Xanax Side Effects, Addiction, and Abuse
Read on to learn about the effects of Xanax and how this addiction can impact your life.
We present the information on this page as a generalized, educational overview. Specific details below regarding treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols utilized by Compass Recovery.
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you would like to learn more about Compass Recovery and our individualized programs for those struggling with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a sedative created by Dr. Leo Sternbach, who sought to find a safer form of tranquilizer. Alcohol and barbiturates were more often used for procedures and ailments before Xanax was invented. Xanax first became available to the public in the 1980s and has since become one of America’s most popular prescribed drugs. In this article, Compass Recovery will focus on the most common Xanax side effects.
What are the Side Effects of Xanax?
Xanax side effects have several short and long-term repercussions. The most prevalent Xanax side effects include:
- Depression – Xanax side effects impact neurological chemicals. When taken as intended, it serves to balance out these chemicals and create a stabilized mood. However, when abused, Xanax side effects can disrupt natural chemical balances and worsen mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
- Drowsiness – Xanax, as a sedative, can induce feelings of tiredness. When Xanax is used excessively, this drowsiness can intensify and lead to poor sleep at night, increased stress levels, and generally low energy.
- Memory Issues – Depression and drowsiness caused by Xanax contribute to persistent brain fog and reduced mental function. Short-term memory issues can be reversed when one stops using the drug or takes it only as prescribed.
- Slurred Speech – Alprazolam abuse causes severe damage to the vocal muscles resulting in incoherent speech.
- Headache – Headaches from Alprazolam can occur even when taken as directed. The intensity and length of the headache vary based on dosage and individual reactions. If you continue to experience headaches from the prescribed drug use, reach out to a medical provider.
Xanax also has dangerous long-term effects.
- Ataxia – Ataxia is a degenerative nervous system disease. This means that it destroys the nervous system over time. This results in increasingly poor coordination, memory, slurred speech, fatigue, and loss of vital motor skills. Advanced cases of Ataxia require round-the-clock supervision for even the most basic needs. Xanax side effects from abuse aren’t the only way to develop Ataxia, but Xanax abuse drastically increases the risk.
- Overdose – Alprazolam is often considered one of the most widely abused drugs in America. A contributing factor to this is that Alprazolam is used in one-third of intentional overdoses/suicide. Alprazolam is more potent than other benzodiazepines, meaning that the risk of overdose is higher than most other substances. As a sedative, Alprazolam directly affects the central nervous system (CNS), resulting in hypoxia. Hypoxia occurs when the body is unable to absorb oxygen from the air and suffocates. When mixed with alcohol or other sedatives, the risk of hypoxia is greatly increased.
- Withdrawal – Xanax withdrawal is more intense than many of its other benzodiazepine alternatives. Xanax side effects and withdrawal symptoms are particularly dangerous in pregnant women as they can lead to seizures in the womb and other severe birth complications. Additionally, the fast-acting nature of Alprazolam combined with its relatively short effective period contributes to greater cravings and a high rate of dependency.1
What Does Xanax Treat?
Xanax is most prescribed to treat mood disorders such as anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax binds to the brain to create a calmer, more consistent mood.2
How is Xanax Abused?
Xanax is often obtained from family or friends with a prescription. It can be orally or nasally ingested. Nasal ingestion shortens the time it takes for the drug to kick in, whereas oral consumption can increase its effective time.
One of the most abused forms of Xanax is Xanax bars. These bars are comprised of approximately 4 times the amount and potency of a single tablet. Users risk Xanax overdose when taking multiple Xanax bars at once, as even one bar can prove fatal.
Another administration route is snorting Xanax. Snorting Xanax shortens the time it takes for the drug to hit the bloodstream and intensifies the effects.
