Xanax Addiction (Alprazolam)

Learn about the uses, side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and treatment options for Xanax.

What Is Xanax (Alprazolam)?

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a short-acting benzodiazepine that is usually prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorders, and insomnia. It binds to GABAa receptors in the central nervous system, decreasing overall neural activity in the brain and producing feelings of calm and relaxation.

Despite being a commonly prescribed medication, Xanax is a potent drug that can cause physical dependence and addiction. Most addiction specialists consider Xanax highly addictive; however, many primary care physicians continue to prescribe it for more extended periods than recommended.
In 2013, alprazolam was the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine, with more than forty-eight million prescriptions.1
Xanax Addiction

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Is Xanax Addictive?

Xanax is classified as a Schedule IV drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Although it has a recognized medical use, the drug still poses a risk for addiction and abuse.

Tolerance to Xanax can develop quickly, forcing patients to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. If a patient suddenly stops taking the drug, a range of withdrawal symptoms can occur, including insomnia, irritability, and increased anxiety. Tolerance and dependence are the first indications of Xanax addiction.

According to national emergency department (ED) visit data, alprazolam is the second most common prescription medication in drug misuse-related ED visits.1

Understanding Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction causes changes in the brain. Unfortunately, it is common for patients to continue taking the drug due to its pleasurable effects despite the negative consequences, such as performing poorly at school or work, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, obsess over obtaining the drug, engage in risk-taking behaviors, and more.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), among 2017 to 2018 benzodiazepine mispatients:1

Xanax Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

People of all ages and backgrounds can develop a Xanax addiction; however, some are more susceptible to Xanax substance use disorder (SUD) than others. For example, people with a family history of addiction are more at risk than the general population.

While addiction varies from one person to another, the Xanax SUD progression cycle may look something like this:

Initiation

Many people start using Xanax to treat anxiety, panic disorder, or insomnia. Although patients usually receive the medication through their primary care physician, some may be introduced to the drug by a friend or acquaintance.2

Experimentation

People who have been using Xanax for some time may start experimenting with the frequency and dosage of the drug. For example, they may begin to take higher doses to experience new or heightened Xanax effects.

Regular Abuse

A patient may start abusing Xanax frequently—they may not take the drug every day, but a pattern emerges. For example, the abuse may occur every time a person goes out to a club, socializes with friends, or feels depressed.

Dependence

The first step towards Xanax dependence is tolerance. In other words, a patient begins requiring higher doses of the drug to experience the same effects. If a person takes Xanax every day over a long period, they might become dependent on the drug’s effects. Dependence means that the person’s body will go through withdrawal if they stop using the drug.

Substance Use Disorder

People with a substance use disorder may be aware of the negative consequences of the addiction but struggle to quit due to the dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms. At this point of the SUD progression cycle, seeking treatment at a rehab facility is the recommended course of action.

Xanax Addiction Symptoms and Warning Signs

Xanax use can quickly progress into an addiction, especially in people who have a family history of addiction or deal with severe mental health problems. Although addiction is different for everyone, Xanax use disorder will commonly exhibit the following physical, psychological, and behavioral addiction symptoms:

Physical Symptoms

Psychological Symptoms

Behavioral Symptoms

Understanding Xanax Withdrawal

Xanax has been shown to produce more severe withdrawal symptoms than other benzodiazepines. Abruptly stopping the drug can lead to serious side effects, including seizures. For this reason, medically supervised detox is the safest option when withdrawing from the drug.

Switching to a long-acting benzodiazepine followed by a gradual dose taper is an effective strategy for a safe and smooth detoxification process for patients with Xanax addiction. According to research, around 40% of people who take benzodiazepines for more than six months will experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms.1

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Xanax withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. Commonly, people who take Xanax for merely a few weeks may experience withdrawal symptoms. Nonetheless, if the drug is abused for a longer period and in higher doses, the risk of experiencing more severe and longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms increases.
The most common symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:

Duration of Withdrawal

As Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, the withdrawal symptoms can appear a few hours after a person’s last dose. The more severe symptoms usually last for a week, depending on several factors, such as the patient’s mental health, medical history, frequency of use, and average dose.3

Xanax Withdrawal Timeline

Early Withdrawal

These are the first withdrawal symptoms the patient will experience. Patients may start experiencing the symptoms that caused the use of Xanax in the first place, called a rebound effect.

Acute Withdrawal

Acute withdrawal starts once the symptoms from the initial withdrawal phase disappear, generally within a few days. Patients will experience the majority of withdrawal symptoms during this phase, lasting anywhere between five and twenty-eight days—making acute withdrawal the most challenging.

Protracted Withdrawal

Although many symptoms subside after the acute withdrawal phase, lingering side effects are possible. In addition, it is possible for Xanax withdrawal symptoms to appear up to two years after stopping the use. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) or protracted withdrawal.

Xanax Addiction Treatment

Get Treatment for Xanax Addiction
With the right treatment plan, recovery from Xanax addiction is possible. Different treatment options include inpatient and outpatient programs, behavioral therapy, and relapse prevention.

Detox

Xanax addiction treatment should start with a medically supervised detox. Considering this medication can produce a range of severe withdrawal symptoms, the safest way for patients to withdraw from Xanax is under the supervision of medical professionals. A doctor will recommend the tapering down method that involves gradually cutting back on the dosage over a period of time.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is the most effective option for patients with a more severe Xanax addiction. Those in inpatient treatment live in a structured environment where medical professionals are available to help them at all times. The staff usually includes doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and addiction specialists.

Patients attend daily activities that may consist of group meetings, one-on-one therapy, career counseling, family therapy, and holistic therapies, such as yoga and meditation. Inpatient programs also offer more privacy than outpatient ones, appealing to many people looking to get away from stressful situations or unhealthy habits.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is more suitable for patients dealing with a milder case of Xanax addiction, as it is less intensive. Patients receiving this treatment do not stay at the facility—they live off-site and come in several times per week to attend activities, such as group meetings and one-on-one sessions with a counselor or therapist.

Behavioral Therapies

The most common type of behavioral therapy for Xanax addiction is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches skills for coping with negative emotions and stressful events without resorting to substances. As a result, there is a reduction in substance use and improvements in psychological well-being and health-related quality of life.

Ongoing Treatment and Relapse Prevention Strategies

Ongoing treatment, or aftercare, is often considered an essential component of successful addiction treatment. Patients who enter ongoing treatment have already completed their initial rehab program and are transitioning back into their family and work lives. It can help them cope with any triggers that may arise and avoid relapse during this vulnerable time. They may attend activities, such as group therapy, individual therapy, and 12-Step meetings.

In addition to aftercare, newly recovering patients can also benefit from relapse prevention strategies. Breaking old habits take time, and knowing how to resist cravings will help patients maintain long-term sobriety.

Get Treatment Today for Xanax Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with Xanax addiction, it is never too late to get treatment today. Treatment for Xanax addiction can greatly improve your quality of life and help you live a happier, more fulfilling life. Contact a treatment provider today and begin the path to recovery.