Do you ever have the feeling that your brain just cannot slow down? It flits from one thought to the next, and you cannot seem to concentrate on any one thing for any length of time. Often, this feeling is accompanied by significant anxiety. You feel upset and wish you could calm down—and the fact that you can’t calm down makes you feel even more upset. And so round and round you go. 

If this is a feeling that you have quite often and/or for long periods, your doctor may prescribe Xanax (the drug’s generic name is alprazolam) to help you address it. Because it is known to effectively and quickly offer relief from the symptoms of anxiety, Xanax is the most frequently prescribed psychiatric drug in the United States.

That is all to the good, of course. Anxiety can be crippling, and so reliable, fast-acting relief is a boon to many, many people. But Xanax does not come without risks related to addiction and abuse. Let’s take a deeper dive into how Xanax works, what symptoms might tip you off that you have developed an addiction to the drug, and, if that’s the case, what you should (and should not) do next.

How Does Xanax Do What it Does?

Xanax belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (you may have heard them referred to as “benzos”). It helps to reduce that racing feeling in your brain by causing an actual decrease in overall brain activity. As brain activity decreases, it is replaced by a feeling of calm that is most welcome to someone who has been in an ongoing struggle with anxiety. 

Because it acts as a depressant on the central nervous system, Xanax can help people with a range of panic or anxiety disorders (as well as other mental health disorders, like depression, that may include an anxiety component). It is also prescribed to help overcome insomnia because a racing mind is less likely to drift off to sleep.

We want to emphasize that Xanax is a prescription medication. That said, it unfortunately can often be found from illegal sources. We want to be absolutely clear that you should never take Xanax that has been purchased “on the street.” Because of its addictive qualities, its use must be monitored by a physician who will, generally speaking, only prescribe it for a limited period of time—generally no longer than six weeks.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of an Addiction to Xanax?

If you are addicted to Xanax, you may experience a wide array of symptoms. Broadly speaking, those symptoms fall into four categories: cognitive impacts, psychological effects, behavioral changes, and physical issues. Let’s take the categories one at a time.

Cognitive impacts may include:

  • Forgetfulness, lack of focus, and/or trouble thinking in a coherent manner
  • Nonsensical speech patterns

Psychological effects may include:

  • Feelings of anxiety, agitation, aggression, hostility, and/or rage
  • Symptoms of mania and/or periods of mania
  • Confusion and/or disorientation—or even hallucinations and/or delusions
  • Increased symptoms of depression or a strong desire to withdraw from others

Behavioral changes may include:

  • Neglecting various responsibilities related to school, work, and/or relationships
  • Increased talkativeness and/or decreased inhibitions
  • A reduction in libido (sex drive)
  • Thoughts of committing suicide
  • The need for the drug may also lead to changes in behavior around using and acquiring Xanax:
  • Taking more pills more often than prescribed and/or chewing, crushing, or snorting pills in the hope that they will work faster and be more powerful
  • Pursuing (or forging) multiple prescriptions, stealing or “borrowing” pills from others who have prescriptions, and/or buying from an illegal source

Physical issues may include:

  • Headaches, blurred or double vision, dizziness, a stuffy nose, and/or slurred speech
  • Swelling in the hands or feet and/or poor coordination or tremors
  • Dryness of the mouth, an increase in sweating, and/or a decrease in urination 
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Jaundice and/or heart palpitations 
  • Extreme drowsiness, lethargy, and/or fatigue
  • Change in levels of food consumption resulting in weight gain or loss

Potential Long-Term Effects of Xanax Addiction

In addition to the myriad issues noted above, a substance use disorder involving Xanax may lead to long-term health issues including:

  • Persistent problems related to working and verbal memory even after a person is no longer taking Xanax
  • Persistent problems with speed of mental processing, sensory processing, and verbal speed even after a person is no longer taking Xanax
  • Persistent problems with motor performance even after a person is no longer taking Xanax
  • Ongoing breathing issues, development of a serious cardiac condition, or liver problems
  • Higher risks of falling or being in a motor vehicle accident
  • Higher risks of accidentally overdosing or experiencing dangerous drug interactions, which can be fatal
  • Higher risks of developing dementia or psychosis

Important Note: With Xanax There Should Be No Sudden Stops

A person who suddenly stops taking Xanax could experience a range of negative outcomes, including possible seizures. The safest way to address a Xanax addiction is via medically supervised detoxification

Remain Calm: We Can Help You Overcome a Substance Use Disorder

You may be feeling particularly hopeless if you find yourself struggling with a substance use disorder related to a prescription drug you were originally taking to address a mental health disorder. We understand that you may be grappling with a sense of despair. But we want to assure you that there is hope.

At The Aviary Recovery Center, we offer compassionate, non-judgmental, evidence-based care that is personalized for your specific situation. We can help you overcome a substance use disorder while also addressing co-occurring mental health disorders—like, say, an anxiety disorder. Via detox, rehab, and therapy, we will help you prepare to return to your regular life sober and with a plan for ongoing success managing your mental health. We are ready and eager to help you start your recovery journey with confidence.