Xanax Addiction and Abuse

What is Xanax?

Xanax is the brand name of Alprazolam, a prescription medication in the category of drugs known as benzodiazepines. This substance works by interacting with the GABA receptors in the brain, to increase inhibitory activity and manage anxiety-related symptoms. Generally, doctors prescribe Xanax as a treatment for anxiety and panic disorders.

If you use Xanax recreationally or in any form other than prescribed, your chances of becoming addicted are significantly increased. Constant use of this medication can result in tolerance, addiction and dependence. Furthermore, you can become addicted to Xanax without realising it, even if you take it exactly as prescribed.

Other names for Xanax

You might be concerned that your loved one is using Xanax. It can therefore be helpful to know about Xanax addiction and the related withdrawal signs, in addition to the street or slang names by which the drug is called amongst users.

Xanax is commonly known as Alprazolam (the chemical name for the drug) and Nirvam. It also has a number of street names, including: Xannies, Zannies, Xanbars, Bars, Z-bars, Handlebars, Totem Poles, Blue Footballs, Benzos and Upjohn. The name ‘Upjohn’ is used to refer to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, formerly known as Upjohn.

What is Xanax used for?

Xanax is prescribed as a treatment option for diseases resulting from the increased excitability of the central nervous system and excessive activity of neurotransmitters in the brain. These diseases range from anxiety to sleep disorders, pathological phobia, neuroses, increased irritability and panic disorders.

Additionally, if suffering from constant feelings of anxiety and fear, you can also be prescribed Xanax. This medication is applied in cases of somatic disorders such as tremors, convulsions and muscle pain that accompany emotional distress. Unfortunately, despite the benefits of Xanax, it is mostly abused (as a way of escapism), because of the euphoria it provides.

Causes of Xanax addiction

It’s been shown that benzodiazepine addiction can be passed down in families. Therefore, if you have a blood relative with a Xanax addiction, you’re more likely to develop a disorder than someone with no genetic abuse history. Whether you actually acquire this addiction depends on the varying influences with which you interact over time.

Additionally, some research suggests that Xanax addiction develops as a result of

having inadequate coping mechanisms to deal with stress. Thus, when stress becomes overwhelming, you may turn to using Xanax in an effort to manage your emotions.

How addictive is Xanax?

Xanax is a fast-acting benzodiazepine, meaning it takes only a short amount of time to cause a significant change in the brain. As a result, it is regarded as a highly addictive substance. The risks of Xanax addiction are higher if you take regular doses of 4mg per day for more than three months.

However, anyone who abuses Xanax could be at risk of developing an addiction. Similar to popularly abused drugs such as heroin and marijuana, Xanax releases an increased amount of dopamine – a neurotransmitter responsible for the reward centres in the brain. You therefore experience a decrease in panic and anxiety and an increase in feelings of pleasure.

Addictive properties of Xanax

The addictive properties of Xanax are similar to those of other drugs, including opiates like oxycodone. This is because they cause addiction in almost the same fashion. Xanax essentially alters neural signals in the brain in a way that increases dopamine, which in turn leads to a flood of pleasurable effects that reinforces the desire for repeated use.

You may develop tolerance to Xanax after taking it in high doses or for prolonged periods. The speed at which tolerance sets in depends on your dosage, but can develop in as little as days or weeks of constant use. The accompanying dependence and withdrawal symptoms are what makes it so hard to quit using Xanax.

Methods of use of Xanax

Usually, Xanax is swallowed in pill form. However, it may be crushed up and snorted or even injected in the hope of hastening its effects or enhancing the feelings of euphoria. The amount of Xanax ingested via this method is usually in excess, and can be linked to depressive or suicidal thoughts.

Additionally, Xanax may be taken with alcohol, other prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. Mixing these substances in such a manner can slow your heart rate and breathing, potentially leading to dangerous consequences like respiratory arrest, coma and even death.

What does it mean to be addicted to Xanax?

