Xanax is one of the world’s most popular prescription pills and so many different kinds of people are taking them. Xanax is is cherished for its ability to ease stress and produce a smooth chill high among all kinds of people including fast-paced professionals, moms & dads at home, high school kids, LA icons, celebrities, internet rappers, grandparents, chic New Yorkers, and of course the genuinely mentally ill people who need help with crippling anxiety. For every type of person, there’s a different reason to seek out a bottle of “chill pills,” but the end result is pretty much the same for everybody; dangerous dependence.
The active ingredient in Xanax is Alprazolam which is a member of the chemical family of Benzodiazepines, AKA benzos. Xanax is by far the most popular and widely recognized of this class of medication, but they all function very similarly. The other drugs in the benzo family which you may have heard of include:
- Lorazepam: Ativan
- Clonazepam: Klonopin
- Diazepam: Valium
- Zolpidem: Ambien
- This medication is not exactly a benzodiazepine but it shares many of the same characteristics and potential for abuse.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to talk about all benzos as a group.
1. Tolerance to Xanax and other Benzos develops FAST, especially for people with sleep problems.
One of the most common reasons that benzodiazepines are prescribed is for insomnia. When people can’t fall asleep for whatever reason, they may get a Xanax or Ambien prescription. However, according to Psychiatrist Dr. Stewart Shipko, this is a risky solution. In an interview with the Huffington Post he explains:
“Already by the end of the first week, they’re no longer getting that quality. So the dose begins to rise, say, from .5 mg, which is easily stopped, to 2 mg, which is not.”
In other words, dangerous levels of tolerance can start in just ONE week of use. This makes Xanax HIGHLY addictive since users will have to quickly start upping their doses just to get the same effect as when they originally started taking the medication as prescribed.
2. When combined with alcohol, Benzos have an ADDITIVE effect
This means that 1+1 does not equal 2 when pills are mixed with an alcoholic drink. When mixing benzos and alcohol, you will find yourself much more inebriated than intended which can lead to a dangerous situation. Young people often don’t realize how strong the combination of alcohol and benzos can be, and may find themselves getting sick and blacking out much more quickly. This not only increases the risk of overdose and accidents but can also put young people at high risk for sexual assault. While not the same as the date rape drug, Rohypnol, Xanax can be used by sexual predators to sedate targets and suppress memory in the same exact way.
3. The Xanax you get from a drug dealer is often impure
In this Vice special, Hannah Ewans took an in-depth look at the fake Xanax that is increasingly popular among teenagers. Hannah met with teens who are using fake Xanax and took some samples to the lab for testing. The researchers found that one particular type of fake Xanax, the supposedly stronger “Red Devils” contained a blend of caffeine, 2 times the regular dosage of Alprazolam (Xanax), and Diclazepam which is not even approved for use as a medication. It is strictly sold and used illegally.
Taking these home-made blends of powerful sedatives combined with caffeine is very dangerous because users are exposed to untested combinations of drugs with a stimulant, thus making accidental overdose much more likely.
4. Coming off Xanax is harder than coming off of Heroin
Xanax and other benzodiazepines lead to one of the only two kinds of withdrawal syndromes that can actually kill you. The only other potentially lethal kind of withdrawal happens with severe alcohol addiction. Heroin withdrawal, while extremely uncomfortable and torturous, will not kill you, but Xanax withdrawal can.
As a nervous system depressant, Xanax leads to functional and chemical changes in the brain with long-term use. The brain has to produce extra stimulating neurotransmitters to balance out the depressants. When the depressants are suddenly taken away, the brain is flushed with those excitatory neurotransmitters which leads to a potentially deadly, hyper-adrenergic state. When this happens, recovering Xanax addicts will experience seizures, an inability to control body temperature, hallucinations, chest pain, inability to sleep, and various other serious symptoms.
If you are struggling with a benzo addiction and you would like to detox, Do Not Go It Alone! Seek out a medically supervised detox facility where you can receive life-saving treatment if things go wrong. Coming off of Xanax requires carefully planned tapering doses of benzos along with other medical support for dangerous symptoms that may come up.
5. Xanax poses serious Overdose Risk
According to the Chicago Tribune, Xanax and other benzos are related to about a third of all prescription medication overdose deaths. This drug is widely prescribed and with its high potential for abuse, people frequently take a much higher dose than their bodies can handle.
Other addictive prescription drugs like Oxycodone and Fentanyl are also widely prescribed which means many people end up combining their pain-killers with their anti-anxiety meds. Unfortunately though, when these opioids are mixed with Xanax, they can dramatically increase the risk for overdose. That’s because all of these medications, the different classes of benzos and opiates, are respiratory depressants. This means they will all work together to suppress breathing, which is one of the main reasons people die from overdose.
Xanax, while very addictive, does have the power to help some people manage severe anxiety. It is also a highly effective aid for anesthesiologists preparing especially frightened patients for surgery. For these reasons, we’re not going to see it disappear from the pharmacy anytime soon, which means we have to be more mindful of how we’re using it, and who is getting prescriptions. If we’re not careful with this powerful anti-anxiety drug, we will see more and more people getting addicted and falling into harm’s way because of it.