Table of Contents
What is Xanax?
Xanax – a brand name for the drug alprazolam – is a sedative belonging to the class of medications known as benzodiazepines. While Xanax has become a household name, misuse outside of a prescription’s directions can quickly lead to addiction.
Due to benzodiazepine’s high potential for abuse and dependence, the Controlled Substance Act has classified them as Schedule IV drugs. This scheduling reflects benzodiazepine’s widespread usage within medical settings alongside its potential for harm. Common benzodiazepines aside from alprazolam include: clonazepam, diazepam, and lorazepam.
Commonly used street names for Xanax include:
What does Xanax Treat?
Physicians prescribe alprazolam for panic and anxiety disorders like panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and social anxiety disorder (SAD).
You will most often find Xanax in pill form, where it comes in both standard and extended-release versions. The effects of standard Xanax last roughly five hours, while extended-release Xanax (called Xanax XR) lasts about eleven hours.
People should not take Xanax for longer than six weeks, as it carries a dangerous potential for dependency even with a prescription. Many physicians have prescribed Xanax frequently because of how much faster it works than other anxiety-relieving drugs. However, it is Xanax’s fast-acting effect on the brain that increases the likelihood of dependence.
How Does Xanax Affect the Brain?
Xanax works as a depressant, acting on overexcited central nervous system activity that appears in the form of anxiety and panic attacks. When you take Xanax, it ramps up your brain’s production of the neurotransmitter Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA).
For people with anxiety or panic disorders, increased GABA levels suppress excited nerve signals and reduce chemical imbalances, bringing a welcome wave of calm and relief. Even within recommended doses, though, the brain quickly adapts to the externally-encouraged source of GABA, developing a tolerance.
This tolerance can prompt people with legitimate prescriptions to double and even triple their dose, leading to Xanax addiction, the potential for a Xanax overdose, and withdrawal.
Why Do People Crush Up and Snort Xanax?
Some people believe crushing and snorting Xanax provides a more immediate and intense high. However, research collected in 2008 has since proven this belief inaccurate. Because Xanax is not a water-soluble pill, it does not travel through the nasal cavity to the brain effectively when snorted. This fact means there are few to no additional benefits to snorting Xanax rather than ingesting Xanax as prescribed.1
Why Do Young People Misuse Xanax?
Many people begin self-medicating with Xanax to help deal with the stressors and pressures of daily life. Whether they grew up seeing family members or friends take Xanax as prescribed or lived in an environment with frequent Xanax abuse – many young people consider Xanax a familiar and safe medication.
Statistics on Xanax Abuse
The rate of Xanax abuse has skyrocketed over the past 20 years. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found the number of adults who filled a benzodiazepine prescription grew from 8.1 million in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2013. Additionally, the rate of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines increased 4-fold, although this rate seems to have plateaued since 2010.2
Based on findings by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alprazolam was one of the top 10 drugs most involved in overdose deaths in 2017.3 SAMHSA further reports that across seven years, the rates of emergency department visits due to benzodiazepines without other drugs increased from 46,966 visits in 2005 to 89,310 in 2011.4
These findings suggest that even without adding alcohol or other drugs, Xanax abuse can lead to dangerous consequences.
Demographics collected by SAMHSA found the following benzodiazepine-related emergency department visits by age included:4
- 12-34 years with 174,998 visits
- 35-44 years with 88,644 visits
- 45-64 years with 150,780 visits
- 65+ years with 72,575 visits
It’s difficult to know how many people choose snorting Xanax versus swallowing it. However, the likelihood of hospitalization increases with snorting, as crushing and inhaling the entire dose of an extended-release pill that’s supposed to deliver small doses over eleven hours can lead to accidental overdoses.
Xanax Side Effects
As we have already explored, the desirable effects of Xanax help the user feel relaxed and peaceful. However, both short- and long-term Xanax use carries with it serious consequences.5
Common Xanax Side Effects
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Slow or slurred speech
- Memory issues
- Anxiety upon waking up
Serious Xanax Side Effects
- Confusion and agitation
- Suicidal Ideation
- Anhedonia (loss of ability to feel pleasure)
- Racing thoughts
- Increased energy
- Abnormal risk-taking behaviors
- Tremors and uncontrollable muscle movements
- Rapid heartbeat
Those who have been prescribed Xanax may begin experiencing some of these more severe side effects between doses as withdrawal sets in. As a reminder, our brains quickly adapt to the GABA-producing effects of Xanax, so even when prescribed Xanax addiction can occur within six weeks.
