Xanax (generic name: alprazolam) is a prescription sedative medication that falls into the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines 1, which are commonly prescribed for the management of anxiety 1, 2. While taking Xanax as prescribed poses minimal risks, misusing Xanax by taking it without a prescription, taking more than recommended, combining it with other drugs or alcohol, or crushing it up and snorting it can have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.
Xanax is prescribed in several forms: as a tablet to be swallowed or dissolved in the mouth, as a liquid solution to be swallowed, or as an extended release tablet 2. Doctors may prescribe the extended release form to reduce the need for frequent dosing, since the drug is gradually released in the body rather than all at once. Some who abuse the drug crush up the drug and snort it in an attempt to heighten its effects.
Abusing Xanax, for example by snorting it, is dangerous because of the drug’s effects on the body. Short-term effects of using Xanax include drowsiness, dizziness, memory issues, low blood pressure, and slowed breathing 1. Combining Xanax with alcohol can compound these issues—impairing the user’s breathing and slowing their heart rate, increasing the risk of death 1.
Xanax’s pleasurable effects on the brain may lead users to abuse the drug. After it is consumed, it acts rapidly on certain neural receptors to increase the actions of GABA—an inhibitory neurotransmitter that, when active, can combat overexcitement and calm anxiety 3. Even a relatively short period of abuse can lead to a rapid development of drug tolerance, or the need for continually increasing amounts of a drug to achieve the desired effects 3. As doses are increased to overcome a growing tolerance, the potential for developing a physiological dependence increases dramatically. This is the point at which your body feels like it needs Xanax just to perform normally. Once the body has become dependent on Xanax, abruptly stopping or reducing use can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as 2:
- Trouble sleeping.
- Rebound anxiety.
- Blurry vision.
- Decreased appetite/weight loss.
- Impaired sense of smell.
- Increased perspiration.
- Problems with concentration.
- Stomach problems.
- Tingling or numbness in the extremities.
- Uncontrollable shaking.
Does Snorting Xanax Cause a Faster High?
While it is commonly believed that crushing and snorting benzodiazepines like Xanax will offer up a better high, this may actually not be the case. A study performed on the effect of diazepam (another benzodiazepine) on animals showed no direct nose-to-brain transport, meaning that nasal administration did not help the drug to reach the brain any faster 4.
This means that users who snort Xanax may be getting no more effects than users who take it orally and are instead left with the many dangers of snorting drugs, including 5:
- Nasal damage.
- Increased risk of infections.
- Irritation of the nasal cavity.
- Increased risk of nasal infections.
- Loss of sense of smell.
Xanax can cause a range of side effects that can impact a person’s physical and mental health. Side effects of snorting Xanax may include 2, 3:
- Poor concentration.
- Delayed reaction time.
- Memory impairments.
- Increased or decreased salivation.
- Changes in appetite and weight.
- Urination problems.
- Muscle and joint pain.
- Changes in sexual interest and performance.
- Suicidal thoughts.
Users are also subject to the many consequences of nasal insufflation listed above.
NOTE: Some of the side effects associated with Xanax, including drowsiness, disorientation, and poor concentration, can impair a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle and can increase the risk of accidents. For safety reasons, people under the influence should refrain from these activities.
Can Snorting Xanax Cause an Overdose?
Taking Xanax as prescribed by a doctor is unlikely to cause significant harm. However, misusing the drug by taking more than the prescribed dose, mixing it with other drugs and alcohol, and snorting it can lead to dangerous effects.
Taking Xanax as prescribed by a doctor is unlikely to cause significant harm. However, misusing the drug by taking more than the prescribed dose, mixing it with other drugs and alcohol, and snorting it can lead to dangerous effects. One significant danger of snorting Xanax is that it can be easy to miscalculate your dose and take more than intended. This increases the risk for overdose.
Common signs of an overdose include 2:
- Profound drowsiness.
- Poor coordination.
- Loss of consciousness.
In some cases, a Xanax overdose may be fatal 6. There is even evidence to suggest that it may be more lethal than other benzodiazepines 6.
If you suspect that someone is experiencing a Xanax overdose, call 911 immediately.
An overdose occurs when a person uses a toxic dose of Xanax. The amount of Xanax that can cause an overdose varies from person to person and depends on different factors, such as a person’s health and body weight.
A person may experience an overdose even after one use.
Combining Xanax with other prescription drugs, such as opioids or opiates, or using it with alcohol can significantly increase the risk of a fatal overdose 3. Other factors that may increase the risk of overdose include:
- Taking Xanax without a prescription.
- Using more Xanax than prescribed.
- Using Xanax in ways other than prescribed.
Signs That Someone is Addicted to Xanax
Someone who is addicted to Xanax is likely to show changes in his or her behavior that indicate cause for concern. Professionals use the term ‘substance use disorder’ to diagnose an inability to stop using drugs like Xanax 7. Signs that a person is addicted to Xanax (or, has a substance use disorder) include 7:
- Taking larger amounts than intended.
