The Effects of Xanax Use
- Table of ContentsPrint
- What Is Xanax?
- Short-Term Effects
- Side Effects
- Lasting Health Effects
- Xanax Dependency
- Treatment for Addiction
What Is Xanax?
Xanax (generic name: alprazolam) is a powerful benzodiazepine drug that was first introduced in 1976.1 The medication comes in tablet form or an extended-release capsule.2
Xanax is among the most prescribed, and most abused, benzodiazepine drugs in the US, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.3 The top 5 most prescribed benzodiazepines are:3
When taken as prescribed, it has potent and therapeutic anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant and sedative effects.2 The substance is often prescribed for mental health disorders related to anxiety, including:2
- Generalized anxiety disorder.
- Panic disorder.
- Various phobias.
Benzodiazepines all share many similar properties, with the biggest difference being the speed of onset and the duration of the effects. Xanax is a drug that acts quickly in the body with most of the desired effects occurring within about an hour.4
When taken as prescribed, the short-term effects of Xanax are beneficial to many individuals. It has the potential to reduce the physical tension, restlessness, and feelings of unease common with anxiety.2
You don't have to use it for a long time to begin experiencing some of the negative effects of the medication, however.2 Some of the common effects of Xanax are impaired concentration, slurred speech, and memory problems.2 People using the prescription drug may also be irritable and unusually tired.2
When you use Xanax in larger quantities, the effects become more dramatic. Some people also become confused when they take the medication.2
All prescription medications have side effects, including Xanax. Even adhering to prescribed dosing and scheduling can give rise to multiple side effects—with some being more serious than others. Some of the common side effects of Xanax include:2,5
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Dry mouth.
- Changes in sex drive.
- Inability to perform sexually.
- Increased salivation.
- Problems urinating.
- Weight changes.
- Joint pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Memory problems.
- Unusual changes in mood.
Overdose can occur when someone takes more than their prescribed dose, takes the prescribed dose on a more rapid schedule, or takes the drug with another drug like alcohol.2 Signs of benzodiazepine overdose can include:2,5
- Sleepiness/sleeping for long periods.
- Problems with coordination.
- Impaired reflexes.
- Respiratory depression.
When you see the signs of an overdose, don't wait. Learn what to do at our blog, Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose.
Credit: Fox 47 News
Lasting Health Effects
Chronic use or abuse of sedatives is associated with:6
- Cognitive deficits.
- Psychomotor impairment.
In a meta-analysis of individuals using benzodazepines on a long-term basis, cognitive impairments were noted upon withdrawal and remained at follow-up. These include problems with sensory processing, verbal memory, working memory, verbal speed, and motor performance.7
Another pronounced long-term effect is sedation. This sedation can be exacerbated by mixing Xanax with alcohol, Since each substance serves as a depressant, their combined effects are amplified. Because of this—and because of the aforementioned overdose risk—using alcohol while taking any benzodiazepine is never recommended.2,5
If you continually use Xanax, especially in larger quantities, you can develop a chemical dependency to the medication. When this happens, your body doesn't function properly without it. It is possible to become physically dependent on the drug even if you use it as prescribed.
People who take Xanax for an extended amount of time may build up a tolerance for the drug. When tolerance occurs, your body requires a larger dose or an increased frequency of use to achieve the same or similar effect that the substance had on you when you began taking it.2
If you continually use Xanax, especially in larger quantities, you can eventually develop a chemical dependency to the medication. When this happens, your body doesn't function properly without it. Of note, it is possible – if not likely – for someone to become physically dependent on the drug even when used as prescribed.2
You can also experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Xanax. Some users may continue taking it to avoid the onset of these unpleasant, even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. The dangers of Xanax withdrawal necessitate medical care during detox from this prescription drug.8 Many addiction treatment programs offer medical detox to ensure that you stay safe as you end your Xanax use and begin your recovery.
Physical dependence is one of many possible signs of addiction, but is not addiction in and of itself. Addiction is marked by an overwhelming desire to get and consume a substance in spite of the adverse consequences of doing so.9
Potential for Abuse and Addiction
Like most benzodiazepines, it has great potential for tolerance, addiction, abuse, and dependence when used long-term. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Xanax can become addictive if the medication is used in large quantities or for a prolonged period of time.5 Despite its potential for benefit, the medication also has various side effects that can occur, which may prove dangerous.2,5
Adding to the danger associated with use is the risk of physical injury if the medication is suddenly stopped. The harm usually comes in the form of severe seizures and convulsions, and should always been considered as a risk in those who've taken a benzodiazepine for any considerable length of time.5,8
The negative effects of Xanax withdrawal are counter to the desired effects of the drug. They include:2,5
- Blurred vision.
- Muscle cramps.
- Paresthesias or numbness/tingling in the extremities.
- Digestive upset.
Treatment for Addiction
When you first arrive at a treatment center, you begin the detoxification process. Medical detox is extremely important for Xanax-dependent individuals due to seizure risk and other medical dangers.8 During medical detox, you may be slowly weaned off Xanax over the course of several weeks in order to give your body a chance to readjust without experiencing the risks of abrupt cessation.8 You may also be switched to another benzodiazepine with a longer half-life and then tapered off that medication.8
Hospitals, detoxification centers and rehab centers have trained medical staff on hand to help you cope with your withdrawal symptoms. If your symptoms are persistent, the staff can administer medication to help the symptoms subside and aid your comfort.
Once the detoxification process is over, your treatment will shift to include addressing the reasons behind your use and will generally include some forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling (individual and group). They may also use other techniques such as contingency management, which incentivizes positive behaviors.10
Outpatient treatment programs offer more flexibility than inpatient programs. However, some people need the additional structure that an inpatient program provides. It's important that you review all of your options and choose a program that's right for your physical health, mental health, and overall well-being.
Outpatient treatment programs allow you to work and spend the evening with your family. There is a wide range of options for outpatient treatment including:
- Individual and/or group therapy. This helps target the underlying factors in your addiction or dependence.
- Nonprofessional/ community-based support groups. In recovery, there are many programs (such as AA and NA) and peer support groups that can be helpful in maintaining distance from a problematic substance.
Inpatient treatment programs require you to live at the facility for the duration of your treatment, typically 30, 60 or 90 days. During your stay, your days focus entirely on your recovery. A typical day at a treatment facility could include group therapy sessions, individual therapy sessions, recreational activities designed to help you learn how to function without drugs, addiction education groups, skills training, relapse prevention techniques and optional church services.
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- American Chemical Society. (n.d.). Alprazolam.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2011). Xanax.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). BENZODIAZEPINES.
- Vancouver Coastal Health. (n.d.). Comparison of Benzodiazepines.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Alprazolam.
- Weymann, D., Gladstone, E. J., Smolina, K., & Morgan, S. G. (2017). Long-term sedative use among community-dwelling adults: a population-based analysis. CMAJ Open, 5(1), E52–E60.
- Chowdhury, Z. S., Morshed, M. M., Shahriar, M., Bhuiyan, M. A., Islam, S. M. A., & Bin Sayeed, M. S. (2016). The Effect of Chronic Alprazolam Intake on Memory, Attention, and Psychomotor Performance in Healthy Human Male Volunteers. Behavioural Neurology, 2016, 3730940.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine).