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Alprazolam Abuse

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What Is Alprazolam?

Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine substance better known by its brand name, Xanax. All benzodiazepines are depressant medications that slow down a user’s body and mind, resulting in reduced anxiety and increased relaxation.

Commonly, it is prescribed to people with anxiety and panic disorders. The substance is prescribed to decrease the symptoms of:

  • Physical tension.
  • Heart palpitation.
  • Restlessness.
  • Worried thoughts.
  • Fear and panic.

Alprazolam is prescribed more frequently than any other benzodiazepine—numbering close to 49 million prescriptions in 2011. Though alprazolam is effective in medical settings, it can create an addictive “high” that can lead to abuse of the drug, even by those who begin taking it with a legitimate prescription.

Alprazolam abuse can take an enormous toll.
Learn the real effects of alprazolam abuse and addiction.

Signs and Symptoms

When taken as directed, the substance will produce the following intended effects like:
  • Feelings of peace and tranquility.
  • Relaxation of the body and mind.
  • Improved sleep.

Alprazolam is capable of producing unwanted effects as well. They include:

  • Sedation.
  • Problems with speech and coordination.
  • Feeling dizzy and disoriented.
  • Poor memory and concentration.
  • Reduced blood pressure.
  • Reduced respiration rate.

Effects of Alprazolam Abuse

In the body, it increases the effects of another substance called GABA, which is a neurotransmitter that down-regulates excitatory brain activity, slowing down the firing of neurons. This results in alprazolam’s ability to produce a sedating, tranquilizing effect.

Since alprazolam additionally elicits a pleasant euphoria and other changed responses in the brain, users can become addicted to this feeling—using more and more in an attempt to recreate these effects. The more drug is taken, the greater the likelihood that tolerance will begin to develop.

Tolerance, a condition that commonly occurs with alprazolam use, is when the body adapts to the increased amounts of the substance resulting in higher levels of the drug needed to produce the previously experienced effects. When higher levels are needed or when the substance is used in combination with alcohol or opioids like methadone, there is increased risk of overdose, which can lead to:

  • Dangerously slowed breathing.
  • Extreme sedation.
  • Coma.

One of the most devastating effects of alprazolam abuse is addiction. This is characterized by a compulsive desire to continue obtaining and using the drug even when negative events are happening to you or your loved ones because of your use. Examples of addiction signs include:

  • Increased conflict with friends, family, and coworkers.
  • Decreased performance at work or school.
  • Financial changes with more money being spent on the substance.
  • Contacting multiple doctors for prescriptions (“doctor shopping” for Xanax).

Addiction Treatment

Due to the risks of alprazolam withdrawal symptoms, professional treatment should always be sought when ending use. When done under the supervision of a medical staff, the effects can be diminished leading to a safer withdrawal process where any complications can be addressed.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Inability to sleep.
  • Irritability and depression.
  • Shakiness.
  • Seizures.

It is strongly recommended to undergo an evaluation by a physician or a substance abuse professional before ending use so that the best course of care can be recommended. When ending use, several options are recommended—the precise program will be dependent on the frequency and amount of use. These options include:

  • Detox.
  • Residential rehab.
  • Outpatient treatment.
  • Support groups.

Detoxification is the process of allowing the body to process and eliminate the substance. Rather than treatment, detox is a necessary precursor to treatment. You must rid the body of the drug before beginning your recovery. Typically, detox is completed on an inpatient basis to monitor vital signs of the user.

Following detox, someone fighting a Xanax addiction might be referred for rehab or outpatient treatment. Rehab will be appropriate in cases of more severe addiction, for those with poor support systems at home, or those who might benefit from being removed from an unhealthy environment for the duration of the recovery program. It is a residential program where the user will be living in the treatment center for a period that typically ranges between 30 and 90 days. Their time will focus on learning new skills to be happy and healthy without the substance.

Outpatient treatment takes many forms, with intensive programs requiring  multiple hours of therapy daily. Other programs will require fewer required weekly hours. They share the similarities of establishing a relapse prevention plan and exploring underlying triggers of addiction while allowing the person in treatment to live in their own home and resume normal activities.

Support groups can be used in conjunction with other treatments. These informal treatments enable people with similar substance use issues to meet, discuss their issues, and receive helpful feedback from others.


According to the Drug Enforcement Administration:

  • More than 20 million people have used benzodiazepines nonmedically in their lifetime.
  • Benzodiazepines were responsible for nearly 650,000 emergency room visits in 2010.
  • Alprazolam accounted for more than one-third of these ER visits, nearly double that of the next benzodiazepine.

Learn more at our Xanax History and Statistics page.

Teen Alprazolam Abuse

Prevention is recommended to stop use before it can begin. Consider:

  • Having an honest conversation with your teen about the risks of alprazolam abuse.
  • Keep medications safe and accounted for in the home.
  • Be aware of behavioral changes in your teen.
  • Note sudden changes in the friends with whom your teen is spending time.

Resources, Articles and More Information

To learn more, visit the following pages:

You can also find support while joining the conversation about alprazolam abuse and addiction by visiting our Forum today.

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