Alprazolam Abuse: Helping People Get on the Road to Recovery
Alprazolam, more commonly known as Xanax®, is the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States. This medication is often prescribed to those suffering from anxiety and panic disorders. However, since it can lead to feelings of euphoria, it is often abused.
According to available data from 1995 to 2015, alprazolam prescriptions increased more than eightfold, creating a ripple effect. For example, overusing alprazolam increased the rate of complications, including a spike in fatal alprazolam poisoning cases.
Alprazolam addiction can be tough to overcome, but you don’t need to face this battle alone. Professionals are waiting to assist you whether you’re using it to avoid withdrawal symptoms or have lost control over your alprazolam use. Zinnia Health is proud to be a leading care provider for those needing substance use or mental health support. Discover the Zinnia Health facilities across the U.S. that offer evidence-based, holistic treatment plans.
What Is Alprazolam?
Alprazolam belongs to the drug class of benzodiazepines or “benzos” — medications known as tranquilizers. Brand names include Xanax, Xanax XR, Niravam, and Alprazolam Intensol. These medications are approved for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.
Although this drug is prescribed more than any other drug in the country, it has a high misuse liability. It is known to initiate a severe withdrawal syndrome among those who develop dependence. Based on national emergency department data, alprazolam is the second most common prescription medication and the most common benzodiazepine involved in emergency visits related to drug misuse. This class of drugs is also involved in approximately one-third of intentional overdoses. It is a powerful medication, and the consequences can be severe when misused. The most significant concern is those who take alprazolam for more than six months.
Is Alprazolam a Habit-Forming Drug?
All benzodiazepines carry a risk of misuse, dependence, and tolerance — so yes, alprazolam is habit-forming and presents a high risk of misuse. For example, Xanax XR is listed as a schedule IV drug by the DEA because it has some therapeutic value even though it’s addictive.
The high abuse potential of this drug class stems from its unique properties of rapid absorption, high potency, and significant withdrawal symptoms occurring after a fairly short period — which is related to alprazolam’s short half-life. For these reasons, alprazolam should only be used short-term.
In a perfect world, alprazolam would only be prescribed in its extended-release formulation for a short duration to individuals without a history of substance use. These precautions would minimize misuse and should be discussed with patients before prescribing. The manufacturers of alprazolam are very clear about the potential risks.
For example, Pfizer, the manufacturer of Xanax, includes a warning in its prescribing pamphlet. This warning states, “Benzodiazepines, including Xanax, expose users to abuse, misuse, and addiction risks, which can lead to overdose or death. Before prescribing Xanax and throughout treatment, assess each patient’s risk for abuse, misuse, and addiction.”
Alprazolam Use Among Teens
Unfortunately, not everyone struggling with alprazolam was prescribed the medication in the first place. Next to marijuana and alcohol, Xanax is the most commonly abused drug among individuals 14 and older — likely based on its high accessibility. Many teens are taking this drug out of their medicine cabinet at home. As reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it’s not heroin, cocaine, or meth that are the fast-growing problem in the country — it’s prescription drugs, and they’re having a profound effect on teenagers.
Xanax addiction among teens has been surging in recent years. Some individuals are extreme, high-dose users, increasing the risk of overdose. These individuals also face a much higher risk of addiction, and their age makes a difference. According to this report, almost 70% of adolescents who try an illegal drug before age 13 develop an addiction within seven years, compared to 27% of those who try an illicit drug after age 17.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Alprazolam Addiction?
Recognizing an issue with using alprazolam is the first step in achieving a healthier, happier future. Not everyone who ends up in a treatment center abuses alprazolam intentionally. Many receive a prescription for a legitimate condition. However, this is a powerful drug, and a pattern of abuse and addiction can develop over time. At that point, withdrawal syndrome and the associated side effects often encourage an individual to keep using, even if they no longer need to take alprazolam.
It’s important to note that dependence and addiction are different. Just because you’ve developed a physical dependence does not mean you’re an addict. However, increased tolerance and the need to take higher doses will increase your risk of addiction. This topic is complex and often depends on each user’s history of use and mental health.
If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you taking alprazolam in higher doses or for longer periods than initially intended?
- Are you spending considerable time seeking your next dose, using, and recovering from alprazolam’s effects?
- When you don’t have alprazolam in your system, do you experience withdrawal symptoms, which include cravings?
- Have you taken more alprazolam over time to experience the same effect due to increased tolerance?
- Have you or others noticed impaired performance at work, home, or school because of alprazolam?
There are many common signs and symptoms of alprazolam abuse, which, if detected early, can be addressed without the user experiencing any significant consequences. The longer someone uses alprazolam, the more challenging it is to treat and repair the damage the drug caused in the user’s personal and professional life. However, it’s never too late to receive treatment. Learn more about the substance use treatment plans offered at Zinnia Health locations across the country — all specifically tailored to your individual needs.
