Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a medication that primarily treats panic and anxiety disorders. It belongs to a drug class called benzodiazepine. Xanax amplifies the activity of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. One of GABAs many functions is regulating anxiety. When Xanax flows into the brain GABA gets a boost, and the patient feels calmer. People who’ve struggled to sleep can often relax enough to let their minds rest with the help of this medication. Aside from helping panic and anxiety disorders, Xanax is also used to treat patients who are suffering from involuntary muscle spasms, seizures and alcohol withdrawal.
Doctors often prescribe Xanax as a temporary part of a larger plan to treat anxiety. The core of the long-term plan is to treat a patient with a medication such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil or Effexor. But, those medications require weeks to ramp up and start addressing the symptoms. In some cases, the physician will decide to give a patient this fast-acting benzodiazepines to provide immediate relief while the other anti-anxiety medication ramps up. But, after a month or two of Xanax use, patients have often developed a dependency. In most cases, the patient can discontinue its use over time. While the experience is uncomfortable, this mild detox can usually happen at home by following the doctor’s directions. If an individual attempts to discontinue Xanax abruptly, they will feel immediate side effects.
The best way to discontinue use is to taper the dosage. This means reducing the dose by small amounts on a regular basis, to help the body adjust accordingly. After a few weeks, the patient can stop taking Xanax altogether. Tapering is an extremely effective method. Doctors typically recommend that the dose be decreased by no more than 0.5 mg every three days
Xanax has a short window of effectiveness. It is very successful at helping people sleep for about two weeks. Then it starts to lose its potency. For people who live with anxiety, Xanax will usually help them for two to four months. Using it for longer requires the doctor to write a prescription for a higher medication dose to compensate for the dependency the patient has developed. Unfortunately, dependency is a significant step toward addiction.
Can Patients Drink Alcohol While Taking Xanax?
People taking Xanax should avoid alcohol. Xanax amplifies the effects of alcohol, and combining them can be disastrous. If it takes two drinks to give a person a buzz, two drinks plus a Xanax just might make them borderline drunk. If someone goes out on the town and wants to avoid getting pulled over and answering the tough questions, they should not drink if they’re taking Xanax. Sure, two drinks keeps most people’s driving judgment clear and their blood alcohol level within the legal limits. But, add in this powerful benzodiazepine, and their impairment level may make them dangerous. Moreover, a peace officer might pull them over and subject them to an uncomfortable level of scrutiny.
Alcohol and Xanax both slow breathing and heart rate. While rare, comas and death can be consequences of mixing these two potent chemicals. It’s best not to drink if Xanax is part of an individual’s current treatment plan.
Can Xanax Be Addictive?
Just like any other drugs, Xanax can be addictive once it has been abused. Overuse of the drug causes emotional and physical dependency. Xanax dependency can be established as early as two weeks after one starts using it. People who are addicted to this medication can have a hard time in withdrawal since they became too dependent on the drug. Because Xanax has a rapid rate of elimination users really feel the withdrawal symptoms when it wears off. The risk of dependence is higher for those who take more than four milligrams per day, have been taking the medication for a long period of time or have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
If a person discontinues this medication on their own, their body will feel extremely uncomfortable and will experience severe symptoms such as headache, blurred vision, tremors, muscle pain, sensitiveness, insomnia, depression, anxiety, panic, paranoia. Some users have even had seizures.
When it’s time for a person to discontinue Xanax or any other habit-forming medication, they should start by speaking with their doctor. He or she will know if the patient will need the assistance of an outpatient or inpatient detox facility. The physicians will also work with the patient to suggest a tapering schedule so the can adjust to gradually smaller doses. For many patients, tapering benzodiazepines is very effective.
Withdrawal symptoms will start to be felt after six to 12 hours from the last dose. Symptoms peak near the second week of withdrawal and will subside eventually over the following days. The severity and duration of withdrawal depend on each person’s dosage and duration taking the medication. Some will take a month before the symptoms will be gone but some last for a month or even a year especially if not administered by a medical professional.
How to Help People With Xanax Addiction
If you’re close to someone who has been abusing Xanax, your genuine concern can be a lifeline for them. People often start using benzodiazepines to address a serious medical concern. They did not imagine that taking their doctor’s suggestion would lead them to an addiction. Remind the person that they used the medication for a wise purpose, and their dependence is only a temporary obstacle. Show them that you’re by their side during this time.
If you’ve heard Xanax mentioned in the news lately, it may have been in a story discussing the strange behavior of a person using the drug. Or, perhaps you read about police raids and arrests where the authorities confiscated illegal Xanax. Within the news stories and social rumor mills, there are some false Xanax myths. For instance, some people incorrectly believe that
Xanax stays in your body for weeks of months. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, the average healthy adult eliminates half of the Xanax in 11.2 hours. After four days, a trace smaller than one percent remains in their bloodstream.
Can a person damage their brain by taking Xanax? If they take it as prescribed by their doctors, there is no evidence that Xanax causes brain damage. All medications have side effects, but brain damage is not one associated with this medication. It simply increases the activity of a valuable neurotransmitter called GABA, which is perfectly healthy. Overdosing on or abusing Xanax could be harmful.
Some real side effects that have been documented in clinical studies include:
- Allergic reactions
- Altered sense of taste
- Change in muscle tone
- Difficulty concentrating
- Double vision
- Fear or anxiety
- Hyperexcitement or overstimulation
- Insomnia or sleeping difficulties
- Lack of inhibition
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Rage or other hostile behavior
- Slurred or unusual speech
- Transient elevated liver function tests
- Urination problems
- Yellow eyes and skin