Xanax addiction can be physical or psychological. If you’re physically addicted, your body is unable to function properly in the absence of the drug. This is because of the transformations that occur in your body as it adapts to Xanax.

Meanwhile, a psychological addiction involves the fear of withdrawal symptoms that may occur if you attempt to quit using the drug. At this point, you’ll believe that you can’t undertake everyday tasks without taking your normal dose of Xanax.

Spotting Xanax abuse

The signs of Xanax abuse can be physical and psychological. They become more obvious when you reach extremely high levels of consumption. This affects all the aspects of your life, and if you spot signs that suggest abuse is ongoing, you should take action immediately.

If you or a loved one are abusing Xanax and need help getting off this drug, you could need to undergo medical detox and rehab treatment. Like other benzodiazepines, Xanax requires a careful period of tapering before it’s safe to quit using.

Xanax abuse: Signs and symptoms

When you become accustomed to using Xanax, you may not exhibit any indications of being ‘high’. However, there are signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse that may be difficult to conceal, such as: memory problems, insomnia, swollen hands or feet, drowsiness, blurred vision, tremors, confusion, loss of interest in sex, nausea, vomiting, lack of coordination, dizziness and headaches.

Additionally, if high doses of Xanax are applied, you may notice more severe signs and symptoms of abuse. These include suicidal tendencies, hostility, thoughts of self-harm, hallucinations, seizures, uncontrolled muscle movements, chest pain, depression and hyperactivity.

Health risks from Xanax addiction

Xanax can intensify mental health conditions and other underlying illnesses. If you’re already struggling with drug abuse, Xanax may not be a safe medication for you to use. In addition, alcohol produces a strong interaction when used with Xanax, and can even increase the risk of overdose.

Prolonged use of Xanax also exacerbates the chances of experiencing severe health conditions, including breathing difficulties. As this substance slows your brain response and breathing, there’s a constant risk of overdose followed by coma and death. Every time you choose to abuse Xanax, you could be putting your health at risk.

Short-term effects of Xanax

When you take Xanax, the negative short-term effects are usually felt within a short space of time. Such effects include cognitive impairment and the difficulty to form thoughts or speak. With larger doses, your speech can become slurred to the point where you begin to sound like you’re drunk.

Additional short-term effects of Xanax can include headaches, fatigue, dry mouth, constipation, difficulty urinating, and sexual dysfunction. You may also experience more severe short-term effects such as seizures, depression, and unusual mood swings.

Long-term effects of Xanax

Prolonged chronic use of Xanax can cause extended periods of lethargy and sedation, which can last for around three to four days. Impairment of memory (especially short-term memory) is another common long-term effect of Xanax use. Other effects that you may experience include agitation, bouts of rage, hyperactivity and anxiety.

Physical complications such as seizures, tremors and heart palpitations may also occur, in addition to jaundice, blurred or double vision and tachycardia (abnormally fast heart rate). A higher risk of developing dementia has also been linked to long-term Xanax abuse.

Withdrawal effects of Xanax abuse

After long-term use of Xanax, mental and physical withdrawal symptoms may occur when you try to quit. The most withdrawal effects include: depression, anxiety, insomnia, and panic attack symptoms such as trembling, chest pain, shortness of breath and excessive fear.

Less common withdrawal effects include: confusion, heart palpitations, seizures, hallucinations, feeling like your skin is crawling, and excessive sensitivity to light and sound. As a result of these severe withdrawal effects, quitting Xanax by going ‘cold turkey’ is not recommended.

Co-occurring disorders

Just like any other form of substance abuse, Xanax abuse can contribute to co-occurring disorders. For instance, if you suffer from serious post-traumatic stress disorder, you could be prescribed Xanax to manage your symptoms and later become addicted to the feelings of calm and relaxation produced by the drug.

