Male hand holding in the palm of a plastic bag with powdered drug

Xanax, a brand name anti-anxiety medication with the generic name alprazolam, is a sedative in the benzodiazepine class. It is widely prescribed, and because it is easy to acquire, it is also widely abused.

Like other benzodiazepines, Xanax acts on the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain to slow neuron firing; this creates sedative effects, including relaxation, sleepiness, and euphoria. The drug works on the same part of the brain as alcohol, so for some people, it can become addictive. Benzodiazepines are also widely abused as a secondary drug, which can either enhance the effects of the main substance, like alcohol or opioids, or reduce the uncomfortable side effects of the primary drug, like cocaine. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that, in 2009, benzodiazepines including Xanax were responsible for most of the emergency room admissions due to overdoses on central nervous system (CNS) depressants.

Abuse of Xanax Is a Serious Health Risk

As a prescription medication, Xanax is found in either tablet or liquid form. Tablets can be either immediate-release or extended-release. Xanax is intended to be taken orally. Although it takes effect within one hour after ingestion, it is important for Xanax to move through the digestive system, so it is released in a controlled manner. Unfortunately, people who become addicted to the high from Xanax may try to find ways of abusing the drug to get high faster.

Signs of being high on Xanax include:

  • Stumbling or falling because of less coordination
  • Lethargy, drowsiness, or fatigue
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Difficulty with memory or blacking out
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Altered vision
  • Stuttering or slurred speech, as though drunk
  • Vertigo
  • Tremors
  • Slow reflexes
  • Mood swings
  • Hostile or erratic behavior
  • Paradoxical anxiety or panic
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • A focus on abusing drugs instead of going to work or school or attending social functions
  • Respiratory depression

Benzodiazepines like alprazolam can rapidly lead to both dependence and tolerance. The brain gets used to the drug and needs it to produce enough neurotransmitters. As the brain gets used to the drug’s presence, the drug does not produce the same high as before. A person struggling with Xanax abuse may attempt to compensate for their tolerance by taking more alprazolam, or they may find other ways of abusing the drug. Smoking and snorting force Xanax to enter the brain faster, but they can also cause an overdose.

Snorting Xanax

Addicted teenage boy snorting drug off a table sniffing up the lines of narcotic with his nostrils

People who abuse prescription drugs often escalate their abuse by finding new methods of ingesting these substances. Crushing tablets and snorting them is one of the first ways substance abuse escalates. This is largely associated with prescription narcotic addiction, but those struggling with Xanax and other benzodiazepine abuse may also crush and snort pills to get high faster. Signs of Xanax intoxication will frequently appear in people who snort these drugs, but other signs of abusing drugs through the nose may also appear.

Signs of Snorting Drugs

Not only will a person who snorts Xanax show signs of intoxication and drug abuse, they’ll show signs of snorting the drug. These include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sores or skin changes around the nostrils
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Frequent bloody noses
  • Upper respiratory infections, including colds
  • Changes in voice

Dangers from Snorting Xanax

Long-term, abusing a drug by snorting it will damage the delicate mucous membranes inside the nose and the upper palate. These tissues will become thinner over time and eventually die; as the tissues die, underlying cartilage or bone may be exposed, which can lead to further damage, causing holes in the bone tissue. These are called perforations. Septal perforations are a common sign of long-term cocaine abuse because that drug is often snorted; however, these perforations can occur in anyone who snorts any drug, including Xanax.

Snorting drugs like Xanax will damage other soft tissues along the throat and the upper respiratory system, too. This can lead to frequent infections, eventually causing bronchitis, pneumonia, or even tuberculosis.

The rapid intoxication and sedation from snorting a CNS depressant like Xanax can cause a person to fall, so they may have a lot of bruises, and could even break a bone or suffer a concussion. They may pass out and suffocate on their vomit. Their breathing may become suppressed to the point that they suffer damage to the brain or other organs from oxygen deprivation.

More on Snorting and Smoking Drugs

Smoking Xanax

Smoking any drug is believed to be one of the fastest ways to become intoxicated. Cigarettes, marijuana, crack cocaine, and crystal meth are all drugs that are associated with smoking. The only faster method for getting high is injecting the drug directly into the bloodstream. Crushing a prescription drug like Xanax and smoking it sends the chemical into the lungs where it quickly seeps into the bloodstream and is dispersed through other organ systems, including the brain. People who smoke potent drugs will show signs of intoxication very quickly and some unique signs of smoking.

close up of addict lighting up joint with lighter

Signs of Smoking Prescription Drugs

Signs that a person is smoking Xanax may include:

  • Smoking paraphernalia like pipes, lighters, or foil
  • Chronic coughing
  • Red eyes
  • Sores around the mouth or inside the mouth
  • Changes to oral hygiene, including bad breath
  • Consistently having a cold
  • Changes to the voice
  • Air fresheners, deodorants, or perfumes used to hide the smell of smoke

Risks from Smoking Xanax

The biggest long-term risk of smoking any drug, including Xanax, is lung cancer. According to the American Lung Association, smoking any drug (especially cigarettes, but harder drugs as well) is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with 438,000 people dying of smoking-related diseases every year. Damage to lung tissue can also lead to serious infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Getting high from smoking Xanax can also cause similar problems as snorting, like physical harm from falling, respiratory depression, and brain damage.

End Xanax Addiction

Snorting or smoking Xanax is prescription drug misuse and can quickly lead to addiction. There are no forms of prescription Xanax that are snorted or smoked, so abusing a benzodiazepine in this manner indicates that one has lost control over how much of this drug they abuse. Get help from an addiction specialist to safely detox from Xanax and then enter an evidence-based rehabilitation program to manage behaviors related to drugs and alcohol.