Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS) that regulates neuronal excitability. The benzodiazepine medication alprazolam, which is chemically similar to the neurotransmitter, binds to GABA receptor sites increasing their efficiency.
The tranquilizing effects of alprazolam make the drug effective in treating anxiety disorders and panic attacks, but the drug is only intended for short-term use. Long-term use can lead to a change in the brain causing issues with regulating memory, coordination, alertness, heart rate, and blood pressure.1
Alprazolam, which includes brand name formulations like Xanax and Niravam, is the most common benzodiazepine with nearly 50 million prescriptions dispensed in 2012. However, the drug has the potential to cause addiction, dependence, side effects, and potentially lethal withdrawal symptoms. To protect the public, the government restricted alprazolam use under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970.2
Alprazolam as a Controlled Substance
Controlled substances fall under five distinct schedules based on accepted medical use and the potential for abuse and dependence. Schedule I drugs like LSD and MDMA are completely restricted while Schedule II drugs like amphetamines and opioid pain relievers are the most restricted drugs available via a prescription.
Alprazolam is classified as Schedule IV, which means the following:
- Acquisition, possession, or use of the drug is illegal without a prescription.
- Doctor shopping and trying to fill a fake prescription are also illegal.
- Giving away alprazolam is a crime even if the drug was legally acquired.
- Operating a vehicle while impaired by alprazolam is considered a DUI.
- Accidents that occur during improper use can involve other legal liabilities.
- Alprazolam has less potential for abuse relative to more restricted drugs.3
Alprazolam may have relatively less potential for abuse and dependence than some other drugs, but the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report shows that it is still a major concern. Between 2005 and 2011, 10% of all emergency room visits dealing with misuse of prescription drugs involved alprazolam.4
Treatment for Alprazolam Addiction
The legal restrictions on alprazolam are meant to protect consumers, but even medicinal users are susceptible to addiction. Should alprazolam abuse occur, professional rehab offers the most effective recovery services, which may include the following:
- Personalized treatment plans with integrated care for co-occurring mental health issues
- Behavioral therapies that target maladaptive thought patterns, ideas and emotions
- Motivational therapies that help instill personal incentives to make changes
- Relapse-prevention tools to identify, avoid and neutralize drug use cravings
- Individual and group counseling for family conflict, trauma, and other life issues
- Optional holistic treatments for anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and other disorders
As with any benzodiazepine dependence, alprazolam detox involves a gradual reduction in dosage that weans the body off the drug. Otherwise, quitting too quickly can result in a prolonged and pronounced withdrawal syndrome with the potential for life-threatening seizures.
Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to help you or a loved one who has become dependent on prescription medication like alprazolam. We can answer questions, discuss options, and provide information, and we can even check health insurance policies for treatment benefits. Call us at 706-914-2327.
By Melissa Riddle Chalos
1“Benzodiazepines.” Healthline.com, 5 Aug. 2015.
2“Benzodiazepines.” US Drug Enforcement Administration, Jan. 2013.
3“Drug Scheduling.” US Drug Enforcement Administration, Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.
4Bush, Donna, “Emergency Department Visits Involving Nonmedical Use of the Anti-anxiety Medication Alprazolam.” The CBHSQ Report, 22 May 2014.