Xanax, the brand name for the benzodiazepine medication alprazolam, is one of the most popular, widely prescribed psychiatric medications used in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. It is also sometimes prescribed to treat insomnia. Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, meaning it takes effect almost immediately, which has made it a choice treatment for intense symptoms of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, or sleep issues.
However, the short-acting nature of Xanax also means it has an increased risk for abuse. Generally, benzodiazepines are considered habit-forming, and the ones with effects that hit quickly are especially likely to become targets for abuse. Because benzodiazepines can lead to addiction and abuse, physicians typically prescribe them for short-term use; however, even when used as directed, a person can develop dependence on and tolerance to Xanax, which can lead to withdrawal symptoms and other side effects. Side effects are more likely to affect those who struggle with addiction to Xanax, because these compound when a person has abused Xanax for a long period, at a high dose, or both.
Mental Side Effects
People who ingest Xanax for nonmedical reasons often do so because they want a relaxed, euphoric high. However, these changes to brain chemistry lead to changes in personality, emotions, and mental state, which can be detrimental in the long run. Memory impairment and emotional changes could last for a long time after the person overcomes their addiction to Xanax. A mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety, could develop because of addiction to this benzodiazepine too.
As a psychiatric drug, Xanax leads to several mental and emotional side effects. Some of these include:
- Difficulty with cognition
- Impaired memory or amnesia
- Mood swings
Like other benzodiazepines, Xanax can cause paradoxical effects, or side effects that do not seem consistent with the effects of central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These include rebound effects like panic attacks, increased anxiety, and insomnia. In some cases, a person can develop a seizure disorder, which can be physically dangerous.
Intense mood changes are associated with benzodiazepine abuse, including abuse of Xanax. Depression and suicidal ideation are two of the most common mood changes, which are common among other CNS depressants; however, depression and anxiety are tied together, so a person who develops depression due to a Xanax addiction may also develop concurrent anxiety.
Physical Side Effects
As the brain changes, the body will be affected too. Xanax can lead to physical side effects, as the chemical affects other organ systems besides the brain and spinal cord. These physical side effects include:
- Changes in breathing or depressed breathing
- Trouble speaking or slurred speech
- Muscle weakness or atrophy
- Low blood pressure
- Changes in heart rate
Long-term abuse of Xanax or other benzodiazepines can lead to liver and kidney damage.
Although it is rare for a person to overdose on benzodiazepines alone, this problem is increasing, as the epidemic of prescription drug abuse gets worse. In addition, those who abuse Xanax are likely to abuse it in combination with other substances, such as alcohol, which increases the risk of overdose.
People who struggle with addiction to Xanax are also more likely to take larger doses of the drug, which can lead to overdose and death. Overdose symptoms include loss of coordination, stumbling, stupor, loss of consciousness, reduced or shallow breathing, coma, and death.
Get Help for Xanax Addiction
Professional help is needed to treat addiction to Xanax. Medically supervised detox, followed by a thorough rehabilitation program, is the best path for most people. Detox helps the person safely overcome their physical dependence on the drug, while rehabilitation uses therapy and social support to help the individual learn to live without Xanax or other intoxicating substances. Individual, group, and family therapy can all assist the person in learning about the root causes of their addiction, dealing with cravings and triggers in the future, and developing better coping mechanisms.