The human brain is incredibly responsive, making chemical changes with rapidity, as soon as some sort of trigger is detected. Pleasurable signals, such as the smell of a warm cup of coffee or the feel of a puppy’s soft fur, cause a release of neurotransmitters within the brain, signaling that the sensation is good and it should be sought out again, as soon as possible. Some prescription drugs, including Xanax, tap into the pleasure center of the brain, bringing about these pleasurable changes, even when there is nothing positive happening in the environment at all. It’s a bit like experiencing a cup of warm coffee and a puppy, even while sitting alone in a darkened room.
While almost any drug could be considered addictive, as long as it causes changes in the brain and is associated with compulsive use, some experts are especially worried about Xanax use and abuse. This particular prescription drug seems almost tailor made to cause addictions in people who use and abuse it.
A Powerful Drug
Xanax sits within a class of drugs known as triazolobenzodiazepines, which are considered derivatives of benzodiazepine drugs. This means that Xanax is structurally similar to commonly known drugs such as Valium. Both Valium and Xanax are commonly prescribed to people who have mental illnesses such as:
Valium/Xanax Commonly Prescribed For:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Xanax and Valium have some striking differences, however, and many of those differences make Xanax slightly more dangerous than Valium. For example, in a study comparing the two drugs in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, researchers found that Xanax was 10 times more potent than Valium. Therapists noted that Xanax didn’t seem to offer any “striking therapeutic advantage” over other drugs such as Valium, although it did seem to be simply much more powerful. Since Xanax is so powerful, it can flood the brain with chemicals, causing intense sensations and making an addiction more likely.
Xanax is also considered an immediate drug that causes changes in the body within minutes. Drugs that cause an intense reaction, almost immediately, are often considered more addictive than drugs that need time to take hold. The brain seems to “remember” the pleasurable response a bit better when that response was large and fast, and as a result, the brain might call out for drugs that bring about a large response, where the brain might ignore drugs that bring about smaller and slower responses. In this regard, Xanax is quite dangerous, when compared to similar drugs like Valium.
Spotting an Addiction
Not everyone who takes Xanax can be considered addicted to the drug. In fact, many people can take the drug for an extended period of time, just as it was prescribed to them, and they never develop an addiction issue. However, there are some people who develop addictions to Xanax when they begin taking the drug for a legitimate purpose. These people may begin taking the drug in doses that are slightly too close together, or they may begin taking doses that are just a bit larger than the doses they were told to take. These slight adjustments make sense from a biological perspective. As people continue to take Xanax, their bodies become accustomed to the drug, and as a result, larger doses are needed to bring about the same effect. People who are chasing Xanax euphoria may need very high doses to bring this about.
Taking Xanax tablets by mouth allows the drug to trickle into the tissues, bringing a relatively slow release of the drug to the brain. Those in the late stages of addiction may crush their tablets and snort them through their nose, allowing the drug to enter the bloodstream through the delicate tissues of the nose. The drug is allowed to reach the brain much faster, when users try this method. According to a study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, snorting of benzodiazepines appears to be relatively common, as people look for new and powerful ways to bring about the positive effects they associate with the use and abuse of this drug. People who have been given extended-release forms of Xanax might find snorting the drug to be incredibly appealing, as this method allows them to access all of the drug at once. Instead of waiting for hours for the extended-release format to fully break down in the digestive system, they can break the drug apart and feel the full effect of the drug all at once. Anyone who snorts Xanax, whether an extended-release format or a standard format, should access help for addiction, as this is far from a therapeutic way to take the drug.
People addicted to Xanax might display other signs, including:
- An increased need for privacy in which to crush and snort Xanax tablets
- A sudden need for money with which to buy drugs
- Fatigue or sedation
- Anger, when confronted about Xanax use or abuse
Living With an Addiction
Over time, as the addiction grows, the addicted person may place Xanax at the center of life. All money goes toward buying the drug, and according to an article in the journal American Family Physician, each pill may cost $5 or $10 from dealers on the street. The day is oriented around buying drugs or taking drugs. Nothing else seems to really matter. Friendships may slip away, parenting skills may decline and the person might even stop going to work altogether. It’s an isolating disease, as the addicted person likely knows that the addiction shouldn’t be discussed if it is to keep moving forward. Since the addict can’t talk about the most important part of life, the addict might not want to talk at all.
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As the addiction grows, as mentioned, some people might be forced to buy Xanax from street dealers. They might be taking such high doses of Xanax that they’re unable to meet the needs of their bodies with the prescriptions their doctors provide, or they might not even have a prescription for the drug in the first place. Buying Xanax from dealers can be expensive, but dealers can also spring nasty surprises on their buyers, triggering life-threatening problems. For example, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, some street dealers substitute the medication Haldol for Xanax, as pills of the two medications look fairly similar and Haldol is somewhat less expensive for dealers to purchase. However, Haldol can cause side effects such as twisted muscles, fixed eyeball positions and abnormal head positions. This can be terrifying for people who simply expected to feel calm after taking the drug.
A Dangerous Cycle
Even though people might want to stop taking Xanax, they may find that they’re unable to do so. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to having around-the-clock access to the drug, and when people attempt to stop taking Xanax, they may develop strange withdrawal sensations, including hallucinations, creepy-crawling tingles in their hands and feet, and sudden bursts of anxiety. Some people even develop seizures when they attempt to stop. Experiencing even one or two of these symptoms could force people to believe that the drug is vital for their survival, and they might fall right back into drug use in order to make the symptoms go away. In essence, the withdrawal symptoms work as an electric fence, confining the person to a world of addiction.
Since Xanax addictions are so common, some legislators are working hard to ban the drug. For example, the New York Times reported that a clinic in Louisville, Kentucky moved to ban the drug in 2011, forcing everyone who was taking the drug to either taper down the drug until they were no longer taking any at all, or asking everyone who was taking Xanax to switch to another medication instead. While some people might be able to make this switch, people who are deep within a Xanax addiction might simply buy from dealers, instead of their doctors, as they can’t fathom life without the drug they’ve become addicted to. For these people, a move to ban the drug is far from helpful.
What can be helpful for people who have Xanax addiction? A targeted detox and rehab program. Here, people can learn more about why they began using Xanax in the first place, and they can develop real, helpful skills they can use in order to keep their craving for the drug at bay. For some people, these programs help them deal with mental illnesses in a real, skills-based way. Instead of suppressing their issues with drugs, they will be talking about and working through their issues with counseling. This could be just the kind of intervention they need to turn their lives around.
If you’re addicted to Xanax, or any other drug, we urge you to call us here at The Orchid. In our South Florida facility, we provide addiction care for women of all ages. We use a relational growth model, focusing on helping women develop caring relationships as they move through the recovery process and begin to rebuild their lives. This is a technique with proven results, and we’d love to tell you more about it. Please contact our toll-free line to speak with a representative and get the enrollment process started.