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Xanax Facts, History and Statistics | Dangers and Legality

Xanax is the well-known brand name for alprazolam. This medication belongs to a class of sedative and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs called benzodiazepines.

History of Xanax Use

Xanax is most commonly prescribed to treat:

  • Anxiety.
  • Panic disorders.

Dr. Leo Sternbach created the first benzodiazepine—chlordiazepoxide (Librium)—in 1956 in an attempt to create safer, less addictive alternatives to traditional tranquilizer drugs such as alcohol, barbiturates, and meprobamate.

First introduced in the US market in 1981, alprazolam is distinguished by:

  • Intermediate onset of action.
  • Shorter half-life, or quicker elimination from the body than other commonly prescribed benzodiazepines such as Valium and Librium.

Xanax became widely used in the treatment of anxiety disorders because it provides rapid symptom relief for these disorders (within a week of beginning treatment) and shows no decrease in its effectiveness over time, even when it is used for several years.

Like many other anxiolytic and sedative drugs, alprazolam works by binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptors in the brain, which decreases the overall level of brain activity. By activating GABAA receptors, Xanax reduces feelings of anxiety and panic in patients, but it can also produce euphoria when it is taken in larger doses, leading some people to abuse this medication.

Xanax Abuse, Dependence, and Withdrawal

Although benzodiazepines were initially thought to have little potential for abuse, dependence and withdrawal symptoms are now well known among users of many of these drugs—including alprazolam.

In fact, severe withdrawal symptoms can be observed when individuals stop taking Xanax suddenly—even in patients who take this drug exactly as directed. For this reason, doctors gradually reduce a patient’s dose over time before directing them to stop taking it altogether.

In users who become dependent on alprazolam outside of a doctor’s care, Xanax withdrawal symptoms are often pronounced and include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Seizures/convulsions.

Despite problems with abuse and withdrawal, Xanax is still commonly prescribed because it remains a very effective treatment for anxiety, and laboratory studies have suggested its abuse potential is lower than that of older alternatives. However, this does not suggest that it has no potential for abuse or addiction. Non-medical use or inappropriate doses can quickly lead to a problem. Xanax dependency can lead users to seek the drug out illegitimately for non-medical use.

The high number of legal prescriptions for alprazolam being issued has increased the availability of this drug on the street. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has identified “doctor shopping” and prescription forging as major sources of alprazolam on the black market.

If you’ve become addicted to Xanax and are unable to stop using, you don’t have to do it alone. Call American Addiction Centers (AAC) for free at to find help getting started on your journey to a happy, healthy life.

Who’s Abusing Xanax?

Since 2006, there has been a rapid increase in the number of people admitted to drug treatment centers in the US for sedative or tranquilizer use in general—as well as for Xanax use, in particular.

This increase tracks closely with the increase in legal prescriptions written for Xanax and other forms of alprazolam over the same time period, suggesting that the increase in the legal availability of these medications may be indirectly fueling their abuse.

It is a hopeful sign that treatment admissions for alprazolam abuse have leveled off and the number of people reporting recent non-medical use of Xanax or related drugs has declined in recent years.

Such figures may indicate that the peak of alprazolam abuse has passed, but whether these trends will continue remains unknown.

Online Interest in Xanax

Additionally, Google Trends shows that monthly numbers of Internet searches including the term “Xanax” have nearly doubled since 2004, with the highest increases concentrated in the southern and eastern regions of the country.

The Xanax Market

Over 49 million prescriptions for alprazolam were written in 2012, making this drug the second-most prescribed psychoactive drug that year after the narcotic painkiller hydrocodone.

Because alprazolam is available as a generic tablet, costs for legal prescriptions are very low, ranging from $17-$27 for 30 2mg tablets, or between $0.56 and $0.90 per pill.

The street cost of alprazolam varies significantly, but it has been estimated at $5 per 2mg tablet. This high profit margin likely explains why such large amounts of this drug are diverted to illicit use.

Xanax and the Law

In the US, alprazolam is available by prescription only. Furthermore, this drug is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the DEA, reflecting the consensus that this drug has a relatively low—but real—potential for abuse or dependence.

The increase in Xanax abuse that has been reported in the last 10 years has led to efforts to further restrict its use. Tennessee has enacted rules requiring doctors to:

  • Check patients’ drug histories in a statewide database before prescribing drugs such as Xanax.
  • Dispense no more than a 30-day supply at one time.

In the United Kingdom, alprazolam is no longer made available through the public National Health Service.

Legal Penalties of Using Xanax

Doctors and pharmacists are required to keep detailed records when prescribing or dispensing alprazolam. Users found to be in possession of the drug without a prescription can be subject to:

  • Up to 5 years in prison for a 1st offense.
  • 10 years for a 2nd offense under federal drug laws.

These penalties apply for any quantity of Xanax, even a single pill.

Additionally, states can apply their own penalties to cases involving controlled substances. In Florida, for example, anyone convicted of illegal possession of Xanax:

  • Must have their driver’s license revoked for a minimum of 2 years.
  • Is subject to other penalties.

How Dangerous Is Xanax?

The motivation behind the development of alprazolam and other benzodiazepines, as stated earlier, was to find safe and effective alternatives to older sedative and anxiolytic drugs. However, the dangers of abuse and dependence associated with alprazolam are greater than initially thought.

Xanax overdose can cause symptoms of sedation, including drowsiness and confusion, but life-threatening symptoms are rare when this drug is taken alone. However, abusers frequently combine Xanax with other drugs—such as alcohol or cocaine—to enhance the drugs’ effects; such combinations can indeed be deadly if large doses are taken.

Multiple studies have reported that drinkers and former drug abusers experience significantly greater mental impairment when taking alprazolam than other people. This suggests that such groups are at greater risk of abusing alprazolam and may experience more severe adverse reactions if they do.

Increases in emergency room visits due to alprazolam use have increased in parallel with the increase in abuse observed in the last 10 years.

The fact that approximately 50% of Xanax-related emergency room visits do not involve any other drugs demonstrates that Xanax presents a real danger to health—even for those who do not combine alprazolam with other drugs.

How to Find Xanax Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with Xanax misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional addiction treatment can start anyone battling a substance use problem on the path to a happier and healthier life. American Addiction Centers (AAC) runs trusted facilities across the country. To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options, please contact a caring admissions navigator with AAC free at .

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