Xanax – the brand name for alprazolam – is a prescription drug that is a part of the class of drugs called benzodiazepines. It is commonly prescribed, but also often used illicitly – many references to Xanax in popular music and movies have unfortunately cemented it as a part of American culture.
Often prescribed for anxiety or panic disorders, Xanax has a high potential for abuse. It gives the person calm, relaxed feelings. It is also prescribed for insomnia, convulsive disorders, to help with detox from alcohol and other drugs, and muscle spasm disorders.
Some common street names include Xannies, Bars, Z-Bars, Zanbars, Xanbars, Handlebars, Planks, Bricks, Benzos. Xanax normally comes in pill form but is also available as tablets or liquid. Illicit ways to take Xanax include taking it orally or injecting it. Most take it orally, as it is an extremely fast-acting drug – injection isn’t really needed.
Xanax acts on the central nervous system by enhancing how the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) acts on the brain. By enhancing its effect, Xanax depresses the central nervous system and slows down the body’s responses – physical, mental, and emotional.
Because Xanax is used to treat panic or anxiety disorders (that can have a sudden onset), the drug needed to be designed to be extremely fast-acting. It only takes around 40-50 minutes to feel the effects of the drug.
Exactly how Xanax will impact the body depends on individual factors. Your physical condition plays a huge part. Things like your height and weight will dictate how Xanax will impact your body. The short-term effects of illicit Xanax will be similar to the therapeutic effects including sleepiness, reduction in anxiety, and sedation.
It commonly takes around 6-8 hours to stop feeling the effects of drug with a normal dose. A remarkably high dose could prolong the effects. Just because you no longer feel the drug, doesn’t mean it has left your body completely. A urine drug test can detect Xanax for up to five days after taking the drug.
Side effects differ from the short-term effects because they are not the normal and expected effects. These side effects can happen to those taking the drug as prescribed and those abusing Xanax, however, they can often be worse without a doctor’s guidance. A doctor can help develop a safe dose and make sure no other medication you are taking will have negative interactions with Xanax.
Some of the most common side effects are relatively minor and include:
Less common but more severe side effects can include:
Xanax can cause other side effects than the ones listed. This is another reason it’s extremely important to only take Xanax with the help of your doctor. They can help you sort through your symptoms and determine if the Xanax is causing the problem.
Xanax shouldn’t be used long term because it’s highly addictive. In just 2 weeks, you can develop a dependence. With prolonged use, you will start to develop a tolerance to Xanax, leading you to take larger and larger doses to have the same effects.
If you are taking Xanax under the care of the doctor, your doctor will periodically review you and your symptoms and find alternatives to Xanax if needed. If you are taking the Xanax on your own, you will likely develop a dependence and continually increase the dose you take.
One of the most common signs of a developing dependence is a return of the anxiety, panic, or other symptoms that you originally started taking the Xanax to treat. Often the symptoms will feel the same as they did before. Other times, the symptoms can feel more extreme – this is called the rebound effect.
If you develop a dependence, you can quickly develop an addiction. This means you will need to take the drug regardless of the negative impacts. At this point, if you quit taking the drug, you will likely start to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the physical or mental long-term effects of Xanax can include:
Some other common long-term effects of the drug include the impacts on other parts of your life. Some experience accidents or hurt themselves due to the sedative effect of Xanax. Others may struggle at work or even get fired. You may start to have problems with your spouse or other family and friends due to neglecting your various responsibilities. Lastly, you might experience financial difficulties like missed bills or high debt due to the high cost of a drug dependency.
Doctors have noted a connection between using Xanax and emotional blunting. While the exact way this happens is still unclear, Xanax and other benzodiazepines seem to increase the rates of depression. Some take Xanax to make themselves number – commonly those who struggle to deal with the emotions and stressors of life.
Withdrawal from Xanax can be dangerous, even fatal, at it’s worse and uncomfortable at it’s best. Withdrawal from Xanax should not be attempted without talking to a doctor first. You should never stop taking Xanax cold turkey. Going off Xanax should be a gradual tapering off. A doctor can help develop a plan that will be best for safely getting off Xanax.
The longer you have been taking Xanax and the higher your doses, the harder withdrawal will be. Some common symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:
It’s extremely rare to have an overdose when you are taking Xanax under a doctor’s order. However, there are certain things that can increase the chances of an overdose. One is taking the drug illicitly in large amounts. Higher doses than recommended increase the likelihood of an overdose.
Another factor that makes overdosing on Xanax more likely is combining the drug with other drugs or alcohol. The most dangerous combination is Xanax and drugs that block the pathway cytochrome P450 3A (CYP3A) because that pathway is how your body gets rid of Xanax. Restricting that pathway can make overdosing much more likely.
A study published in Pain Medicine concluded that mixing a benzodiazepine like Xanax with an opioid makes the rate of death from overdose 10 times higher than just taking opioids alone.
Some medications that block that pathway include:
In addition, alcohol can also make an overdose more likely because it depresses your central nervous system. Mixing of any of these with Xanax can happen accidentally or on purpose – regardless of if your doctor prescribed the Xanax or not – so it’s incredibly important to be honest with your doctor about your drug and alcohol use.
Overdosing on Xanax can cause many symptoms ranging from mild to extreme. Death is possible. Your symptoms will be more severe if you took large amounts of Xanax, if your body chemistry makes you more sensitive to the effects, and if you also drank alcohol or took other drugs.
Symptoms ranging from mild to more extreme can include:
If you are worried that you may be developing a dependence on Xanax, it’s important to talk to your doctor or a treatment center right away. Both can help you develop a plan for tapering off of the drug and can help you find help dealing with the stress and anxiety in more sustainable ways.