Due to its drowsiness-causing effects, Xanax should not be taken if one plans on operating a motor vehicle, as it can increase the risk of accidents.
Side Effects of Snorting Xanax
The “positive” drug-related side effects of snorting Xanax are no different than when consumed orally. However, snorting Xanax can lead to numerous additional adverse side effects, including:
- Permanent sinus damage
- Increased susceptibility to nasal and sinus infections
- Muscle and joint pain
- Increased or decreased salivation
- Headaches and fatigue
- Disorientation and memory impairments
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Shifts in sexual interest and performance
- Urination issues
- Suicidal thoughts
Dangers of Xanax Abuse
Xanax is at high risk for abuse due to its potential for quick dependence and lack of widespread understanding of its adverse effects. With easy access to legally prescribed alprazolam in family medicine cabinets and the low street cost (typically between $2-5 per pill) – it is no wonder hospitals have seen skyrocketing increases in emergency room visits.
Signs of Xanax Addiction
Xanax addiction can be subtle, but the onset occurs fast. Signs include:
- Unsuccessfully trying to cut back
- Feeling intense cravings between doses
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms between doses or after discontinuing use
- Needing higher doses to feel the same effects (increased tolerance)
- Becoming preoccupied with obtaining more Xanax
- Using larger amounts than prescribed or intended
- Forgetting or dropping responsibilities with work or family due to Xanax
- Continued use despite tne loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Being unable to fulfill obligations and maintain relationships
- Using Xanax in dangerous situations (like while operating heavy machinery)
Nearly as dangerous as Xanax addiction is the process of withdrawal. Once the body becomes dependent on Xanax, the brain can experience severe effects including life-threatening seizures. For this reason, seek medical help when choosing to recover from a Xanax addiction.
Signs of Snorting Xanax
- Nasal congestion
- Frequent sniffing
- Runny nose
- Recurring nasal and sinus infections and inflammation
Signs of Xanax Overdose
Snorting Xanax increases the potential for overdose, especially if the pill crushed is an extended-release alprazolam pill. Choosing to release the entire dose of Xanax XR in a matter of minutes instead of eleven hours can lead to life-threatening miscalculations that result in overdose and hospitalization.
Additionally, the likelihood of an overdose and the need for hospital visits increases when users combine Xanax with alcohol and other drugs.
Someone experiencing a Xanax overdose may experience:
- Increased drowsiness
- Loss of coordination
- Blurred vision
- Slowed Breathing
Other Ways to Abuse Xanax
Aside from ingesting orally and snorting Xanax, there are several other pathways to abuse Xanax.
Like snorting Xanax, chewing a Xanax pill immediately releases an entire day’s worth of doses by breaking up and increasing the tablet’s surface area before ingesting. Chewing Xanax increases the potential for overdose, increased tolerance, and addiction.
Some may choose to smoke Xanax, using tin foil or adding it to a pipe with weed. However, smoking Xanax delivers less potent effects than taking it orally. Users may experience an added increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and dementia when smoking any drug from tin foil.6
Another delivery method involves injecting Xanax directly into the bloodstream with a hypodermic needle. By shooting Xanax, users bypass the digestive system for fast and intense delivery of Xanax’s effects. It should be noted that injections increase the risk from both unclean needles and heightened risk of infection.
How to Recover from Xanax Addiction
Recovering from Xanax addiction is challenging, but guidance and support from medical professionals can make the process much easier and a lot less scary. Additionally, many who come in with a Xanax addiction often receive a dual diagnosis of underlying mental health issues which may need to be addressed for successful treatment.
Detoxing from Xanax
The first step in recovering from Xanax addiction is detox. Due to the high potential for dangerous seizures, it’s always best to undergo Xanax withdrawal under the supervision of medical professionals. The most typical approach to detox is a process called tapering, where physicians provide smaller and smaller doses of Xanax until your body can readjust.
Inpatient and Outpatient Care
Inpatient care provides individuals whose home environment isn’t suitable for recovery with a more structured and support-centric environment for recovery. For those who can’t afford to leave work or are taking care of family members, outpatient care may be more appealing. For outpatient care to be successful, patients must have a strong support system and a safe, non-triggering environment.
Most therapies for Xanax addiction focus on providing emotional coping tools during moments of high stress and anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widely-used tool that teaches patients to identify triggers and embrace healthy coping behaviors. Contingency management is another favorite that rewards patients for positive behaviors. Yoga and meditation, art and music therapy, group therapy – all are valuable tools for recovering from Xanax addiction.