In addition to PTSD, co-occurring disorders with Xanax abuse may also include: bipolar disorder, personality disorder, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, conduct disorder in adolescents, dysthymia, and other additional substance abuse disorders.

Who is at risk of Xanax addiction?

Almost any user is at risk of Xanax addiction. However, the likelihood of you becoming addicted might depend on factors such as genetics, environment and social circumstances. In addition, certain characteristics make Xanax addiction more likely to occur, including:

  • If you’re working in a stressful, high pressurised environment
  • If you work a nightshift and experience insomnia during the day
  • If you’re trying to self-medicate for a mental health issue

Teenagers are also at risk, because they can easily access Xanax or an illegal version of the drug online. They might consider not buying drinks at a party, but instead simply popping a pill in order to feel tipsy or ‘buzzed’.

Teen Xanax abuse and addiction

Teens abuse Xanax and other prescription medications mainly because they wrongly believe it is safer than consuming other drugs. When taken without a prescription or combined with other substances like alcohol, Xanax can be deadly. Teens might also abuse Xanax to ease stress or anxiety from problems within the family or at school.

Therefore, teens of disengaged parents – or those with friends who use Xanax or have easy access to the drug themselves – are at high risk of abuse and addiction. If you’re worried your teen might be abusing Xanax, we can help you find treatment programmes designed specifically for teens here at Addiction Helper.

Cost of Xanax addiction

Xanax addiction can be financially challenging. Not only will you have to purchase it to maintain your habit, you might also experience trouble holding down a job. In addition, finding a new job can be challenging when you’re addicted to Xanax, and you may be forced to settle for a role that doesn’t match your qualifications in order to avoid on-site drug testing.

As well as the financial costs, Xanax addiction can also cost you emotionally. You may begin to feel trapped, distant and alone. Your Xanax dependence and addiction can cost you the bonds you’ve built with friends and family, and also keep you from forming new relationships.

The effects of Xanax abuse on the brain and body

Xanax abuse has some significant effects on your brain and body. Even after you stop using it, your brain is still trying to adjust without its presence. As a result, you may experience ‘brain zaps’, which are like electric shocks to the brain. In some cases, a feeling of brain fog may also occur.

There is also a high possibility your body will build a tolerance to Xanax during abuse. This occurs because you feel the need to take higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects. However, when you attempt to quit, symptoms like sleep problems and amplified anxiety could manifest.

Relationship between Xanax and other substances

Xanax is usually taken alongside other substances. For instance, it is commonly ingested with alcohol, which can form dangerous interactions when mixed together. Xanax and alcohol operate as nervous system depressants; together, they can slow your body’s rhythms to the extent that they stop completely.

Other substances with similarly dangerous relationships with Xanax include Ibuprofen and Nyquil – both of which also function as CNS depressants. In addition, you should never consume caffeine whilst taking Xanax, as it can counteract the effects of the drug and cause anxiety-related symptoms.

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Xanax overdose explained

Xanax overdose occurs when it is taken for longer than recommended or in larger doses than prescribed. If you crush, chew or break up Xanax before consuming it, you may also experience symptoms of overdose. Xanax extended-release tablets are designed to be slowly administered into your system.

Therefore, when you change the form of the drug in anyway before consuming, it is released all at once instead of in measured amounts. Signs of overdose may include: difficulty breathing, extreme drowsiness, muscle weakness, fainting, loss of balance and even coma.

What to do if you need help quitting

If you need help quitting, please seek professional help right away. Doctors recommend a gradual tapering off your usual Xanax dosage, so that you can avoid unpleasant and possibly dangerous withdrawal effects. This kind of tapering can be properly undertaken at a medical treatment centre.

Our addiction specialists are here to help you quit. At Addiction Helper, we can provide you with a free assessment, and help find the best treatment options that match your individual recovery needs. You don’t have to stay hooked on Xanax, so call us today and let Addiction Helper give you the help you deserve.

