What Is Xanax?
Imagine you are on a game show—the one where you have to answer in the form of a question. Maybe the clue is something like:
This pharmaceutical is often prescribed to “X” out anxiety, and might have been helpful if you were nervous before the show.
Odds are you would buzz in right away. “What is Xanax?” you’d announce. The host would declare you were absolutely correct.
But while Xanax is a well-known—and frequently prescribed—medication, the question “What is Xanax?” is worth exploring in more detail.
Let’s learn more about the drug—and the ways it can put you in, well, jeopardy.
Xanax: What It’s for & How It Helps
Xanax (generic name: alprazolam) belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (or “benzos” in common parlance). It is an extremely effective treatment for any mental health disorder that includes an anxiety component because it dampens the unrelenting feeling of panic many individuals with anxiety describe. Xanax is so effective that it is the psychiatric drug most often prescribed in the United States.
So how does swallowing a pill help tamp down your anxiety? Benzos like Xanax work by actually decreasing the overall activity in your brain and depressing your central nervous system. As that happens, a feeling of calm can replace the runaway thoughts and jitters that characterize anxiety.
The relief a person with anxiety feels when they take Xanax is often nothing short of glorious. Because of this, it is pretty easy to understand why someone might want to take the drug for as long as possible.
But Xanax is not intended for long-term use. Generally speaking, your physician will not prescribe the medication for more than six weeks.
A Quick Slide from Miraculous to Miserable
As we have noted, it can be difficult to give up Xanax once you have experienced its calming effects. In fact, some people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep taking the drug—and those efforts are often the first sign of a developing substance use disorder.
Some people take to “doctor shopping,” meaning they make appointments with multiple physicians in the hope of acquiring a stash of prescriptions for Xanax. Others get their hands on a prescription pad and attempt to forge orders from their doctor.
If neither of those options work, a person might start “borrowing” the medication from others who take it—or even just stealing it from other people’s medicine cabinets. Or they might turn to illegal sources, attempting to buy the drug “on the street.”
Once they have figured out a way to maintain a supply, some users start to look for ways to increase the impact of the drug. That might mean taking more at a time. Or it could mean crushing, chewing, or even snorting Xanax in the hope that the effects will be stronger and arrive even more quickly.
More About Misuse
People misuse Xanax to extend the good feelings—that elusive sense of calm—that Xanax can provide. But soon enough, misuse of the drug will undo all of the good and replace it with bad. Symptoms of a substance use disorder centered on Xanax include:
- Feelings of anxiety, agitation, depression, and/or rage (a sad irony considering that the drug is supposed to help with—not cause—these feelings)
- A lack of focus, increased forgetfulness, and/or trouble thinking or speaking coherently
- Mania, confusion, and/or disorientation
- Hallucinations and/or delusions
- Extreme lethargy and/or fatigue
- A marked reduction in libido (sexual desire)
- Vision issues (including blurring or double vision), a persistently stuffy nose, and/or headaches
- Dry mouth, increased sweating, decreased urination, and constipation and/or diarrhea
- Heart palpitations and/or jaundice
- Swelling in the feet or hands
- Tremors or poor coordination
- Reduced inhibitions and a marked increase in talkativeness
- Weight gain or loss
- Neglect of responsibilities—including at school or work, or in relationships
- Suicidal thoughts
There are also a number of long-term issues that can continue even after a person stops taking Xanax. They include:
- Problems with working and verbal memory
- Problems with the speed of mental and sensory processing as well as with verbal speed
- Problems with motor performance
- Ongoing breathing problems, the development of a serious heart condition, and/or liver problems
- Increased risks of falling and/or being in a motor vehicle accident
- Increased danger of accidentally overdosing or experiencing dangerous drug interactions (some of which can be fatal)
- Increased risks of developing dementia or psychosis
Motivated to Stop Taking Xanax? Go Slow.
A person who is struggling with a substance use disorder might be tempted to try to give up drugs or alcohol on their own. This sort of “cold turkey” approach is seldom effective. And when it comes to Xanax, a sudden stop can be downright dangerous. In severe cases, individuals have experienced seizures after they have stopped taking the drug.
Given those dangers, the best approach to leaving Xanax behind is going through detoxification in a medically supervised environment.
Keep Calm & Get Help
If Xanax has gone from a benefit to a liability in your life, the time to get help is right now. At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we will create a personalized care plan to see you through detox and rehab. Equally importantly, we offer treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders—including those related to anxiety. That means we are equipped to get you off of Xanax while also helping you learn how to manage anxiety. And we will make sure you have the resources and support you need in the early days of your recovery as part of our commitment to a continuum of care.