Xanax is a prescription medication (also known as a benzodiazepine) that is used to treat anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks, claustrophobia, or fear of flying. Xanax is a sedative and muscle relaxant that affects the central nervous system. The medication is available in tablet or liquid form and acts incredibly fast as it reduces abnormally high feelings of excitement and anxiousness. Xanax is meant to be taken on a short-term basis; however, the rapid effects of the drug and its effectiveness increase the risk for Xanax addiction.
According to the 2011 Treatment Episode Data Set Report, over 60,000 people receiving treatment were addicted to benzodiazepines, pointing to a significant increase in prescription medication addiction.
Xanax is only available by prescription and even in small doses the drug can cause physical and psychological dependency. It is especially addictive to individuals with extreme panic and anxiety disorders. As the effects of the drug begin to subside, users may feel a strong urge to consume more in order to return to a state of “normalcy.” This behavior increases an individual’s tolerance, forcing them to consume more in order to produce the same effects. As dosage and frequency of use increases, users experience withdrawal symptoms as a side effect of prolonged Xanax addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can occur quickly if the individual stops taking it all of a sudden, which makes users more likely to compulsively use it. This can create a vicious cycle of abuse.
Xanax is more and more readily obtainable, thanks to an increased availability of prescription medication. Doctors prescribe medication for am individual, and it is meant to be used in a specific manner. Any deviation from this can quickly turn a misuse of medication into full-blown addiction. Prescription drug addiction can often develop in an individual who is prescribed the medication for a disorder. Since a doctor told the individual to take the drug, he or she may incorrectly believe that there are no risks associated with its use. In fact, prescription drugs can be just as addictive and destructive as many other illicit substances, but easier acquire.
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Signs and Symptoms of Xanax Addiction and Abuse
The effects of Xanax, as previously mentioned, are felt very soon after ingestion. Because it is so potent, doctors often initially prescribe the medication at a lower dosage and gradually increase it over time. Xanax initially causes users to feel drowsy or confused, but as the effects begin to take hold those sensations are quickly replaced with feelings of calmness and relaxation. When the dosage is too high, users may become sedated until the effects wear off. Because of this, many individuals begin using Xanax as a sleep aid. As the effects of Xanax wear off, an individual’s anxiety often resurfaces, which is why the drug is so easily abused.
There are a number of short- and long-term side effects associated with regular use of Xanax. Short-term side effects of Xanax abuse include: drowsiness, sedation, nausea, lack of coordination, slurred speech, confusion, tremors, memory problems, lack of focus, blurred vision and dizziness. These side effects are often associated with high levels of consumption. With higher doses, an individual may begin to exhibit more serious side effects including hallucinations, chest pain, depression, seizures, uncontrolled muscle movements, and suicidal thoughts. Long-term side effects of Xanax abuse include memory loss, speech problems, and unusual mood changes. All of these side effects will begin to subside when the individual stops taking the drug, but they may last for months or even years.
Xanax addiction may present itself in how it affects an individual’s relationships, financial stability, appearance, and responsibilities. It is common for individuals who struggle with Xanax addiction to miss work because they don’t feel well. This is often because of withdrawal symptoms they experience when they are not taking the drug. Those who struggle with prescription drug addiction may begin to engage in “doctor shopping”, in which they go from doctor to doctor, trying to acquire more of the drug. In some cases, they may resort to stealing from friends and family members, especially if the medication is easily accessible in their homes.
Abusing Xanax or other medications puts individuals at an increased risk to begin experimenting with other drugs as tolerance begins to build. In some cases, individuals may choose to mix the medication with other drugs or alcohol to increase and strengthen its effects. Many will commonly mix other prescription medications including opiates, amphetamines (like Adderall), depressants and hallucinogens. The combination of Xanax and depressants, such as marijuana and alcohol, can easily lead to respiratory depression and overdose. The mixture of Xanax with other drugs can cause signs and symptoms to present more dramatically and may put users at greater risk.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Xanax can produce powerful physical and mental effects, which is why a medically-supervised detoxification process is highly recommended. The amount of time an individual needs in detox is dependent on the individual’s tolerance and the length of time during which the drug was abused. If an individual is abusing other substances concurrently, this may increase the amount of time needed for the detox phase. Withdrawing from Xanax produces symptoms similar to that of alcohol addiction. These include vomiting, confusion, dizziness, and irritability. In some cases, medical staff may need to administer medications to make the withdrawal process more bearable. Withdrawing with the assistance of a medical facility ensures that the initial stages of recovery are as comfortable as possible, which will allow an individual to begin receiving physical and psychological support.
A Xanax addict will likely believe that the only way to feel “normal” is by taking the drug. Without it, they will have a hard time functioning and managing daily life daily life. This will make it hard for an individual with Xanax dependency to accept help for their addiction, since it is the only way they know of handling the world. When treating Xanax addiction, it is important to help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stressors and triggers that drive them to use Xanax. Rather than using the drug to escape their problems, individuals must learn to deal with them head on.
It is likely that an individual who has developed an addiction to Xanax has done so via misuse of a prescription. For this reason, it is important to diagnosis and treat any co-occurring disorders that an individual may have. Individualized assessments conducted prior to treatment ensure that rehabilitation is tailored to the unique needs of the individual. Dual-diagnosis treatment ensures clients receive treatment for both the addiction and the co-occurring disorders. This holistic approach to treatment reduces the risk of relapse by helping clients develop healthy habits and lifestyles.
Recovering addicts also benefit from participation in both individual and group therapies. Therapy is especially beneficial in helping individuals overcome anxieties and other challenges that may inhibit growth. Group therapy creates a safe space for those in recovery to connect with peers who share their experiences overcoming similar challenges. Discussion in these groups establishes a healthy support system of like-minded peers. Individuals benefit from improved emotional intelligence, the development of healthy relationships, and learning skills that support a sober lifestyle after they exit treatment. Experiential therapies are used in conjunction with the lessons and skills learned in therapy, which are then applied to real-world situations. Practicing these skills in the real-world enhances their validity and helps individuals transition back into a sober lifestyle.
With the increasing availability of Xanax and other prescription medications, it is easier than ever for individuals to experiment with drugs and become addicted. When treating prescription drug abuse, it is important to identify the history and experiences that may have enabled addiction to develop. An individualized treatment plan designed to address the unique needs of an individual provides the best chance of maintained sobriety in life after treatment. Treatment should help individuals develop ways of dealing with stress, anxiety, and other problems without the assistance of drugs and other substances.