Other Warning Signs to Be Mindful Of
- Withdrawing from friends and family, missing events that would have once been important to you
- To avoid running out of alprazolam, you may stock up out of fear
- You have begun to conduct acts that are out of character to obtain alprazolam, such as stealing
- You are engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving while using
- You or your loved one are noticing shifts in personality or mood
- You have become secretive about your daily schedule
Withdrawal Symptoms That Develop From Alprazolam Abuse
Withdrawal syndrome is common among those taking alprazolam, particularly those taking this medication for long periods. However, dependence does not take long to develop, so many experience withdrawal syndrome even when they don’t intentionally abuse their prescription. Patients taking alprazolam longer than 3-4 weeks will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop taking the drug.
Alprazolam impacts the brain in a way that makes users susceptible to physical and emotional symptoms following any variation in dose. Once dependent, if a user stops taking alprazolam, withdrawal symptoms often surface within the first 24 hours, which include some or all of the following.
- Changes in mood — typically deep sadness
- Worsening anxiety
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Poor memory
- Poor concentration
- Sleep issues, including poor sleep and nightmares
- Behavioral changes
Alprazolam withdrawal syndrome may also feature unique clinical symptoms, including delirium and psychosis. These instances are a highly individualized experience, showcasing the need for personalized treatment. No two patients are the same, which is why customized care is crucial.
One case study highlighted a 33-year-old man who was brought to the emergency department following alprazolam withdrawal two days prior. The man was experiencing delusions involving harm to himself and his family. In this case, it was concluded that such instances could be challenging to determine in a clinical setting because brief psychotic episodes might be induced by alprazolam, which is undetected in routine urine or blood drug screens after only 24 hours of discontinuation.
The Link Between Alprazolam and Rebound Anxiety
Rebound anxiety is another issue that many individuals face, which may surface when you stop taking this medication. In most cases, symptoms return with greater intensity than before you began taking anti-anxiety medication like alprazolam. In one study of 126 patients treated with alprazolam for panic disorder, 27% of patients had rebound anxiety that was more severe than pretreatment anxiety, and 35% experienced new physical symptoms.
The Dangers of Alprazolam
Many people rely on alprazolam as it improves their quality of life. However, taking this tranquilizer is not without risks, and certain individuals are more vulnerable than others.
As discussed above, withdrawal symptoms can be severe, and when abrupt cessation occurs after one to six months of continued use, seizures can occur. These seizures can be life-threatening, so doses need to be gradually reduced. This approach requires professional support from a dedicated clinical health team. Zinnia Health detox facilities are well-equipped to deal with such cases, ensuring a safe and comfortable environment.
Compared to other benzodiazepines, alprazolam is significantly more toxic in instances of overdose. For this reason, it should be avoided in patients at risk of suicide. It should not be combined with alcohol, opioids, or other central nervous system depressants. These dangers become complicated among those with co-occurring disorders — especially mood and substance use disorders. For example, taking alprazolam and opioids doubles the risk of fatal respiratory depression.
In 2020, 16% of overdose deaths involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines like alprazolam. These overdoses aren’t just because of people intentionally mixing these drugs. Researchers have found that benzodiazepines are often in the illicit opioid supply and many users are unaware. This combination is so dangerous because both drugs suppress breathing.
So, why is it prescribed?
When treating anxiety disorders, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are often the first line of defense. However, the effects of this treatment can take weeks to reach therapeutic levels. In the meantime, benzodiazepines like alprazolam are prescribed. A cycle of abuse can quickly begin, particularly among those with a history of substance abuse.
How Is Alprazolam Addiction Treated?
If you have tried to quit alprazolam in the past and have yet to succeed, you are not alone. Alprazolam can create a severe cycle of abuse, and until you receive structured, evidence-based addiction treatment, you may struggle to maintain sobriety.
The treatment process is complex, requiring individualized, holistic care. For example, veterans are a community of individuals who are often prescribed anti-anxiety medication, including alprazolam. The drug is used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in these cases. Those who take alprazolam for long periods develop dependence and often addiction. There are many layers to the needs of these individuals, which is why a professional treatment center is imperative to their success. These centers give them access to the therapy and support needed to live a fulfilling, meaningful life. The goal is to heal, which is exactly what Zinnia Health is about.
These centers offer a spectrum of treatment options, including cognitive behavioral therapy. Research shows that this talk therapy is effective for successfully discontinuing benzodiazepines, particularly among those with anxiety and panic disorder. Combining several evidence-based treatment options provides access to structured, professional care that works.
Since alprazolam is most often prescribed to those with an underlying anxiety disorder, these conditions are treated simultaneously. One influences the other and needs to be addressed accordingly.
Zinnia Health Can Help
Zinnia Health offers “health and healing for everyone, everywhere.” Our treatment facilities meet the highest quality standards, providing treatment options that work for you. Depending on your needs, we offer a wide range of treatment options, including detoxification support, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and recovery residences.