Is Xanax Addictive?
We are currently living in the most medicated period in the history of mankind. It should not be news to you that the field of medicine has made unprecedented progress over the last century. Sadly, as witnessed in multiple facets of scientific development, there are always drawbacks that tack along with progress. If not for the addictiveness and sheer power of certain medications, perhaps that phenomenon would not exist within the healthcare industries. The fact remains: while medicine is wildly more beneficial to humanity than it is disadvantageous, it can still claim victims in the form of overdose, addiction, and mishaps.
The problem often boils down to what some call an ‘overmedicated’ society. There are biases on both sides of this topic—one of which that is quite controversial—but it is accurate to say that nowadays there is a medication for nearly everything. While medication used to be specific to problems of startling severity or pain relief, it has transcended past that utility and has become not only useful in allowing people to live healthier lives but to enhance their day-to-day. From studying more proficiently, sleeping easier, to simply maintaining better cholesterol without adjusting diet, there’s a pill for just about everything.
One such facet of the human condition that is now medicated is anxiety. For centuries people have dealt with anxiety-related issues but now we have medication tailored specifically towards curbing that ailment. Enter Xanax, generically known as Alprazolam, a widely prescribed drug used to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, depression, alcohol withdrawal, and many other mental-oriented conditions.
It is accurate to assume that you have probably heard of it, know someone that is currently using it, or perhaps have your own prescription. This statement rides on the back of its availability, being that over 50 million prescriptions are written annually for benzodiazepines and of those Xanax is the best seller. Enough so that it is now the 9th most popular drug in the United States.
But when a drug like Xanax takes the stage, that ‘overmedicated’ topic sets the crowd ablaze. Setting aside the boom in Alprazolam production, quadrupling of prescription rates, or the way in which unscrupulous doctors prescribe the drug to remain in Big Pharma’s good graces, the fact of the matter is that benzodiazepines have always been addictive and when a drug like Xanax gains this volume of popularity, that addictiveness glows in the dark.
In 2003, 2,906 people were admitted into treatment facilities for Xanax addiction. Scaling alongside production and prescription growth, in 2012, 29,495 people were admitted into treatment for Xanax addiction. If that rapid growth isn’t startling enough, then know that currently, Xanax accounts for 1/3 of all prescription pill overdoses (we will dive more into this)—with overdoses being the most common cause of death for Americans under 50. While opioids claim their malicious throne atop overdose-related deaths, benzodiazepines are the prince in waiting (Xanax being the most popular).
In short, when questioning whether or not Xanax is addictive, those above statistics should be a response in themselves—being that any addictive drug is prone to be abused—but to reinforce it: absolutely. Due to its molecular structure and horrible pairing with other drugs, particularly alcohol, it is also extremely dangerous. As we have seen with the opioid epidemic, when a highly addictive drug also has the same dexterity in debilitating the brain, death follows. This means Xanax addiction needs to be addressed. That’s why we’re writing about it.
A Brief History
When it comes to medication, it is always important to understand when, why, and how the drug in question was developed. Their origin usually dictates the sort of drug they are going to be in the future. Which follows the trend with Xanax, as it comes from a family of drugs called benzodiazepines known for their effectiveness in being a sedative, hypnotic, and anxiolytic. Another commonality between benzos (the short name for benzodiazepines) is that they are all highly addictive.
Benzos have not been around for long. Developed in the early 1930’s and then finally hitting the US market in the 60s, Leo Sternback of the Hoffman-LaRoche Company first released Librium as an anti-anxiety medication. Then came Valium and eventually Xanax, which made its appearance on the market in the 1970’s.
During this time, these drugs disrupted the market; they were seen as a healthy, non-addictive or depression-causing substitutes to barbiturates—whose reputation were on the serious decline at the time due to their negative association with suicide, overdose, and dependence. These anti-anxiety medications were a landmark for what the field of medicine had to offer; a non-addictive sedative that could treat an entire roster of mental illnesses, withdrawal symptoms, seizures, and muscle spasms.
Sadly, as we have learned, their non-addictive or depression-causing qualities were something of an oversight. By the time Xanax had made its rise and America woke up in the mid-80s, it became paramount that benzos also had their addictive and harmful qualities. Addicts were turning out, overdoses were on the climb, and the popularity of the drug called for a higher demand.
Xanax took the lead as the most popular benzodiazepine because of its effectiveness, instant release, and the vehicle behind its mass production. Today it is still a drug primarily used to treat anxiety disorders and is known for being highly addictive, dangerous when paired with alcohol, frequently abused, and a leader in overdose-related deaths. That’s why it’s critical to be able to notice the dangers of prescription drug abuse before it is too late.
Why is it Addictive?
To understand why Xanax is addictive is to look at the molecular structure of benzodiazepines and their effect on the brain as a whole. It is best to think of benzos as tranquilizers. Their glory comes from their ability to slow the brain down, sedate working mind, and slow the body down.
What physical effects tack along with anxiety? Rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating—all of which are directly related to a quickening of the body’s regulation. This is by in large why they are effective. They slow the brain down in moments of turmoil, tranquilizing the body into a state of blissfulness, curbing that anxiety attack affecting both the mind and body.
