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Updated on November 20, 2021

Xanax Overdose

What is Xanax (Alprazolam)?

Xanax, also known as Alprazolam, is an FDA-approved prescription medicine. It is used to treat the symptoms of anxiety, panic disorder, and anxiety associated with depression.

Xanax is a benzodiazepine that belongs to a class of anti-anxiety medications called anxiolytics.

Xanax

This drug is primarily used to treat anxiety symptoms and disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition characterized by excessive anxiety or worry for at least six months. However, some people may experience symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder for much longer, which can severely impact their mental and physical health. 

There are medications prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, and Xanax is one of them. It comes in tablet form, taken orally.

The medication can help to treat GAD symptoms that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest tightness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Insomnia

If you are diagnosed with GAD, you should consult a doctor and pharmacist about the best prescription for you. Note that Xanax can be addictive.

It’s important to talk to a healthcare professional if you have concerns regarding the use of the drug or if you have a history of addiction. You and your doctor can explore other less addictive treatment options.

Side Effects & Dangers of Xanax Use

Like all medications, there are some side effects to taking Xanax. Some of these are more severe than others.

Some of the most common side effects of Xanax include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased energy
  • Agitation
  • Hostility
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Tremor
  • Muscle spasms
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Pounding heartbeats
  • Heart fluttering
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Addiction

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Is Xanax Addictive?

Xanax is addictive. Users rely on the drug to calm them down when they feel anxious, unable to sleep, or after a stressful day. As a result, Xanax use and abuse are very prevalent all over the world.

Long-term use of benzodiazepines like Xanax can become highly addicting. Although not everyone who uses Xanax over a long period will become addicted, some people may develop unhealthy, habit-forming uses of the drug.

Xanax is a prescription-only drug. However, people without prescriptions are able to get their hands on Xanax. many wind up abusing Xanax by swallowing or snorting high doses. This leads to higher cases of Xanax addiction, overdose, and Xanax-related deaths.

What Causes a Xanax Overdose?

Studies show that alprazolam is significantly more addictive than other benzodiazepines. Therefore, it’s important that you only take it as prescribed.

It is possible to overdose on Xanax by taking more than what your doctor prescribes you. Typically, the oral tablet should be taken two to four times a day. The extended-release tablet is generally prescribed once a day, usually in the morning.

However, the correct dose of this medicine will vary for different patients. Talk to your doctor about your prescription. Do not take any more or less than what you are prescribed.

If you or someone you know has overdosed on Xanax, reach out for emergency medical help immediately.

What are the Risk Factors Contributing to Xanax Overdose?

Several factors increase a person's risk of having a Xanax overdose. Here are some of them:

Polysubstance use

This occurs when a person takes more than one drug simultaneously, or combines Xanax with alcohol. Mixing alcohol, benzodiazepines (such as Xanax), and opioids is very risky. It can lead to respiratory arrest and eventually death.

Tolerance

Developing a tolerance to Xanax means the body needs more of the drug to achieve the same effect. As a result, people take higher doses, which leads to an overdose.

Aging

The older the person is, the more pronounced Xanax toxicity is. Doctors usually prescribe lower doses of Xanax for patients 65 years old and above. However, most patients do not follow their doctor's recommendation. They increase their dosage without medical supervision, which again leads to Xanax overdose.

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What Happens When Someone Overdoses on Xanax?

Xanax boosts the effects of a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain. This neurotransmitter inhibits excessive brain activity, which is linked to many anxiety and psychiatric disorders.

Taking too many benzodiazepines like Xanax or mixing them with opioid drugs increases a person’s risk of severe sleepiness, respiratory depression, and coma. It can also be fatal.

Xanax Overdose Symptoms 

Xanax overdose can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. The worst-case scenario is death.

A person's individual symptoms will depend on several factors.

These include:

  • The amount of Xanax taken
  • A person's body chemistry and their sensitivity to depressants
  • Whether or not the person took Xanax along with other drugs

Mild symptoms of Xanax overdose are:

  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Slow reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements

Severe cases will have severe symptoms. Watch out for:

  • Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Chest pain
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Again, overdosing on Xanax can also cause death.

If you or someone you know has overdosed on Xanax, you need medical attention as soon as possible. The quicker you receive it, the better. 

What is the Lethal Dose of Xanax? 

