Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a powerful benzodiazepine drug that is used medically to treat severe anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax bears the boxed warning, the most serious label of the Food and Drug Administration. Xanax comes as an oval tablet of white, peach, or light blue, with the brand name and the size of the dosage (.25, .5, or 1mg). It is a Schedule IV controlled Substance in the United States.
Xanax use has risen in popularity in the past years. The drug is one of the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medicines in the United States; many teenagers find it in their family’s medicine cabinets. The overwhelming majority of recreational Xanax users obtain the drug from a relative or friend. Xanax is often used in social settings at first, including at parties and at smaller gatherings, before becoming a personal habit.
Xanax produces a pleasant, quiet high free of worry or anxiety that can last several hours. Unlike cocaine or other stimulants, Xanax, like other benzodiazepines, makes a person feel relaxed, confident, sleepy, and generally at ease. It’s a deceptively calm drug which leads a person to feel justified in taking it more, especially since it doesn’t often produce unpleasant or jarring effects at first.
Overdose frequency for Xanax in the United States has risen steadily since 2011. Over 6,000 overdose-related deaths were attributed to Xanx in 2016, making it account for nearly 10% of drug overdose deaths.
Overdosing on Xanax is possible for anyone taking the drug and is made more likely by taking recreational doses, disregarding medical safety regulations, and taking it in combination with alcohol or opiates. The size of a lethal dose will vary depending on a user’s size and tolerance. Overdose is possible at any dosage above a medically-prescribed amount.
With higher doses, or when combined with alcohol, Xanax overdose can cause seizures, coma, heart attacks, difficulty breathing, intense hallucinations, and distortion of reality. Without medical treatment, a Xanax overdose can be fatal. Taking Xanax in combination with alcohol or opiates greatly increases the risk of loss of consciousness, respiratory failure, grand mal seizures, coma, and death.
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Even at low doses, Xanax use can cause dizziness, disorientation, blurred vision, headache, change in sex drive, memory problems, weight fluctuation, and insomnia. These symptoms can last for weeks after last use. Xanax has also been shown to cause worsening depressive episodes and suicidal ideation among users who struggle with depression and mood disorders.
The risks of Xanax abuse are multiplied when the drug is combined with alcohol or opiates. The two drugs intensify one another’s effects and using the two together can be fatal even in small doses. Xanax and alcohol can cause a person’s heart to stop and slow breathing to the point of causing permanent brain injury, coma, and death. It also makes it more likely that a user will experience a Xanax overdose.
Xanax also interacts with a number of other drugs, which can make it much harder for your body to break it down correctly. The list of mild to severe interactions with Xanax goes into the dozens. As such, anyone seeking a prescription must be thorough in recounting their medical pharmaceutical history to their doctor to avoid numerous dangerous accidental combinations.
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The FDA label on Xanax bottles reads:
“Using alprazolam, even as prescribed, can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal if you stop taking the drug suddenly. Withdrawal can be life threatening. Taking this drug can also lead to misuse and addiction. Misuse of alprazolam increases your risk for overdose and death.”
Even patients who are prescribed Xanax may end up increasing their dosage due to the drug’s highly addictive nature. For recreational users who don’t have medical supervision, the risk of dependence is far greater.
Xanax induces lower temperature and blood pressure, slower heart rate, and quieted mental activity in its users. Attempting to cut yourself off, especially after a period of prolonged use, can cause these faculties to rebound to a jarring degree and can induce life-threatening effects like grand mal seizures, suicidal thoughts, coma, and respiratory failure. These risks make it crucial to get professional help when attempting to stop using Xanax, especially for those with a long-term habit.
Physical symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include muscle aches, jaw tension, tremors, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, photosensitivity, loss of appetite, heart palpitations, fever, delirium, and trouble breathing.
Psychologically, Xanax withdrawal can cause a person to feel anxious, jumpy, paranoid, and unable to control their emotions. They may experience extreme mood swings and treat the people around them differently than ever before. Symptoms can also include hallucinations, short-term memory loss, insomnia, nightmares, panic, and depression.
For shorter-acting benzodiazepines like Xanax, withdrawal symptoms can begin to appear as soon as 6-8 hours after a person’s last dose. Depending on the depth of addiction, withdrawal symptoms will peak within 1-2 days and can begin to subside after 4-7 days. Many users go on to experience subacute withdrawal symptoms, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, for weeks or months after their acute withdrawal symptoms pass. Without receiving proper treatment, withdrawal symptoms can last for years and lead to relapse, profound psychological disturbance, and bodily discomfort.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, reach out to professional help as soon as possible. Attempting to go cold turkey on your own can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, relapse, or overdose without the right support and care. Treatment programs will not judge you, shame you, or lecture you on your habits; they’re there to help you get well.
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