Behind the scenes, benzodiazepines interact with the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters—if you are unaware—are what you could consider the brain’s messengers. They are responsible for telling your body what to do. When it comes to benzos, it is the neurotransmitters called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is affected most. It is commonly believed that anxiety and sleep disorders occur when a person’s brain is chemically imbalanced.
Anxiety is often attributed to an excess of excitatory neurotransmitters or the type of ‘messenger’ that work to stimulate their brain. Due to this overactivity, the other inhibitory neurotransmitters struggle to do their job in stabilizing the mind, controlling moods, and inducing calmness. GABA happens to be one of these ‘inhibitory neurotransmitters.’ Thus you can picture Xanax as a healthy shot of steroids to the chemical in your brain which works to balance and calm your system.
Being that Xanax works immediately once ingested, despite what sort of mental state the user governs, the production of GABA will increase and the sedation will begin. Scientifically speaking, why this is relevant is that overtime—through prolonged drug use—the brain will eventually mistake Xanax for GABA altogether.
Not only does it become an enhancer for a chemical the brain naturally produces, but the brain misinterprets the drug as a neurotransmitter it is not. Once Xanax no longer affects the brain, that initial imbalance that caused the need for medication in the first place worsens. Setting aside symptoms of Xanax withdrawals, this anxiety-inducing imbalance is crippling.
What we are trying to say here is that outside of basic dependence associated with drugs as a whole, it is scientifically proven that due to the nature of Xanax, it can cause dependence by depleting the brain’s natural source of stability, calmness, and sedation.
Sadly, it is not a topic up for debate. Xanax is addictive. Both the statistics of Xanax addiction and the science behind the curtains is indicative of its addictive properties. But outside of this evidence, why do people become addicted to Xanax? Better yet, why is it a drug commonly abused outside of its medical use?
It is important to note that outside of its negative values, Xanax is a blessing for those in need of it. A true and thorough anxiety-disorder is crippling. Anxiety attacks are rampant. Fear sinks its claws into the mind and strangles everything else. Every day is an ominous and terrifying experience. The mind races with the steady pace of a galloping horse, never faltering, depleting its victim of sleep.
Xanax allows those with anxiety-disorders to have a tool in mitigating the attacks. In fact, simply knowing the tool is available can often be the reason they diminish. Everyday life becomes manageable with the increase of GABA and they can mitigate their condition and be proactive about their endeavors. All said and done, it is an extremely effective medication in some cases.
Due to its mass availability and prescription, however, it also has the ability to create a victim of anxiety who otherwise would not have had a severe condition. Think about this: someone struggles with mild anxiety and takes Xanax. They marvel at the effects. In social situations, the chaotic noise of crowds is turned down a notch. Their skin does not crawl how it once did. Life before them seems easier. It is easier to breathe, interact with people, and calm their all-too-active nerves.
Now that they have tasted this slice of the ‘other side,’ the idea of doing these otherwise normal activities without Xanax creates anxiety. That anxiety then begets the drug. It’s a vicious cycle. In which case an argument can be made that the effectiveness of the medication is often a proponent of addiction. If life could be this way, why would the user covet any different?
In which case the dependency derives for its benefits and without the benefits anxiety—the siren which called the drug forth in the first place—is harvested once more. Enter Xanax addiction.
Outside of this, Xanax is an ‘excellent’ party drug. Both Xanax and alcohol work on the same pathogens, which makes them a terrifying combination (both are sedatives and when the mixture proves lethal upon interaction, then the brain’s neurotransmitters can forget to tell the body to breathe or the heart to beat). Often you will hear that someone took a Xanax, had a couple drinks, and blacked out the entire night. This means the same end result of drinking too much alcohol can occur by factoring in this benzo.
With today’s popular drug-culture, it is also a fantastic comedown drug. Illicit drug abuse can deplete the brain of its natural chemicals, particularly serotonin (the pleasure chemical linked to our reward system). After long weekends of drug abuse and alcohol intake, Xanax is the perfect drug to mitigate stimulation withdrawal. After all, while benzos are usually exclusive to anxiety, they can also be used as an alternative to antidepressants.
Which means that outside of medical use Xanax certainly has its desirability. It enhances the effects of alcohol, calms the mind, and can be used to curb the aftereffects of other illicit drugs (remember, an illicit drug user has a higher propensity to abuse drugs in general).
Since it is often a ‘crutch’ drug used to mitigate the symptoms of other drugs, that methodology behind its use alone induces dependency. Our point: both when it comes to science and lifestyle, the very nature of Xanax is why it is a highly addictive medication.
If you are reading this due to an addiction you are currently facing, or the addiction of someone around you, it is paramount that you recognize the signs of Xanax addiction and seek help immediately. If we have not made it clear in this article, Xanax is not only addictive, but the way it interacts with the brain makes it particularly dangerous. Paired with other sedatives and it’s a nightmarish killer. Xanax is not an easy addiction to cope with, nor is it easy to curb (it works on the same pathogens as alcohol), but the earlier it’s addressed the better chances are for recovery.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, Luminance Recovery is here for you. Contact our Orange County rehab center today for a brighter future tomorrow.
Luminance Core Values
It’s not easy to live up to these standards – to be the best, most compassionate, the most innovative. We take pride in what we’ve accomplished. But we’re constantly evolving because there’s always more we can do to raise the bar. It will take bravery and stamina to continue the legacy we’ve established. But in typical Luminance fashion, we’re always up for a challenge.Our Core Values