Xanax is a brand name for the generic drug alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety, panic and sleeping disorders. Alprazolam belongs to the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, which are hypnotic drugs that work by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA inhibits nerve transmissions in the brain and produces feelings of relaxation, calm and wellbeing. Xanax is the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine.
When Xanax is used as prescribed, it is safe and effective and can transform the life of someone struggling with debilitating anxiety or insomnia. But using Xanax isn’t without risks. Addiction and dependence may occur if you abuse Xanax, which involves taking than prescribed, taking someone else’s Xanax, or taking it to get high. A common misconception about Xanax and other prescription drugs is that they must be safe since they are prescribed by a doctor. However, this simply isn’t true unless you are taking your medication exactly as your physician prescribed. Abusing Xanax can turn dangerous very quickly.
Initially, Xanax causes sleepiness and loss of coordination as it works to slow down the central nervous system. At high doses, it can cause mood swings, erratic behaviors and hostility.
Long-term use of Xanax can cause traces of the drug to accumulate in fatty tissues, which can cause cognitive problems including memory loss, poor judgment and trouble thinking. Other long-term effects include muscle weakness and disorientation.
Using Xanax with alcohol, opioid painkillers or over-the-counter cold and allergy drugs can lead to dangerous complications, including depressed breathing and heart rhythm problems. In some cases, mixing benzodiazepines with other drugs can be fatal. In 2015, 23 percent of people who died of an opioid overdose tested positive for benzodiazepines, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 1. One study found that the overdose death rate among people taking both opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines was 10 times higher than the overdose death rate of people taking opioids alone. Still, between 2001 and 2013, the percentage of people who were prescribed benzodiazepines along with opioids increased from nine to 17 percent. However,
in 2016, the Centers for Disease Control issued new prescribing guidelines to reduce instances of these medications being prescribed at the same time.
Xanax addiction and dependence are different conditions, although these terms are often used interchangeably. Addiction causes compulsive drug-seeking and -using behaviors despite serious problems in your life stemming from the abuse, including legal, financial, relationship and health problems. Xanax dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that occur when you suddenly stop using Xanax.
With heavy Xanax abuse, the brain changes its chemical operation in order to compensate for the presence of the drug and maintain normal function. Benzodiazepines increase the activity of both GABA and the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is the “feel-good” brain chemical that produces feelings of pleasure.
Heavy Xanax abuse causes the brain to reduce the activity of GABA and dopamine in an attempt to normalize levels of these neurotransmitters. This compensation leads to tolerance, which means that you need increasingly larger doses of Xanax to get the desired effects. But the more you take, the more your brain alters neurotransmitter activity to compensate. At some point, the chemical function of the brain may shift so that the brain now operates more comfortably when Xanax is present. When you suddenly stop taking Xanax once dependence has developed, normal neurotransmitter activity quickly rebounds, and this causes physical withdrawal symptoms.
While you can become dependent on Xanax without developing an addiction, addiction and dependence most commonly co-occur. Treating the dependence through medical detox is the first step in a high quality rehab program.
Detoxification is the process of allowing all traces of a drug to leave the body so that brain function can begin to return to normal. Medical detox is supervised by medical and mental health professionals who can administer medications as needed to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax can range in intensity from mild to severe, and they can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or longer. Not everyone will experience all of the withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax, which include:
Xanax withdrawal has the potential to turn dangerous. Symptoms like seizures and sudden shifts in heart rate and blood pressure can cause serious complications or even death. Because no medications have been approved to treat serious symptoms associated with Xanax withdrawal, detoxing involves a tapering-off process. Over time, Xanax doses are gradually reduced until you can stop taking it without adverse effects.
Supervised detox is essential for Xanax withdrawal. People who try to detox on their own often turn back to using in order to end unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. A medically supervised detox program improves the chances of successful withdrawal and helps to ensure your safety and wellbeing during the detox process.
During detox, a variety of complementary therapies such as restorative yoga, massage therapy or acupuncture are used to improve feelings of wellbeing and increase the odds you will stay in detox for its duration. A variety of assessments are taken during detox to determine the severity of a Xanax addiction and identify unmet needs that need to be addressed for successful recovery. These assessments help care providers develop a comprehensive, individualized plan to treat the addiction once the detox process is complete.
Xanax addiction is characterized by uncontrollable Xanax abuse even though the abuse causes serious problems in your life. Addiction develops as the result of changes that occur in the memory, reward, and learning centers of the brain with heavy abuse. These changes lead the brain to equate the pleasure produced by Xanax with wanting the drug. This causes intense cravings that can quickly lead back to Xanax use.
