Xanax Effects, Addiction & Treatment

Xanax is the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the U.S. However, long-term use and misuse of the drug can result in serious health issues. Physical dependence can also develop after just two or more weeks of taking the drug. Learn more about Xanax here.
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What is Xanax?

Xanax (alprazolam) is a sedative that is part of a group of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which means they temporarily slow down your CNS. The drug also increases the amount of GABA (a neurotransmitter) in your brain, which calms the body and results in a relaxed state-of-mind.

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Other “street names” for Xanax include:

  • Xannies
  • Bars
  • Benzos
  • Handlebars
  • Blue footballs
  • Sticks
  • French fries
  • Ladders

Xanax is the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the U.S.

Xanax is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and panic disorders. Depending on the patient’s needs and prescription, Xanax comes in four different dosage forms, including:

  • Tablets
  • Extended-release tablets
  • Disintegrating tablets
  • Solution (liquid)
Graphic of woman going through withdrawal.

Side Effects of Xanax

Xanax pill

When taken correctly and as prescribed by your doctor, Xanax is effective and safe. The drug is prescribed in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, or 2 mg strength pills and stays in your system for 12 to 15 hours. Although, many people tend to abuse the substance, which can result in mild to severe health complications or death.

Some common side effects of Xanax, that should subside within a few weeks of properly taking the drug, include:

  • Tiredness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Talkativeness
  • Irritability

Depending on the dose taken, more serious side effects may occur. This is especially true if you take Xanax along with certain medications, such as codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, methadone, and oxycodone, among other medications containing opioids.

In addition, mixing Xanax with opioids or other central nervous systems (CNS) depressants can lead to health complications. This can include extreme drowsiness, breathing problems, coma, and accidental death. Common CNS depressants include alcohol, psychotropic drugs, antihistamines, and anticonvulsants.

Call your doctor if you experience any the following less common, but possible, side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Appetite changes
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Trouble urinating
  • Dry mouth
  • Hyperactivity
  • Agitation
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme changes in mood
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Speech problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Yellowing eyes or skin
  • Skin rashes
  • Swelling in hands or feet
  • Hallucinations
  • Memory problems
Icon with triangle signifying risk.

Dangers of Xanax: Addiction and Risk Factors

Xanax is an extremely addictive drug, and tolerance develops quickly. In fact, some users may take up to 30 pills a day to obtain the same effects. If you develop symptoms of withdrawal after stopping use, there is a high chance an addiction has already formed.

Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may include insomnia, tremors, restlessness, anxiety, and convulsions (rare).

Overdosing from Xanax is common and often leads to death, especially when taken with other drugs or alcohol. Most overdoses occur from ingesting chewed or crushed pills. This is because Xanax pills are designed to release the effects over time, not all at once. Symptoms of an overdose may include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Slowed breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Extreme dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Severe drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Coma and unresponsiveness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures
  • Death

Over 10 percent of young adults between 18 and 25 years of age abuse Xanax, which is almost double the rate of those who are 26 and older.

Graphic of head filled with pills

Symptoms of Addiction

Using Xanax long-term often results in physical and emotional dependence. Physical dependence can develop after just two or more weeks of taking the drug. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, a Xanax addiction may have formed:

  • Uncontrollable cravings for the substance
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Losing count of how many Xanax pills are consumed in one day
  • Participating in risky behaviors and dealing with legal problems
  • Using the drug interferes with everyday life, such as daily tasks, work, and relationships
  • Obsessing over getting more of the drug
  • Not wanting to use the drug, but doing so anyway
  • Ignoring the possible consequences and risk factors
Two hands with a heart between them

Addiction Treatment Options

If a user wants to stop taking Xanax after physical and emotional dependence has developed, it is crucial to seek medical supervision. This is because Xanax withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of alcohol withdrawal and can range from mild to severe, depending on the person.

Medical professionals recommend seeking comprehensive treatment for Xanax addictions. For example, common treatment options include medical detoxification and inpatient rehabilitation. You should never try to overcome your addiction “cold turkey” at home or without supervision. This is because some side effects of Xanax withdrawal can be deadly, especially if convulsions or seizures occur.

Xanax tolerance and dependence increase significantly with continued use. As a result, it is challenging to quit using the drug without professional treatment. Find treatment today.

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Resources

“Alprazolam (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Jan. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/alprazolam-oral-route/description/drg-20061040.

“Alprazolam: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html.

“Alprazolam (Xanax).” NAMI, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment/Mental-Health-Medications/alprazolam-(Xanax).

“Side Effects of Xanax (Alprazolam), Warnings, Uses.” RxList, RxList, 17 Mar. 2017, www.rxlist.com/xanax-side-effects-drug-center.htm#overview.

“XANAX Label.” FDA, 2016. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/018276s052lbl.pdf

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Updated on: July 20, 2020
Author
Alyssa Hill
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
About
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