Xanax, a brand name of Alprazolam, is a fast-acting benzodiazepine frequently prescribed for medical usage in treating anxiety, panic disorders, nausea and as a mild muscle relaxer. The drug, which is today widely regarded as highly addictive, has remained one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States since it was first approved by the FDA in 1981. Today, Xanax is the 19th most prescribed drug in the United States, despite an estimated 10,000 benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths each year.
Benzodiazepine-class drugs like Xanax are heavily addictive but, until recently, were regarded as relatively safe for long-term usage. Today, Xanax is typically prescribed for treatment of about 5 weeks, with an intensive Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Schedule (REMS) in place. Previously, some individuals may have been prescribed Xanax for years, resulting in tolerance and addiction. Others use Xanax recreationally and may become addicted or dependent through drugs purchased on the street or from friends. Today, an estimated 5 million Americans use benzodiazepines like Xanax outside of a prescription or recreationally. Understanding Xanax usage, where people get Xanax, and how it’s used recreationally can help you to better understand people who abuse the drug and might help you get them into rehab.
Short Term Effects of Xanax
Most people take Xanax because it makes them feel better. Depending on the individual, “better” can either be calm and anxiety free or experiencing mild to moderate euphoria. Effects heavily depend on factors such as dosage, the individual, their tolerance and their genetics. Xanax is essentially a muscle relaxer and sedative, primarily affecting the GABA receptors in the brain. The GABA receptors calm and relax the central nervous system, resulting in a calming, anti-convulsive, hypnotic, and (in high doses) euphoria-inducing effect.
Xanax has common side-effects including:
- Relaxation or calmness
- Muscle relaxation
- Feeling of contentment or euphoria
In most cases, Xanax will take about 49 minutes to take effect and slowly fade over about the next 11 hours. Users experience peak effects for 1-3 hours after the drug kicks in.
So, most people use Xanax to relax, to feel good, or to “get high”. Others use it as part of their prescription or for self-medication to manage anxiety or panic.
Xanax Abuse and Addiction
Xanax is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders (such as PTSD), and sometimes depression. While increasingly replaced by other drugs such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for these purposes, Xanax has been prescribed for these purposes for decades. Here, Xanax is dependence inducing in that individuals can become both physically and psychologically dependent on the drug.
This results in patterns of use and misuse where someone might start out using Xanax to stop panic attacks, become reliant on the drug stopping panic attacks, and then have panic attacks because they don’t have the drug.
Tolerance – The individual develops tolerance to the drug, meaning that the same dose has less or no effect. Many individuals will simply increase the dose to maintain the same effect. Xanax users develop tolerance quickly, which is why modern prescriptions recommend a maximum of 5 weeks of usage.
Dependence – Users experience negative side effects when they don’t take Xanax. They begin to maintain a dose to prevent withdrawal symptoms like sweating, nausea, stomach pain, shaking, and even seizures. This can quickly result in addiction and seeking behavior because of constant exposure to the drug.
Mental Dependence – Individuals exhibit behavioral dependence on the drug, where they feel as though they need it with them at all times, take it “just in case”, or panic without it.
Seeking Behavior – Individuals go out of their way to acquire and take Xanax, may acquire it illegally, may commit crimes to acquire Xanax, and will take Xanax in situations where it might put their personal safety (or that of others) at risk. At this stage, the individual is considered to be an addict.
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Recreational Xanax Usage
Xanax is also increasingly popular as a recreational drug, where users will take a Xanax to relax, to feel better, or to supplement or replace other intoxicants like alcohol. Studies show that benzodiazepines account for some 36% of all drug-related emergency room hospital visits. Here, Xanax is typically used recreationally in clubs, at parties, and by individuals to relax. However, this recreational use is not common for persons with Xanax prescriptions. Instead, recreational Xanax users typically source Xanax from street sellers, friends, family members, or through theft.
How do People Acquire Xanax?
Xanax is a Schedule IV Controlled Drug in the United States, available only via prescription. But, millions of people abuse it every year, often without a prescription. How do they get it?
Street Sellers – Xanax has a long history of being sold illicitly on the street, through a series of different sources. Here, the most common is “fake” Xanax, where Alprazolam is manufactured outside of FDA regulations, packaged to look like the real thing, and sold as the real thing. These pills incur a certain amount of extra risk because their quality, content, and ingredients are not controlled. Others acquire Xanax through illegal prescriptions, by stealing from pharmacies, or even by operating illegal drug networks with unscrupulous doctors who write fake prescriptions. Most street sellers offer Xanax for a fixed price per pill and may also offer sales online.
Friends, Family, and Acquaintances – Many people have Xanax prescriptions and simply don’t need or use all of it. For example, someone may have a Xanax prescription designed to allow them to take a pill every other day. If they only take a few a week, they have a large surplus of pills. If they use them all to quickly, patients with anxiety and panic disorders are also very likely to be able to simply request a refill. Therefore, many people simply share their existing prescription. In other cases, persons with a Xanax addiction will steal pills from friends and family with a prescription.
Doctor Shopping – Some people with legitimate prescriptions abuse the drug by getting more than one prescription for it. Here, individuals go through great lengths such as going to doctors in several states to get more than one prescription or visit pharmacies in several states to attempt to fill their prescription more than once. While both options are becoming increasingly difficult thanks to stricter regulation, prescription databases, and checkups, many patients still try. This can allow a single person access to several times the “safe” dosage of Xanax per month.
Xanax is a safe and useful medication when controlled, taken according to a prescription, and used with a REMS in place. For millions of people, it’s also life-changing and addicting, either through prescription abuse or recreational misuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with Xanax, there is help. Rehabilitation and drug addiction treatment helps you move past detox, uses behavioral therapy to tackle the underlying problems behind substance abuse, and integrates counseling, group therapy, and other complimentary therapies to help individuals build a happy and healthy life without drugs.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and check out our drug and alcohol treatment programs. Our programs and recovery center helps clients by providing them with detox, family intervention, and long-term Outpatient or residential treatment if necessary.
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