Ativan vs. Xanax
Ativan, compared to Xanax, comes down to the amount of time they stay active and in the body. Ativan lasts longer in the body and provides a feeling of wellbeing. This reduces the risk of addiction as fewer pills are taken over time. Because the effects of the drug slowly taper off, the withdrawal is also much more bearable. For comparison, Ativan lasts approximately 6-8 hours, whereas Xanax lasts around 2-4. The choice between Ativan vs. Xanax, when taken as recommended, is based on individual factors.
Klonopin vs. Xanax
Klonopin, much like Ativan, is a longer-lasting form of Xanax. Klonopin is active in the body for 8-12 hours. This reduces the risk of addiction and lessens the intensity of withdrawals. Due to the extreme time difference, Klonopin vs. Xanax is a matter of lifestyle and medical recommendation.
Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Addiction
Uncharacteristic of most other substances, Xanax isn’t very apparent during the throes of addiction. The most noticeable signs, though, can include:
- Poor Coordination – Misuse of benzodiazepines can lead to issues with the central nervous system such as extreme clumsiness, unrefined motor skills, an inability to walk in a straight line, and drastically slowed reflexes.
- Poor sexual performance – Xanax can cause impotence in men. This effect is two-fold as Xanax lessens the libido and creates blood flow issues.
- Seizures – Xanax is often prescribed as a treatment for seizures. In excess, however, it increases the risk of an episode.
- Nausea – Xanax abuse can lead to cramps, abdominal pain, and an upset stomach.
- Organ failure – The liver and kidney undergo significant stress from Xanax abuse. Drug use causes a buildup of unhealthy chemicals in the body. The kidney and liver work to remove those chemicals, but the added strain can eventually cause organ failure.
- Reduced Cardio – Xanax impacts the CNS. Because the CNS is the primary system responsible for breathing, any damage to it heightens the risk of respiratory issues. For example, Xanax and alcohol can cause severe respiratory depression. If someone were to sleep with an excess of Xanax and alcohol in their system, they’d risk long-term brain damage and Xanax overdose.
- Irritability – Xanax withdrawal can cause severe irritability or moodiness. If an otherwise even-keeled individual becomes short-tempered or harsh, then this could be a sign of dependency.
- Depression – Xanax abuse can trigger the onset of clinical depression. Xanax is noted for its extreme lows during withdrawal. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to draw a connection between the high levels of Xanax-induced depression and suicide by Xanax.3
Dangerous Drug Interactions
Xanax and Alcohol
Xanax and alcohol are a particularly deadly combination. Both act as CNS depressants. When taken together, they increase the risk of hypoxia, insomnia, accidental physical harm, brain damage, and a destabilized mood. Xanax and alcohol both require constant intake to maintain a desired high. This contributes to Xanax overdose and alcohol overdose, and this suggests that it’s particularly easy, even for someone with tolerance, to misjudge their limitations.
- Benzodiazepines have a high rate of addiction. 44% of benzodiazepine users develop a dependency.
- Over 44,000 people were admitted to the hospital due to benzodiazepines in 2018.
- In over 8 years, dependency increased from 8 million to 14 million benzodiazepine-dependent users.
These numbers show a stark picture of the danger of Xanax abuse. With the ever-increasing popularity of benzodiazepines, these numbers continue to grow.4
Xanax Addiction Treatment
There are options for treating Xanax addiction.
- Inpatient – Inpatient treatment options allow for 24/7 medical monitoring to treat withdrawal symptoms and reverse Xanax side effects. Inpatient care also provides the first steps to long-term, sustainable recovery. Inpatient care often takes the form of rehabilitation retreats, sober living homes, or short-term hospital care.
- Outpatient – Outpatient treatment options structure long-term plans and routines designed to combat abuse. Outpatient treatments are an option for people that prefer to stay close to their family and friends while undergoing treatment. It’s also an option for individuals that have completed inpatient treatment. Outpatient care most commonly involves check-ins and support groups.
- Therapies – Recovery therapies usually include trauma counseling to process the emotional needs behind addiction. Recovery therapies can also include family counseling, psychiatric support, and mediation training.