Xanax, or alprazolam, is a popular anti-anxiety drug. Xanax works by binding with GABA receptors in the brain, which causes feelings of relaxation and sedation.
Like any drug, Xanax can cause a range of unwanted side effects, and long-term use of the drug is especially risky. Long-term effects of Xanax use include physical dependence and addiction.
Taking too much Xanax or mixing it with other drugs can lead to an overdose. Chronic Xanax use often results in severe withdrawal symptoms when a person ceases taking the drug.
Xanax is a short-acting central nervous system depressant in the benzodiazepine class of drugs.
Xanax works quickly, which makes it very effective for treating panic disorder and other forms of anxiety. Most people begin to feel the calming effects of the drug within 30 to 45 minutes. People who use alprazolam recreationally may refer to these effects as a Xanax high.
The most common short-term side effects of alprazolam are an extension of the drug’s tranquilizing effects. They can include drowsiness, light-headedness and dizziness.
The drug’s effects last about six hours, but high doses may produce longer-lasting effects. Xanax stays in a person’s body longer and is detectable in a person’s bloodstream for up to two and a half days, or in urine for up to five days.
Serious side effects include: shortness of breath, seizures, hallucinations, depression, memory problems, confusion, trouble speaking, mood changes and suicidal thoughts or actions.
Chronic use of Xanax can lead to other problems, including physical dependence and a return of the symptoms that the person was originally taking the drug to relieve. Xanax addiction can also develop when a person uses the drug for an extended period of time.
Dependence on Xanax can occur in just a few weeks. The risk of dependence — and the severity of dependence — is greater in those who take more than 4 milligrams of Xanax per day for more than 12 weeks.
When a person becomes physically dependent on a drug, they’ll need higher doses to achieve the desired effect. They’ll also develop withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the drug.
Signs of dependence include a relapse of their original problem. A person who is taking Xanax for panic disorder, for instance, may notice a return of symptoms that are just as severe as before they began treatment. In some cases, people experience more intense symptoms than they did originally. This is known as a rebound effect.
Xanax is highly addictive and a person who uses the drug regularly can easily develop a Xanax addiction. A person who is addicted to alprazolam will use the drug compulsively and have a hard time stopping the drug, even when they want to.
When a person takes Xanax for a long period of time, changes occur in their brain chemistry, and they can’t function normally without the drug. As a result, a sudden reduction in dosage in someone who is dependent on Xanax can bring about extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
While rare, Xanax withdrawal can cause seizures that can be life threatening. The risk of seizures is higher when a person abruptly reduces their dose or stops taking the drug cold turkey — but anyone withdrawing from Xanax can suffer a seizure.
Even patients doing a gradual taper off the drug can suffer a seizure. The risk is greatest during the first one to three days of discontinuing Xanax, according to the drug’s manufacturer.
Some people also exhibit withdrawal symptoms in between their regular doses. This is believed to occur because the drug has a short half-life, meaning it exits the body quickly.
A person dependent on Xanax can accidentally go into withdrawal if they forget to take a dose of their drug, or are in an emergency situation, such as a hospital admission, that prevents them from taking the drug.
When taken as directed, Xanax rarely causes an overdose. But mixing alcohol and Xanax, or taking it with other CNS depressants can worsen the drug’s effects and increase the chances of a fatal toxic reaction.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses involve benzos, such as Xanax. A one-year study published in the journal Pain Medicine in 2016 found that overdose death rates were 10 times higher when people were using both benzos and opioids, as opposed to opioids alone.
If you or someone you know is showing the signs and symptoms of a Xanax overdose, call 911 for assistance and stay with them until help arrives. In some cases, an antidote called Flumazenil can reverse the effects of a benzo overdose. Unfortunately, flumazenil can’t be used in all cases and can sometimes trigger seizures.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a Xanax addiction, treatment can help.
Many people are afraid to seek help for Xanax dependence because they fear going through withdrawal. Fortunately, these symptoms can be controlled and managed via a medically monitored detox. After detox, rehab can provide you with the tools to conquer your addiction.
Overcoming a Xanax habit can be challenging, but professional treatment can help you break the cycle of addiction and get you safely on the road to recovery.
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