Addiction is far more complex than dependence and requires more time and effort to treat. Detox doesn’t sufficiently address the addiction in a way that will end it. Treatment is almost always needed after detox to end the addiction in the long-term. According to NIDA, willpower and good intentions are rarely enough to overcome addiction 2.
Addiction almost always has underlying causes. The most common of these are the kind of chronic stress that comes from poverty or abuse; co-occurring mental illnesses like anxiety or depression; and a history of trauma, such as sexual abuse or surviving a combat zone or natural disaster. Additionally, addiction causes a myriad of problems in your life. In order to successfully treat a Xanax addiction, the underlying causes and the problems resulting from the addiction must be addressed.
A variety of therapies are used in rehab to treat addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for addiction 3. A holistic approach that addresses all of a person’s unique physical, mental, and spiritual issues offers the best chances of successful recovery.
Traditional therapies used in quality addiction treatment programs are evidence-based psychotherapies or “talk” therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most effective and widely used traditional therapy in addiction treatment. Through cognitive-behavioral therapy, clients identify thought distortions like black-and-white thinking or catastrophizing and examine how they affect their behaviors. They learn to think and behave in healthier ways, which reduces stress and negative emotions and promotes successful recovery. Talk therapies help people address underlying issues, accept rather than avoid negative emotions, and develop coping skills to reduce the risk of relapse. Other traditional therapies commonly used in treatment include acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and family therapy.
Complementary therapies are those that have been shown effective for treating addiction when they are used alongside traditional therapies. Complementary therapies are experiential, involving hands-on activities that reduce stress, help people look at old problems in new ways, and promote self-expression and self-awareness. Common complementary therapies used in addiction treatment include art therapy, music therapy, equine therapy and mindfulness meditation.
Since different types of therapy address different types of issues, the therapies you will engage in during treatment depend on your unique and specific needs and issues. Through a variety of individual and group therapies during treatment, you will:
In addition to traditional and complementary therapies, a variety of interventions are used to promote whole-person healing. Additional interventions are provided based on your needs and may include:
Depending on a number of factors including the severity and length of your addiction, whether you have a co-occurring mental illness and the extent of addiction-related problems in your life, treatment can take place through an inpatient or outpatient program. Inpatient treatment involves living at a residential treatment center during rehab.
The benefits of inpatient treatment include:
Inpatient treatment is essential for people who have:
Outpatient treatment involves living at home while attending programs at the rehab center each day. Outpatient programs involve nine or fewer hours of programs each week, while intensive outpatient treatment involves at least 20 hours of weekly programs.
Benefits of outpatient treatment include:
Outpatient treatment is ideal for people who have:
The assessments taken during detox will help care providers place you in the appropriate treatment setting. As you progress through the program, you will step down to less-restrictive environments until treatment ends. An individualized aftercare plan is set in place once treatment is complete to help you navigate the early months of solo recovery.
Xanax addiction and dependence can take a major toll on your health, relationships and general levels of happiness and wellbeing. Treatment can help you end an addiction once and for all, but to get the full benefits of treatment, you must be fully engaged with your treatment plan. Here are some ways to ensure treatment will work for you:
Be honest: Honesty is essential in recovery to keep you from slipping back into old thought and behavior patterns. In detox and treatment, be completely honest with yourself, your family, your peers and your care providers.
Keep an open mind: Starting in detox, you’ll begin to become more self-aware as treatment progresses. You’ll learn all sorts of interesting things about yourself, and keeping an open mind during therapy and group meetings will help you examine and evaluate your own motivations, biases and thought distortions. Keeping an open mind helps you thoughtfully consider others’ observations and points of view.
Stay in treatment: Staying in treatment for an adequate period of time increases your chances of successful recovery. According to NIDA, treatment lasting less than 90 days is of limited effectiveness 4 . See treatment through, even if it’s hard. You’ll be glad you did.
Engage in aftercare: A study published in the Psychiatry Journal found that more than 71 percent of people who engaged in their aftercare plan for at least nine months were still sober after one year, compared to 48 percent of those who participated for six months and just 37 percent of those who participated for three months 5. Aftercare is an integral part of treatment. It helps you maintain sobriety once treatment is complete and can last as long as you need it to.
Treatment works for most people who engage with their treatment plan and stay in rehab for its duration. If you’re dependent on Xanax, medical detox can help you withdraw comfortably and safely. If you’re addicted to Xanax, a holistic rehab program will help you develop the skills, strategies and mindset you need to enjoy long-term recovery. Treatment works, and it can transform your life on all fronts.