The lethal dose of Xanax varies. There are other factors, including other medications that you may be taking, that can affect the lethality of Xanax. Your age and weight may also play a role in the lethality of Xanax.

You mustn’t take any more Xanax than prescribed. If you feel that the medication is not helping you, talk to your doctor about safely upping your dosage. Your doctor can put you on a plan to increase your dose without putting you in danger.

Your doctor may also try out other treatment options instead. You do not necessarily need medication to treat GAD. You can also try different types of therapies and other forms of holistic treatment.

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Does Xanax Interact With Other Substances?

Xanax may interact with other drugs that can make you feel tired. These drugs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Other sedatives
  • Narcotic pain medicine
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Seizure medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Sleeping pills
  • Heart or blood pressure medications

Xanax can increase the risk of serious or life-threatening sedation, breathing problems, or even coma if used along with certain medications. So, if you’re taking other medications that may interact with Xanax, talk to your doctor about other treatment options instead.

Always be honest with your healthcare provider about all other medications that you are taking. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

What to Do if You Suspect an Overdose

If someone you know overdoses on Xanax, call for emergency medical help immediately. Suppose you are experiencing an emergency and need an ambulance, dial 911. If you’re not sure whether or not the situation is a true emergency, officials still recommend that you call 911 and let the call-taker help you.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), is a confidential, free, 24/7 information service. It’s available in English and Spanish for people and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

You can also text 741741 if you are in a crisis. The Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7, and confidential. A live, trained crisis counselor will quickly respond to you using active listening and suggested referrals through a secure texting platform.

Treatment for a Xanax (Alprazolam) Overdose

Treatment for a Xanax overdose is available, but it’s not always considered safe and won’t always work. That’s why the quicker you seek medical attention, the better.

A drug called Flumazenil is currently the only antidote for a benzodiazepine overdose. However, its use is risky and controversial. It can cause seizures and other dangerous side effects of its own. Flumazenil should not be used for all overdose cases.

A doctor will also likely pump a patient's stomach if they just recently ingested Xanax. The doctor may also fill them with IV fluids. Other treatment options may be available, depending on the patient’s unique situation.

If the overdose was deemed intentional, a mental health evaluation and treatment might also be necessary. 

Unfortunately, research shows that Xanax is one of the two prescription drugs with the highest increase in death rates. It’s second only to oxycodone in overdose deaths. If someone you know has overdosed on Xanax, call for medical help immediately.

Treatment for Xanax Abuse/Addiction

Addiction treatment is available if you, a loved one, or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse or addiction (or is at an increased risk of overdose). Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, so it’s best to navigate the road to recovery with professional medical advice and help.

Reach out to an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility in your area or around the United States. Or check out local support groups for substance abuse.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other holistic treatment programs can also help identify triggers and create healthier habits in life.

Whatever route you choose, you do not need to do it alone.

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Resources

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  1. Alprazolam (Oral Route) Side Effects,” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 1 Feb. 2021
  2. Alprazolam: MedlinePlus Drug Information,” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  3. An, Howard, and Jesse Godwin. “Flumazenil in Benzodiazepine Overdose,” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L'Association Medicale Canadienne, Joule Inc., 6 Dec. 2016
  4. Carskadon, MA., et al. “Effects of Alprazolam, Buspirone and Diazepam on Daytime Sedation and Performance,” Clinical Drug Investigation, Springer International Publishing, 1 Jan. 1982.
  5. Effects of Xanax Abuse And Addiction On The Brain,” Vertava Health, 4 May 2020.
  6. G;, Jann M;Kennedy WK;Lopez. “Benzodiazepines: a Major Component in Unintentional Prescription Drug Overdoses with Opioid Analgesics,” Journal of Pharmacy Practice, U.S. National Library of Medicine
  7. Griffin, Charles E, et al. “Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System-Mediated Effects,” The Ochsner Journal, The Academic Division of Ochsner Clinic Foundation, 2013
  8. Isbister, Geoffrey K, et al. “Alprazolam Is Relatively More Toxic than Other Benzodiazepines in Overdose,” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Blackwell Science Inc, July 2004
  9. Longo, Lance P., and Brian Johnson. “Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines-Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives,” American Family Physician, 1 Apr. 2000
  10. Xanax (Alprazolam): Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interactions, Warning,” RxList, RxList, 8 July 2020.

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