Initially created to be a sleep aid and muscle relaxant, as time progressed, Xanax was found to be effective in treating anxiety, panic attacks, and mood disorders. Also referred to as alprazolam, this drug has grown in popularity over the years for its fast-acting relief. The downside is that long-term Xanax use can have many side effects on the mind and body, one of the most debilitating being addiction.
Benzodiazepines like Xanax are central nervous system depressants that slow down brain activity by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This brain chemical is seen as a natural tranquilizer, producing a calming feeling in the mind. GABA stops signals that would excite and lead to anxiety or panic. The medication’s effects usually kick in an hour after consumption and last around four to six hours. When people misuse Xanax in an attempt to extend the high, whether it’s by taking more than prescribed or crushing it, they are likely to pass out from the drug’s sedative effects.
Most medical professionals will prescribe this medication on an “as-needed” basis. People struggling with anxiety might be told to use Xanax when they feel a surge of panic or when their anxiety prevents them from completing a task such as driving or sleeping. Some doctors are hesitant to prescribe Xanax because of the high potential for misuse and long-term side effects. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved short-term Xanax treatment for most conditions—around eight weeks.
As for its appearance, Xanax comes in various forms and strengths including pills, capsules, and liquid. Individuals who choose to self-medicate for their anxiety may purchase the substance illegally from dealers, sometimes referred to on the street as “bars” or “xannies.” However, this is very risky as cases of Xanax laced with fentanyl and other synthetic ingredients have risen in recent years.
Why Do People Take Xanax?
As mentioned, doctors and psychiatrists prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety and panic attacks. In such a high-stress world, it’s no surprise that 1 in 5 people in the US suffer from an anxiety disorder. Off-label, some users also take the drug to relieve insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and depression.
Many users suffering from anxiety are drawn to Xanax because it creates a sense of relief to allow them to focus on their lives without troubling thoughts or phobias swarming their minds. The substance also works to reduce physical symptoms like rapid heart rate or hyperventilation. While Xanax has been proven to help people ease their anxiety, the benzo has also attracted a group of users who don’t have a legitimate need for it.
Taking benzodiazepines “casually” has become normalized in our society. Some people report using Xanax to cope with emotions, sleep, or just to fit in with friends. But the line between medicinal vs. abuse becomes blurred when someone is constantly taking the drug to control moods or to relax at a party. The other issue here is the ease of access. Nowadays, if you don’t have a prescription, you can likely find the substance in your parent’s medicine cabinet or borrow some from a friend. This may be why 5.9 million people over the age of 12 misuse sedatives and/or tranquilizers such as Xanax.
What Are the Effects of Xanax?
Even when taken daily as prescribed, users can quickly build up tolerance and dependence. If they do attempt to quit, their brain goes into a sort of shock as it’s forced to learn how to produce GABA naturally again. During this period, a person might experience severe anxiety and other psychological symptoms, leading to a vicious withdrawal cycle. Hence why many people get hooked – sometimes as little as 6 weeks – and end up becoming reliant on Xanax.
Below are some of the physical and psychological long-term side effects of misusing this benzodiazepine.
Physical Side-Effects of Xanax Use:
- Dry mouth
- Blurry vision
- Change in appetite
Psychological Side-Effects of Xanax Use:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory impairment
- Suicidal thoughts
Combining Xanax with alcohol can intensify the side effects of both substances. Although this interaction is still being examined, one study reveals that ethanol, the main ingredient in alcohol, may increase the concentration of alprazolam in your system. Taking Xanax and alcohol together can cause excessive drowsiness, and respiratory depression, and increase a person’s risk of a blackout or overdose.
How Might Your Behavior Change After Xanax Use?
Aside from the negative effects that happen to your mind and body, there are also several behavioral changes that may occur from long-term Xanax use. Individuals addicted to Xanax may go to great lengths to obtain more of the substance, like going to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions. To experience a greater high, they might also start crushing or chewing Xanax. They may also act more aggressively, tarnish relationships, and fall behind in school or work. Other behavioral changes include:
- Mood swings
- Antisocial behavior
- Violent behavior
How to Manage Anxiety Without Xanax
If you’d rather avoid using benzodiazepines to calm your anxiety, there are healthy alternatives you can try. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, repeat a mantra to yourself such as “this feeling is only temporary.” This reminds you that you’ve survived panic attacks and other stressful situations before, and you can do the same now.
Going for a walk or just finding a space to be alone can help you unwind and reset. Sometimes you might not even know why you feel nervous in the first place – in these cases, write everything you’re feeling down on paper. Cutting alcohol out of your routine will also help since drinking tends to raise anxiety levels.
There’s no permanent fix for getting rid of anxiety. But you can certainly gain awareness of what triggers you and be mindful of your symptoms. Some of these suggestions may be useful while others might have no effect. But the important point is that you keep trying things to find out what works best for you.
If you have constant thoughts about using Xanax and experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the medication such as depression, muscle convulsions, and headaches, you might need help. Visit our drug glossary page on benzodiazepine addiction treatment. Although the long-term effects of Xanax are challenging, it is possible to achieve recovery.