Xanax withdrawal

Prolonged use of Xanax will usually have the effect of raising your tolerance to the drug. After a while, you may require a higher dosage in order to feel the same level of euphoria and relaxation. This means you have become dependent on the drug, and could experience withdrawal if you try to quit or reduce intake.

During Xanax withdrawal, it’s crucial to be medically monitored for vital signs such as heart rate, respiration levels and blood pressure. The symptoms of withdrawal you may experience can be relieved or prevented via medication assisted detoxification to ensure your safety.

Symptoms of withdrawal

Xanax withdrawal can be very uncomfortable. Some of the physical symptoms of withdrawal that may occur include: insomnia or restless sleep, tremors, convulsions, muscle spasms or twitches, sweating or excessive perspiration, dry retching, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, sore/stiff muscles, as well as headache.

In addition, psychological symptoms of Xanax might also occur, which include: paranoia and fear, nervous tension, confusion, depression, anxiety, panic and irritability or being constantly on edge.

Duration of withdrawal

Xanax leaves the body fairly quickly, as it is a short-acting benzodiazepine. It has a half-life of about 11 hours and can be fully eliminated from the body within a few days. However, it may take about two weeks to complete withdrawal, while some symptoms like anxiety and panic may last longer.

The duration of withdrawal can be influenced by various factors, which may lengthen or shorten this period for you. These factors include how long you’ve been consuming Xanax and whether or not you’re taking it alongside other drugs.

Xanax withdrawal timeline

The timeline for Xanax withdrawal may vary slightly in severity and duration. In addition, each stage occurs differently, based on your personal chemistry and circumstances.

Days 1 – 2: Within six to twelve hours after your last dose, you may begin to experience certain withdrawal symptoms like irritability, rebound anxiety and insomnia.

Days 2 – 6: Your withdrawal symptoms could increase and peak during this period. Also, you can experience headache, trembling, achiness and cramping.

Days 6 – 14: While your physical symptoms decline, psychological symptoms like anxiety, moodiness and depression may last longer than the general withdrawal period.

Xanax addiction treatment

Various effective programmes are available to help you recover from Xanax addiction. If you were originally prescribed Xanax as a treatment for anxiety and depression, you might require a substitute drug to treat your symptoms. However, if you were abusing Xanax recreationally, you may need to rid your body of the drug and continue treatment with therapy.

The most effective approach to treating Xanax addiction is via a medically supervised detoxification. After you undergo detox, you can then start a comprehensive rehabilitation and therapy programme to address the real cause of your addiction and break free from it.

Therapy for Xanax addiction

A range of therapy techniques are usually employed in the treatment of Xanax addiction, which are designed to meet your individual needs. Some of the therapy methods used in Xanax addiction treatment include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Contingency Management: to help you change flawed thinking patterns and associated behaviours.
  • Motivational Interviewing: to inspire hope and support pro-active steps to implement change.
  • Family Systems Therapy: to repair broken family relationships and create healthy channels of communication, expectations and boundaries.

Possible complications

Generally, there are complications inherent in any addiction, but the risks with Xanax are especially high. Rapid detox from Xanax or trying to quit ‘cold turkey’ can lead to severe symptoms such as catatonia and seizures, which could even prove fatal. Further serious symptoms include coma, hallucinations, psychosis and Delirium Tremens.

Other possible complications resulting from Xanax addiction and withdrawal can include: permanent brain damage, sudden feelings of anger and rage, as well as suicidal thoughts. Professional treatment therefore provides the safest way to break free from Xanax abuse or addiction.

When to contact a medical professional

Admitting that you have a Xanax addiction is the first step toward recovery, even though this can be quite difficult. You might feel a range of different emotions from anger to shame, fear, guilt, and also hope. It’s important to know when to contact a medical professional, as the signs, consequences and severity of addiction are different for each person.

Some of these signs include a strong craving to use Xanax, repeated failed attempts to quit, inability to perform duties and spending a significant amount of time seeking and using the drug. If you notice any of these signs, you should contact a medical professional immediately.

