Xanax Abuse & Addiction Symptoms, Causes, Signs & Side Effects

Xanax, the trade name of a drug called “alprazolam,” is a benzodiazepine medication that is prescribed by doctors for short-term management of anxiety or sleep disorders.

Understanding Xanax Abuse

Learn More About Xanax Addiction

Xanax produces its calming effects by suppressing the inhibitory receptors in the brain and central nervous system to decrease the abnormal excitement in the brain that leads to anxiety symptoms. While most individuals who take Xanax follow the doctor’s instructions, taking the drug at the proper time at the proper dose and discontinuing usage as indicated. Unfortunately for some, Xanax can become addicting if taken in large quantities over a long period of time.

Known on the street as “bars,” “planks,” or “zanies,” Xanax abuse is ever-increasing. Some individuals combine Xanax with other downer drugs like opiates or alcohol in order to increase the pleasurable feelings. This can lead to negative health consequences such as respiratory arrest, coma, and death. Others use Xanax to control unwanted side effects of stimulant abuse. This combination of uppers and downers can lead to cardiovascular complications such as myocardial infarction.

The effects of Xanax abuse and addiction know no bounds. Every part of an addict’s life can be altered by addiction to alprazolam. Family relationships grow strained, work productivity decreases, and the individual may begin to feel trapped in a vicious cycle of addiction. Negative health consequences may become apparent, but an addict feels trapped in a cycle of obsessing about Xanax – getting more, using more, and recovering from the effects of the drug.

With prolonged usage, individuals may become dependent upon Xanax, meaning that they rely upon the drug both physically and psychologically. In Xanax, many addicts have found a pleasant escape from everyday stressors and must relearn how to have a productive, enjoyable life without Xanax. Sober living skills often take time to develop as an individual addicted to Xanax may feel life without the drug is unbearable. Many addicts, in fact, take Xanax to feel normal and function in everyday life, as they may have come to believe that they cannot function without it. These individuals will require drug rehab before embarking on a new, sober life.


Statistics of Xanax Addiction

Addiction and abuse of Xanax is a rapidly growing problem in the United States. Between 2004 and 2010, the number of individuals who visited the emergency room suffering from Xanax effects nearly tripled. Of the 125,000 who visited the ER in 2010, over 96,000 had used more than one drug with Xanax – most often alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, or opiate narcotics.

In 2011, Treatment Episode Data Set Report discovered that 60,200 individuals who sought rehab were addicted to benzos such as Xanax; a wild increase from 1998 in which 22,400 individuals sought treatment for the same drug class.


Causes and Risk Factors for Xanax Abuse

Addiction is thought to be a disease caused by multiple factors working together. Causes for Xanax addiction may include:

Genetic: Individuals who have a relative who struggles with addiction to Xanax or other substances are more likely to develop an addiction to Xanax themselves. While not a definitive indicator, there is absolutely a greater risk among family members.

Brain Chemistry: Xanax works by decreasing the excitement transmitted via neurotransmitters in the brain. Individuals who have an inborn tendency toward increased levels of these neurotransmitters may seek ways to decrease this excitement and may self-medicate with Xanax.

Environmental: Individuals who are born into an unstable home environment, especially if substance abuse is modeled by a parent or guardian, are at greater risks for developing substance abuse later in life.

Psychological: As addiction rarely occurs without the presence of another mental illness, many individuals who struggle with undertreated or undiagnosed mental illnesses may turn to drugs or alcohol in order to manage the symptoms of their disorder.


Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Abuse

Symptoms of Xanax abuse and addiction will vary among individuals, depending upon individual genetic makeup, level of dependence, length of addiction, and amount used. Common symptoms of Xanax addiction include the following:

Mood symptoms:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Doctor shopping
  • Appearing drowsy
  • Lying or stealing to further Xanax habit
  • Stealing or borrowing Xanax from friends and loved ones
  • Hiding stashes of Xanax in various places around the home, office, and car
  • “Losing” multiple prescriptions for Xanax
  • Lying about amount used
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities
  • Decline in academic or occupational functioning
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Legal problems
  • Mounting financial problems
  • Inability to focus upon tasks at hand
  • Slurred speech
  • Lowered libido

Physical symptoms:

  • Requiring more and greater amounts of Xanax to achieve the same pleasurable feelings
  • Physical dependence upon the drug
  • Withdrawal symptoms if Xanax is decreased or discontinued
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Swollen extremities
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Tremors
  • Headaches

Psychological symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Memory deficits
  • Developing addiction to other substances
  • Addiction
  • Psychological dependence
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions


Effects of Xanax Abuse

The effects of long-term Xanax abuse will differ from person to person, but one thing is clear: addiction to Xanax leaves virtually no area of an addict’s life unscathed. Some of the most common effects of Xanax abuse include:

  • Crumbling interpersonal relationships
  • Short-term memory impairment
  • Social isolation
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Decreased libido
  • Tremors
  • Preoccupation with obtaining, using, and recovering from Xanax
  • Job loss
  • Financial ruin
  • Legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Increased respiratory infections
  • Depression
  • Chest pain
  • Hyperactivity
  • Suicidal thoughts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Learn About Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction to Xanax rarely occurs in the absence of other mental illnesses. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stimulant abuse
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose for Xanax Abuse

When an individual who has become physically and psychologically dependent upon Xanax attempts to stop using the drug, he or she will likely go through symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal from Xanax is something that should only be done under the supervision of a physician as the effects of withdrawal can cause serious negative consequences. Most common effects of Xanax withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • “Brain fog”
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

When my brother entered treatment for his xanax addiction, I wasn't sure it was going to work. But Park Royal must do something right because he has been 6 months sober since his release and I'm so happy to see him back to being himself.

– Anonymous Patient