Xanax: How Much is Too Much?

man taking a xanax pill
Xanax addiction is extremely dangerous and can be fatal.
Xanax (generic name alprazolam) is a fast-acting benzodiazepine drug and central nervous system depressant—a grouping that includes several other sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic drugs.1,2 When taken as prescribed, Xanax can be very helpful for the short-term management of panic and anxiety.1 That said, like many other psychoactive medications, when use becomes chronic, more frequent, or otherwise exceeds prescription recommendations, it can become highly addictive and potentially dangerous.

Is Xanax Really That Addictive?

Xanax is a DEA Schedule IV controlled substance, meaning the it has a relatively low potential for abuse and dependence.3 However, the statistics on Xanax abuse and addiction tell a different story.

In 2017, 19,683 people were admitted to treatment facilities in the United States citing addiction to benzos like Xanax as their primary reason for seeking treatment.4

Benzos like Xanax are so addictive that, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 4 in 10 users may develop significant physiological dependence in as little as 6 weeks of daily use.5 This may seem surprising, considering that it is a widely prescribed medication; some may even say it’s simple to get a Xanax prescription from your doctor.

What Makes Xanax So Addictive?

Often, patients taking regular doses of Xanax are doing so to manage panic or other anxiety disorder. With its quick onset of action, shortly after taking a dose of the drug you will generally feel more calm and relaxed. Benzos increase inhibitory brain signaling to depress the central nervous system, which may be unusually activated, or excitatory, during times of high anxiety.6

Due to its fast-acting calming effects, many users feel compelled to take more than prescribed or take it more frequently than prescribed, both of which make the development of dependence more likely.

Due to its fast-acting calming effects, many users feel compelled to take more than prescribed or take it more frequently than prescribed, both of which make the development of dependence more likely.6 People with significant dependence are also at risk of experiencing unpleasant and, at times, dangerous withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t able to continue taking the drug. Being caught in such a cycle can ultimately exacerbate the illness or disorder the user was originally trying to treat.

Is Xanax Addiction Dangerous?

Yes, Xanax addiction can be extremely dangerous. While it’s difficult to overdose on Xanax alone, when taken in conjunction with other drugs, such as alcohol or certain other drugs that alter vital physiological processes, the effects of the drug are intensified, which can result in severe injury and death.7

Not only that, but the physical and psychological dependence that commonly develop in Xanax addiction can be extremely detrimental to your health and quality of life. You can become quite dependent on the drug in just a short amount of time and may experience highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, nervousness, and insomnia when you try to stop taking it.7

If you’ve become addicted, you may find yourself preoccupied with taking Xanax and begin to believe that you can’t function in normal daily activities without it. This may result in social withdrawal, financial hardships, and isolation.8

What Are Some of the Drawbacks to Problematic Use?

Signs and symptoms of drug misuse can include fatigue and drowsiness.

Signs and symptoms of Xanax misuse can impact many facets of your life and may include:4,6,7

  • Ever-growing tolerance to the drug (you have to take more to feel the same effects).
  • Frequent drowsiness.
  • Prolonged sleep.
  • Lethargy and fatigue.
  • Dizziness and light-headedness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Memory problems.
  • Depression.
  • Persistent headaches.

What Treatment Do I Need for Xanax Addiction?

If you’re concerned that you or someone close to you has developed a Xanax addiction, your best option may be to seek out professional treatment, which can come in several forms such as short-term or long-term inpatient or outpatient rehab, depending on the level of dependence.9

Medical Detox

Since Xanax is associated with significant physical dependence and a risk of severe or complicated withdrawal symptoms, a program of supervised medical detox and withdrawal management may be needed. Benzodiazepine dependence and the accompanying withdrawal syndrome are notoriously difficult to manage on your own and may require significantly more time and effort than certain other types of substance withdrawal management.

Inpatient Treatment

If your addiction is quite severe you may want to find yourself an inpatient treatment program. Not only do inpatient treatment settings provide you with a safe space to withdraw from the drug in a temptation-free environment. You’ll have access to round-the-clock care and support, a structured schedule, and individual and group therapy sessions designed to help you recalibrate and plan the next steps in your life.

Outpatient Treatment

If personal recovery supports are in place and individual stressors, triggers, and temptations to take Xanax are relatively low at home, outpatient treatment programs may be a viable rehabilitation option for you. You’ll like this option if you still need to go to work or live at home.

Depending on your program and your individual situation, you’ll visit the treatment center for treatment—this could be every day for a quick check in, a few hours a day, or for several days a week depending on program intensity. Regardless of the specific structure, all outpatient treatment programs offer various forms of therapy to assist you with ongoing recovery, as well as addiction education and life planning.

Community-Based Treatment

Another option you may want to look into is community-based recovery, such as 12-step programs (e.g., Narcotics Anonymous, Pills Anonymous). Meetings are free and hosted all over the U.S. They can be highly effective when it comes to recovery, relapse prevention, and helping you maintain a Xanax-free life.

One final thing to keep in mind: Though outlets of community support are a great option and often utilized both during and after structured rehabilitation programs, attention should be paid to your withdrawal risks. Xanax withdrawal can be dangerous if doing it alone. Evaluation from a physician or other treatment professional can help you decide if your dependence and other addiction-related issues are severe enough that you may first need to get inpatient care.


Sources

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Misuse of Prescription Drugs: What classes of prescription drugs are commonly misused?
  2. Ait-Daoud, N., Hamby, A.S., Sharma, S., Blevins, D. (2018). A Review of Alprazolam Use, Misuse, and Withdrawal. J Addict Med., 12(1), 4-10.
  3. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Drug Scheduling.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 2017: Admissions to and Discharges from Publicly-Funded Substance Use Treatment.
  5. Board, J. (2013). Royal College of Psychiatrists. Benzodiazepines.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). DrugFacts: Prescription CNS Depressants: What are prescription CNS depressants?
  7. Long, L. Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives. Am Fam Physician; 61(7): 2121-2128.
  8. Weaver, M.F. (2015). Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse. Yale J Biol Med, 88(3), 247-256.
  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.