Prescription medications are designed to help people who have very real medical conditions. Antibiotics kill bacteria, for example, while analgesics relieve pain. By just taking a pill, relief can swiftly follow. Unfortunately, however, some prescriptions can come with nasty side effects. The prescription medication Xanax, also known by the generic name alprazolam, could be a poster child for the dangers prescription drugs can cause, as this particular medication has caused misery for people all around the globe.
Measuring the Danger
Xanax is a benzodiazepine medication, meaning that it works in much the same way as Valium or Haldol. Researchers have conducted a significant number of studies in order to determine how dangerous Xanax might be, in terms of abuse and addiction potential when compared to other benzodiazepine medications. Sometimes these studies have been quite reassuring.
For example, in a study published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, researchers found that Xanax was not substantially more likely to cause an abuse problem when compared to any other drug out there. The researchers claim that more work is needed before they can definitively say that Xanax is safer than other drugs, but the work they’ve done seems to suggest that Xanax isn’t really much more worrisome than another benzodiazepine medication someone might be asked to take.
However, a piece published by the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators paints a very different picture. In fact, in this piece, experts suggest that Xanax is the most abused of all of the benzodiazepines, mainly because it moves through the bloodstream much more quickly than other medications in this class. The reaction it brings about is bigger and a little more sudden, and that makes the drug harder for people to resist.
How Does It Work?
As mentioned, all benzodiazepine medications work in much the same way. They latch onto the same receptors and trigger the same kind of chemical response. Usually, that response is defined by a reduction in activity in the cells of the brain. Rather than zipping along at a fast pace, cells under the influence of Xanax are soothed and quieted.
However, other changes are also taking place, and those are the changes that can be addictive. In essence, when these drugs are active within the bloodstream, chemicals relating to pleasure and joy have almost unfettered access to brain cells. Since Xanax takes hold so quickly, those feelings take hold almost immediately. The body experiences a sense of release that’s simply not available via normal methods, and the feeling can be indescribably wonderful. The brain remembers these emotions, and the cells may find the changes to be positive.
With repeated use, however, the brain can become somewhat inured to this pleasure. Cells don’t respond to normal signals of pleasure as well as they used to, and the brain might not even be capable of processing happy signals without access to Xanax. In time, as the damage builds up, people might feel incapable of simply living, unless they have access to the Xanax pills they crave.
People can follow this path to addiction by simply taking pills orally, but many users compound the damage by:
- Crushing pills and snorting the powder
- Mixing pills with water and injecting the fluid
- Chewing the pills, rather than letting them break down in the stomach
- Mixing Xanax pills with other drugs of abuse
This mixing technique seems especially popular among people who abuse Xanax, as the Drug Abuse Warning Network suggests that 78 percent of emergency room visits attributed to benzodiazepines involved some other drug too.
Building on the Damage
As an addiction grows in strength and people find it harder and harder to feel joy without the help of drugs, they may feel simply incapable of even conceiving of a life without drugs, even though they might desperately want to get sober. Their bodies are just primed for abuse of Xanax, and they may not be capable of understanding that there is another way to live that doesn’t involve popping little pills.
Even though these people may not be capable of quitting their use and abuse of drugs, their doctors may not be willing to continue to provide prescriptions for these drugs. Some people may not have obtained a valid prescription at the beginning of the addiction process. People like this might feel as though they need Xanax, but they might also find it impossible to get the drugs they need.
When faced with this dilemma, people might resort to stealing Xanax. It might sound far-fetched, but consider the case of a woman in Norwalk, Ohio, as reported by the Norwalk Reflector. She agreed to help a friend by picking up a prescription of Xanax at the local pharmacy for her. Instead of bringing pills back, the woman took them. In fact, she took 20 of those Xanax pills in just 36 hours.
No reasonable person would gobble all the pills in a bottle meant for a friend, and face possible jail time for the act, but this woman did so. It’s possible that an addiction clouded her reasoning, and it’s quite possible that this kind of thing could happen to anyone who has an addiction like this.
While people who have a Xanax addiction might think that there’s no other way for them to live, continuing to harbor the addiction could actually cause the person to lose his or her life. Addictions to this medication have been linked to all sorts of terrible consequences, including:
- Respiratory distress
- Suicide attempts
Since using the drug without a valid prescription is also illegal, people who continue to do so may find that they’re slapped with heavy fines, or they might even be forced to serve jail time. They may also lose the trust and admiration of the people they hold dear, if they continue to abuse drugs instead of attending to their responsibilities. These are very serious consequences, and unfortunately, they’re all too common for people who live with a Xanax addiction.
While people who do have an addiction may feel as though they can hide their abuse forever, their habits and behaviors may alarm their family members to such a degree that a confrontation comes. Denials at this stage might also be common, but thankfully, a simple serum test can help to determine if the person has been taking Xanax, and at what dose. According to Mayo Medical Laboratories, alprazolam is detected as a metabolite in serum for up to five days after the person has taken the pill. Someone who denies abuse, and who still can’t pass a simple urine check, might be unable to deny that an addiction is really taking place and that serious help is needed in order for long-term healing to begin.
There are good reasons for families to consider holding these difficult confrontations now, rather than waiting for the addiction to reach a crisis point. In Australia, experts are moving to reclassify Xanax as a more dangerous drug, according to news reports, since the abuse of the medication is so widespread in that country. A switch like this might make Xanax harder for addicts to obtain, and that might make the misery they suffer due to addiction even more pronounced.
If the experiment in Australia is successful, and addictions to Xanax decrease as the new restrictions take hold and are enforced, other countries might quickly follow. In no time at all, the pills could be difficult to get, and that could place people into a cold-turkey withdrawal process that could lead to loss of life. Xanax causes such intense damage that the brain can respond with seizures when the pills are abruptly made unavailable. If legislation makes Xanax impossible to get, that could become a real problem for people who have an addiction.
Thankfully, there are a number of treatment programs that can and do provide real help. These programs can provide medical monitoring during the beginning of the process, ensuring that no major medical complications take place as the brain adjusts, and the counseling and therapy that follow can help people to build up the skills they’ll need in order to maintain and sustain that sobriety for the rest of life. These therapies can be used on people who have an addiction only to Xanax, or they can be used to help people who have addictions to additional drugs riding alongside their Xanax addictions. Therapies can even help people who have mental illnesses in addition to a Xanax addiction.
If someone you love is living with an addiction to Xanax, we hope you’ll consider Black Bear Lodge. We’re located in northern Georgia, tucked away amid the intense beauty of the mountain foothills. Our residential program utilizes evidence-based therapies that can really put an end to the trauma an addiction can cause, and we also provide a number of innovative therapies that can heal the soul, including yoga, adventure therapy and art therapy. Our master’s-level therapists can help the pain to fade and life to blossom. Just call us, and we’ll tell you more about how therapy works, and we can even set up an intake appointment, so the person you love can start getting better right now. Our admissions coordinators are standing by, so call now.