency of use, and whether you regularly used other substances in combination.
Rising rates of Xanax addiction and overdose are huge indicators that this country is in the midst of a Xanax epidemic. For this reason, if you or someone you know struggle with Xanax abuse, get help immediately. While withdrawal from Xanax is not usually life-threatening, it would be wise to seek help, if not treatment from medical professionals. For those of you who suffer from other substance addictions, rehab might be a wise consideration. Whether you chose in-patient or out-patient care, either option gives you a safe place to detox under medical supervision.
Professionals at these facilities make it their mission to not only help you get clean from Xanax use, but to also help you understand the reasons why you abused in the first place and can equip you with tools to fight addiction in the future. Once your body is clean of dependency, they will encourage you to regularly go to some form of group counseling such as AA as well as see a professional in a one-on-one setting. These types of meetings are the number one way to fight falling back into addiction.
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“Xanax Addiction and Abuse.” Addiction Center. 14 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/benzodiazepines/xanax/
Legg, Timothy. “How to Recognize and Treat Xanax Addiction.” Health Line. 25 June. 2018. 14 Mar. 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/xanax-addiction