- Unsuccessfully trying to cut down.
- Spending a long time acquiring or recovering from Xanax.
- Strong cravings or urges to use.
- Failure to uphold obligations at work, school, and/or home because of Xanax.
- Continuing to use despite problems with relationships, inability to fulfill obligations, or loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities.
- Using Xanax in dangerous situations such as when operating machinery.
- Continuing to use despite physical or psychological problems.
- Tolerance, or a need for more to achieve the desired effects.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping Xanax.
Loved ones of people addicted to snorting Xanax may also notice additional signs such as:
- Frequent sniffling.
- Runny nose.
- Nasal congestion.
- Recurring inflammation or infections of the nasal and other upper airway passages (e.g., sinuses).
If you or someone you know is addicted to Xanax, treatment programs are available to help detox from the drug, treat the underlying addiction, and reduce the risk of relapse.
For someone abusing, the consequences of not quitting can be serious, including the ongoing risk of overdose and the accumulation of long-term physical and mental health problems. At the same time, attempting to quit Xanax without professional help can be dangerous because of the risks associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal 8, such as potentially fatal seizures.
Getting help for Xanax addiction often starts with supervised medical detox and then progresses to a duration of formal substance abuse treatment. Treatment for Xanax addiction can take place in one or more of the following settings:
- Medical detox programs. Detoxification is a process that facilitates the natural removal of Xanax from the body over time. Detox programs are designed to both alleviate discomfort and mitigating the risk of a severe acute withdrawal syndrome. Medically supervised detox is frequently encouraged in cases of addiction, since abruptly quitting Xanax can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms 8. These symptoms may be compounded by the use of other substances like alcohol. Detox may take place in a hospital or other facility where medical professionals gradually taper the dose, monitor symptoms, and administer other medications when necessary.
- Inpatient treatment. Substance abuse treatment for Xanax addiction may take place in a hospital or other inpatient facility. Recovering individuals temporarily stay in the treatment facility where they participate in daily therapy sessions. Residential centers, a form of inpatient treatment, offer more home-like environments for longer durations (usually 30-90 days). They may also offer other amenities such as nutritional guidance, meditation, exercise classes, and equine therapy.
- Outpatient treatment. In some cases, this type of care is a step down from inpatient treatment. However, some people with relatively less severe addictions may seek outpatient treatment as their primary method of recovery work. Outpatient treatment involves a certain number of therapy sessions each week. Rather than staying at a facility, individuals in outpatient programs live at home and have additional time to attend to personal obligations such as work or school.
Addiction treatment professionals may employ various therapeutic approaches when treating Xanax addiction 8,9:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).This therapy type focuses on understanding the link between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT helps people modify their negative thoughts and cope with their feelings to sustain substance abstinence.
- Contingency management. This approach provides reinforcement for abstinence and other positive behaviors, such as attending recovery meetings and passing drug tests.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). This therapeutic approach aims to help people work through their feelings about quitting drugs. The goal of MET is to increase internal motivation for recovery.
- Family therapy. Inclusion of family in therapy addresses family issues that play a role in addiction. Family therapy is especially recommended for adolescents, who often will return to problem behaviors if negative family dynamics are not resolved.
In many cases, a person wishing to quit Xanax is addicted to other drugs as well. It is common for people addicted to Xanax to also abuse alcohol, cocaine, and other prescription drugs 8. Addiction treatment can maximize its effectiveness when it addresses multiple addictions at once 8.
Addiction support groups can be beneficial during and after treatment. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a 12-step peer support group for people in all stages of recovery. NA members work through the 12 steps, which involve recognizing that one is powerless over drugs, making amends for past wrongdoings, and carrying on the message to others. SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training), is an alternative support group that encourages self-empowerment, teaches tools for change, and promotes positive lifestyle balance in addition to abstinence.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Commonly abused drugs chart.
- S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedlinePlus, Alprazolam.
- Longo, L. P., & Johnson, B. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines- Side effects, abuse risk and alternatives. American Family Physician, 61(7), 2121-2128.
- Kaur, P., & Kim, K. (2008). Pharmacokinetics and brain uptake of diazepam after intravenous and intranasal administration in rats and rabbits. International Journal of Pharmaceutics,364(1), 27-35.
- Talegaonkar, S., & Mishra, P. R. (2004). Intranasal delivery: An approach to bypass the blood brain barrier. Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 36(3), 140-147.
- Isbister, G. K., O'Regan, L., Sibbritt, D., & Whyte, I. M. (2004). Alprazolam is relatively more toxic than other benzodiazepines in overdose. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 58(1), 88-95.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Research report series: Prescription drug abuse. NIH Publication Number 15-4881.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction. NIH Pub No. 14-5605.