Xanax recovery plan

A properly organised Xanax recovery plan will help you maintain a sober lifestyle and avoid the setback of relapse. When making your personal Xanax recovery plan, ensure your objectives and goals are as realistic as possible, and also include external support from family and friends.

You can also factor support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) into your recovery plan. This group can provide helpful emotional and social support, especially during the difficult times.

Xanax abuse detox

It’s recommended to undergo Xanax detox because of the potential for dangerous withdrawal symptoms. At a detox centre, medical professionals can take care of you and prescribe the necessary medications needed to prevent or reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Detox provides a way to rid your system of Xanax, whilst under close supervision. This means there’s a reduced chance of relapse, which commonly occurs during the first 24 hours. In addition to treating physical dependence, detox clinics can also refer you to useful follow-up services after withdrawal has ended.

Medical detox for Xanax

Benzodiazepine withdrawal always requires medical detox. Professional help is essential in order to help you avoid potential life-threatening situations. Typically, you’ll be slowly tapered off Xanax instead of abruptly ceasing intake. Tapering involves a methodical reduction in your daily dosage.

Medical detox is the best option, as it can ease many of the withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax. In addition, your doctor may switch you to a long-acting benzodiazepine when beginning tapering, which can take weeks to months.

If you have any questions regarding Xanax addiction and abuse (as well as the available treatment options), Addiction Helper provides a comprehensive treatment directory and resource base, which you might find helpful.

Xanax addiction statistics

  • Xanax is a popular drug used around the world. Unfortunately, Xanax addiction is also widespread.
  • In 2013, more than 50 million prescriptions were written for Alprazolam (the generic name for Xanax).
  • There’s been an increase in the number of emergency room visits resulting from Xanax and other benzodiazepines, from 57,419 in 2005 to 124,902 in 2010, in addition to the number of overdose deaths.
  • In 2013, benzodiazepine overdose made up 31% of the prescription drug overdoses in the United States.


What is Xanax?

Xanax is the brand name for Alprazolam, a benzodiazepine drug which acts on the central nervous system to produce a calming effect.

How is Xanax Used?

Generally, Xanax is prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety and panic disorders. When used as prescribed, it can reduce the common symptoms of anxiety such as physical tension, restlessness and feelings of unease.

Is Xanax Addictive?

As a result of its fast-acting properties, Xanax is considered one of the most addictive benzodiazepines available.

How do People Abuse Xanax?

Xanax is typically abused by chewing, crushing or snorting the pills. If self-medicating for anxiety or taking Xanax outside of your doctor’s prescription, this is considered abuse.

Who Abuses Xanax?

Mostly, those who abuse Xanax might have been prescribed the medication at one time for any number of health reasons. They could begin to escalate dosage and self-medicate to achieve the desired sedative effects, which can easily lead to addiction.

What is Xanax Dependence?

Xanax dependence occurs when you use Xanax for a long period of time, and in large quantities. When you become dependent, your body is unable to function properly without it.

How Can I Spot Xanax Addiction?

If someone is addicted to Xanax, you may notice certain physical, psychological and behavioural signs such as them experiencing withdrawal symptoms, slurred speech, drowsiness and impaired coordination.

Where Else can I Find Help for Xanax Addiction?

Professional addiction treatment centres can provide treatment using a combination of medical detox and therapy. At Addiction Helper, we can help find the best treatment facilities to help you recover.


  • Ashton, H. (2005). The diagnosis and management of benzodiazepine dependence. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18, 249-255.
  • National Centre for PTSD, Effective Treatments for PTSD: Helping Patients Taper from Benzodiazepines. Washington DC: N.p., 2013. Print.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). DrugFacts: Prescription and over-the-counter medications.
  • Smith, Kayla. “Xanax Withdrawal and Detox – Symptoms and Duration”. Addiction Centre. N.p., 2017. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.
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