Although widely prescribed for many legitimate medical conditions, benzodiazepines like Xanax now have a bad reputation because they are so commonly abused, and also highly addictive.
Classified as a minor tranquilliser, Xanax has sedative, anxiolytic, and anticonvulsant effects. When consumed in large quantities, these central nervous system depressants can produce a high from by elevating feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
Even if prescribed by a doctor, Xanax is never recommended for long-term periods, not only because it is addictive, but also due to the risks associated with extended use, such as brain damage. Benzodiazepines are also considered one of the toughest drugs to detox from.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines enhance the effects of the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitter, naturally found in the brain, which, as a result, slows down the central nervous system.
Often referred to as “benzos”, many people know benzodiazepines by their brand names, such as Xanax or Valium. The most widely known benzodiazepines include alprazolam, diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, temazepam, and lorazepam. Although all of these produce similar effects overall, but some versions may be better suited for one condition than another. Another key difference is their effectiveness – how quickly they work and how long they last in the system.
These drugs are also sold illegally on the street, where they may be called sleepers, downers, tranx, bars, or chill pills.
Commonly found in pill form, benzodiazepines can also be crushed into a powder to made into a liquid solution.
Medical Applications of Xanax
In addition to being a common anti-anxiety medication, Xanax can also have anticonvulsant, hypnotic (sleep-inducing), and muscle-relaxant properties. Hence, there is a range of medical applications for the drug.
Today, Xanax is legally prescribed, by both doctors and psychiatrists, for conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, seizures and muscle spasms. It is also often given to patients to ease them prior to a medical procedure by reducing nervousness and/or inducing amnesia.
However, benzodiazepines like Xanax should be prescribed for short-term use only, usually two to four weeks. As mentioned earlier, there are many risks involved with long-term use, apart from addiction and cognitive damage, but prolonged abuse can also worsen the very problem that the drug was intended to treat.
Misuse of Xanax
When people think of illicit drugs, Xanax is usually found pretty low on the list compared to other substances such as heroin or cocaine. Among those who abuse drugs, benzodiazepines are not the most popular go-to choice for getting high.
However, Xanax addiction seems to be on the rise, especially among the elderly. According to a recent study, the U.K. population is the second-largest buyer of Xanax on the dark web, making up 22% of the sales.
Benzodiazepines such as Xanax are also commonly combined with other drugs, such as alcohol, methadone, or heroin. Cocaine users often use Xanax to soothe a comedown or reverse a panic attack after consuming too much.
The sedative is also utilised as a “date rape” drug, because it causes drowsiness, confusion, muscle weakness and impaired cognition. It can go unnoticed if secretly mixed into a drink, as it is tasteless.
Short-Term Effects of Xanax Abuse
Various benzodiazepine medications have different periods of onset, and different lasting periods in the body. Effects experienced with Xanax include:
- Decreased coordination
- Lower libido
- Blurred vision
- Cognitive impairment
Risks of Xanax Abuse
Although benzodiazepines were initially a much-welcomed discovery, medical professionals soon discovered that the drug is not as harmless as initially thought. Compared to barbiturates, benzodiazepines were thought to be less addictive, and have a lower chance of overdose. Over time, this perception has changed.
The two main dangers associated with Xanax use are addiction and brain damage. However, the drug can also cause respiratory depression and other side effects.
Though rare, in some people, Xanax can actually produce the opposite effect than intended. Instead of easing anxiety and relaxing the person, the drug prompts aggression, agitation, and/or panic, lowers behavioural inhibitions, and increases one’s risk of suicide.
Long-term use is especially dangerous in older patients, as it can induce dementia and brain damage. In addition, the elderly are more prone to experiencing negative side effects. Because Xanax misuse can decrease coordination, it also puts an elderly person at a higher risk for injury, such as a fall leading to a hip fracture.
Xanax abuse is also linked to birth defects and is known to cause withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies if the mother consumes the drug during her pregnancy.
Of course, overdose and death are potential consequences of Xanax abuse. Although the drug is commonly mixed with other street drugs, its combination with opioids, antidepressants or alcohol significantly raises the risk of an overdose.
Overdose symptoms associated with Xanax include:
- Shallow breathing
- Irregular heart rate
- Blood pressure changes
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Irregular eye movement
- Loss of consciousness
Xanax dependency is one of the most difficult to address, but it can be overcome. The main unpleasant aspect of treating Xanax addiction is the often lengthy and harsh withdrawal process, especially if a person has been a long-term user.
Both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms may develop upon cessation of use. Furthermore, they can last six or more weeks in some people. The common signs of Xanax withdrawal are:
- Mood swings
- Muscle weakness
- Concentration problems
- Increased heart rate or palpitations
- Increased sensitivity e.g., to light or sound
Xanax Detox and Treatment
The average detox period for Xanax is known to last significantly longer when compared to other drugs. If a patient is being treated at a residential rehab for their addiction, they may require extended treatment.
Detox from benzodiazepines like Xanax usually involves a gradual decrease in the patient’s daily intake, until the body readjusts to the absence of the drug. To increase the chance of recovery, the person needs to be given adequate time to withdraw. Because of the long-lasting withdrawal symptoms, the recovery process cannot be rushed.
Since benzodiazepines are often prescribed for legitimate medical conditions or psychological illnesses, it is important to closely monitor the patient, especially during detoxification. Psychological disorders that were present prior to the addiction can rebound at a more intense level during withdrawal.
Most residential rehabs cater to patients with a dual diagnosis, whereas outpatient programmes do not always provide the necessary therapeutic support.
Because of the dangerous withdrawal effects, risk of returning psychological problems, and a long detox period, Xanax addiction is best treated in a residential setting, where one can have medical supervision and relevant therapy.
If you need more advice, help or support, do not hesitate to contact Which Rehab today on 0800 170 7000. Our experienced counsellors on are hand to help every step of the way.