Xanax Abuse & Addiction Effects, Signs & Symptoms

Xanax belongs to a class of drugs, which are central nervous system depressants, called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are used to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and panic.   Xanax works by effecting a particular chemical in the brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). GABA produces a tranquilizing effect by slowing down brain activity. Essentially, Xanax binds to GABA receptors in the brain, preventing GABA from being absorbed. This increases circulating amounts of GABA, enhancing its effects, and resulting in a calming sensation. Xanax is extremely fast acting with effects felt normally within 20 minutes and peak action occurring within an hour.  Effects last a maximum of four hours, but after reaching peak in an hour, the decreasing effect is perceived by the individual and this often triggers an increase in anxiety despite the significant amount of Xanax which remains in the brain. This often leads to individuals taking additional doses before the prescribed time. The fast onset, limited effect time and frequently increased dosage due to perceived deceasing effects often result in dependence developing over a short period of time. While one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines, it is also one of the most misused, largely due to the high risk of abuse and dependence.

Physicians may prescribe Xanax for many reasons in addition to anxiety including:

  • Insomnia
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Seizure control
  • Decreasing muscle tension
  • Producing memory loss for painful medical procedures
  • Inducing relaxation before surgery prior to the administration of an anesthetic

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Statistics

Research estimates the 12-month prevalence rates for benzodiazepines at approximately 11%. Of those who use the substance, it was estimated that 80% use it for 4 months or less, 5% use it for 4-12 months and 15% use it for more than year (1.6% of the U.S. population). It was estimated that twice as many women use benzodiazepines than man.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance abuse disorders frequently co-occur with other disorders including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Dysthymia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • A history of conduct disorder in adolescence
  • PTSD

Causes

Genetic: It has been shown that benzodiazepine addiction runs in families. In particular, individuals who have a first degree relative with a Benzodiazepine Use Disorder are more likely to develop the disorder than those without such a family history.

Environment: Some research suggests that individuals who develop a benzodiazepine addiction have inadequate coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. This has been related to the effects of modeling in parents and other family members. When close relatives use benzodiazepines to cope with stress as opposed to using alternate coping strategies, children grow up without learning proper coping methods. Thus, when stress becomes overwhelming they are more likely to turn to benzodiazepines in an effort to control their emotions having learned this to be an effective technique in childhood.

Brain Chemistry: GABA, a type of neurotransmitter or chemical responsible for communication in the brain, has a naturally tranquilizing effect on mood and physiological tension. When levels of GABA are abnormally low, individuals may become exceedingly anxious. After being exposed to the anti-anxiety effects of benzodiazepines and the withdrawal symptoms in addition to the return of anxiety related to the low level of circulating GABA, individuals frequently fail to ever completely wean off of these medications. Each time they attempt to stop taking the drug and suffer these negative effects, then return to using the substance at which point the effects are relieved, the use of the benzodiazepines are reinforced.  After a period of time, they no longer are willing to experience these effects and remain on the same dose until tolerance develops, causing them to increase the dose over time to achieve the desired effect.

Physiological/Environmental Interaction: It is believed that individuals who develop a benzodiazepine use disorder are born with a predisposition to develop this type of addiction.  However, whether they go on to actually acquire this addiction depends on the number and severity of life stressors and other negative environmental influences they come into contact with during their lifetime.

Symptoms of Xanax Use Disorder

Symptoms of Xanax Use Disorder include:

Mood/Psychological symptoms:

  • Euphoria followed by depressed mood
  • Feeling overly optimistic to the point the individual doesn’t believe they have to act to affect positive change
  • Recurrent use despite the knowledge the substance is causing or exacerbating a psychological problem
  • Being unable to cope with distress without the medication

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Use of drug in situations which are dangerous
  • Lost time at school or work
  • Use restricts the ability to function properly in school or at work
  • Inability to perform up to potential when engaged in everyday activities
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop taking the drug
  • Apathy
  • Social withdrawal

Physiological symptoms:

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms in between doses
  • Tolerance to the effects of the drug
  • Continued use of the substance despite the knowledge it is causing or worsening a physiological problem
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Xanax Use Disorder

  • Extreme sedation
  • Tiredness
  • Slurred Speech
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Disinhibition
  • Skin Rash
  • Constipation
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypotension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nervousness
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Stomach Problems
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Psychomotor retardation

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms of Xanax are similar to those for the other benzodiazepines.  These include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling like things around you aren’t real or the sense of watching oneself from outside one’s body
  • Trembling
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Becoming overly sensitive to touch
  • Feeling Shaky
  • Twitching
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