Xanax Addiction Treatment

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For many people living with anxiety, Xanax (alprazolam) is a known treatment method. This medication was prescribed around 21 million times in 2018 alone. It is recognized as the most common psychiatric medication in the United States. 

In addition to anxiety, this medication has also been used off-label to manage depression and may be recommended for insomnia treatment. There is little question that Xanax provides relief from anxiety symptoms. However, its addictive properties (particularly those of the immediate release form) make Xanax prone to misuse, increasing the risk that people who use it will become dependent on it. Both teenagers and adults can become addicted to Xanax.

The addictive qualities are very different between the immediate release and the extended release forms of Xanax. According to Verywell Mind Review Board member Dr. John Umhau, "Some addiction medicine specialist physicians believe that an important way to minimize the risk of someone becoming addicted to Xanax is to only use the extended release or long-acting formulation of the drug."

Xanax addiction can lead to negative consequences for health and well-being. This guide will examine the effects of Xanax addiction, as well as signs to look out for when Xanax dependency is suspected. Read on to learn the best ways to manage and overcome this addiction to ensure normal daily functioning.

What Are the Effects of Xanax?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that helps to reduce activity in the brain. This medication interacts with GABA receptors in the brain, increasing their effects. By boosting this chemical, nerve activity is reduced in the brain which produces a calming effect throughout the body.

Xanax, otherwise known as "xannies," "handlebars," "ladders," or "sticks" is available in a number of shapes and colors that depict each pill’s strength.

Available in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, and 1 mg strengths, these dosages are represented in white, orange, and blue pills respectively, and are oval-shaped. Xanax is also available in rectangular 2 mg doses, with colors ranging from white, green, and yellow. Xanax is also available as a liquid solution.

Xanax soothes anxiety and other symptoms relatively quickly. This fast-acting drug can take one to two hours for its highest effects to be felt, while its half-life (the time it takes for active ingredients to reduce in the body by half) is about 11 to 12 hours in adults. 

Like other benzodiazepines (commonly called "benzos"), Xanax produces a dopamine surge which may be responsible for its addictive properties. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has been described as a pleasure chemical. This can produce a high that is enjoyed and repeatedly chased by users, which further contributes to the misuse of Xanax.

There are two forms of Xanax: the short-acting form (also called "immediate release") and the long-acting form (also called "extended release"). The short-acting form has a rapid absorption rate and a short half-life, both of which contribute to the potential misuse of Xanax.

The immediate release form reaches peak concentration in the blood in one to two hours, while the extended release form reaches peak blood concentration in four to 12 hours. Some people may take more short-acting Xanax than prescribed to continuously feel its effects. The long-acting form, on the other hand, may be less addictive when taken as prescribed.

Symptoms of Xanax Addiction

When using Xanax to treat anxiety, dosing typically starts at 0.25 mg to 0.5 mg taken three times daily and the dose is increased gradually as needed. It is not recommended that a person using Xanax to treat anxiety exceeds 4 mg per day. For the treatment of panic attacks, a typical patient will respond to a dose that is between 2 mg and 6 mg a day.

However, when a person develops an addiction, they often ignore the recommended dosage of this medication. People will sometimes consume excessive amounts to achieve the desired high. 

When a person becomes addicted to Xanax, they may require the drug to simply function normally everyday. Xanax addiction is characterized by the following:

  •  Xanax is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire and/or unsuccessful efforts to control the use of Xanax.
  • Someone spends a great deal of time obtaining or using benzodiazepines.
  • Someone experiences a craving to use Xanax.
  • A person is failing to fulfill major role obligations (such as work, personal, or relationship commitments).
  • Someone continues to use Xanax despite persistent interpersonal problems.
  • Important activities are given up or reduced because of Xanax use.
  • A person repeatedly uses Xanax in hazardous situations.
  • A person continues their use of Xanax despite persistent problems as a result.

It’s common for a person with an addiction to Xanax to begin doctor shopping for access to extra pills. The effects of addiction to this drug can affect a person’s ability to continue with work, school, and everyday activities. Xanax addiction can cause financial strain, as considerable amounts will be spent to acquire the medication.

Someone is likely to amplify the high of this medication by combining it with substances like alcohol and opioids. This worsens the dangers posed, and may lead to respiratory difficulties, unconsciousness, and even death.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Xanax Addiction Treatment

When a person comes to terms with the dangers of their Xanax dependency, discontinuing use by going cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms. This is because the body has adapted to the effects of this medication, and the sudden reduction of Xanax in blood levels can cause adverse effects.

Withdrawal symptoms include difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, tremors, worsened anxiety, hallucinations, seizures, and even suicidal thoughts. 

In addition, a patient may confuse their withdrawal-related anxiety with the reemergence of the anxiety they were initially treating by taking Xanax. This can trap people in the cycle of addiction as they mistakenly continue taking Xanax to treat what they perceive to be their initial symptoms of anxiety, but which are actually symptoms of withdrawal from Xanax.

To safely treat Xanax addiction, the following methods are often effective.

Tapering 

To get the body safely used to reduced concentrations of Xanax, an effective measure to take is tapering.

Tapering calls for a gradual decrease in the amount of Xanax consumed. This is to enable the body to adjust to the reduced presence of the drug, while minimizing negative effects and managing cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Sometimes people will taper off their dose of alprazolam gradually over many weeks or months. Each day, they use less and less Xanax until they aren't using it at all.

To ensure that this is done correctly, tapering should be carried out under the guidance of a physician or a drug addiction treatment center.

Substitution

While Xanax works quickly to manage symptoms of anxiety and other related ailments, it is a drug that is rapidly cleared out of the body. This tends to worsen withdrawal symptoms when you're in the process of lessening your intake of the drug.

For this reason, a physician may switch a patient from Xanax to another benzodiazepine (anxiety-relieving drug) that has a longer half-life. This is because tapering off a benzodiazepine with a longer half-life will allow for a more gradual reduction in blood concentration of the drug. The resulting steady and slow reduction of its effects on the body can minimize any symptoms of withdrawal.

Substitution may be practiced in conjunction with tapering to manage Xanax addiction.

Therapy

When a person misuses Xanax, there’s a chance a number of triggers contribute to the problem. Therapy approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help to identify these triggers while exploring healthier alternatives to manage them.

CBT can also teach ways to avoid relapsing into Xanax usage, healthy tactics to cope with life stressors, and effective ways to handle relationships and interactions with others.

A Word From Verywell

Xanax may provide much-needed relief from anxiety. However, its continuous use can become a slippery slope that leads to dependency. Xanax addiction is an all-too-common result of using this medication, but this effect can be managed using the right measures. To ensure that the right steps are taken when getting this addiction under control, it is always advisable to first consult an expert. 

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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