Xanax (alprazolam) is among the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications in the U.S. Although this drug is considered relatively safe when used as directed by a licensed health provider, Xanax also comes with the potential for adverse side effects, dependence, and addiction.
What Are Xanax Bars?
Xanax “bars” are white, rectangular, 2 mg tablets of alprazolam, a benzodiazepine (benzo). Many generic 2 mg alprazolam tablets can be found in other colors, such as green or yellow. Xanax is an anxiolytic and sedative that depresses the CNS (central nervous system).
In addition to anxiety and panic attacks, Xanax may be prescribed to treat seizures and insomnia. Some people use Xanax as a self-medication method and use tablets not prescribed to them or take more than is directed by their doctor. Others enjoy the calming sensations that Xanax produces and use it independently or in combination with other substances to experience intense feelings of well-being.
The 2 mg dosage of Xanax is the highest dose offered in a single immediate-release tablet. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) warns using more than 4 mg of Xanax in one day can result in emotional and physical dependence.
Dangers of Xanax Bars
As with many prescription medications, side effects can manifest even with the recommended use of Xanax. If the drug is used above and beyond prescription doses, side effects are more likely to occur, and they can be exacerbated by uncontrolled Xanax use.
Side effects of misusing Xanax bars may include the following:
- Impaired memory
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination/balance
- Mood swings
- Appetite and weight changes
- Changes in libido
- Dry mouth
The most common method of abusing Xanax bars are orally or sublingually, the latter of which requires allowing the tablet to dissolve underneath the tongue. Some individuals abuse Xanax by crushing tablets and snorting the residual powder (insufflation), but rarely injecting. These methods are more uncommon than oral routes because they are generally less effective at producing the sought-after effects.
If snorted, Xanax irritates the nose and can lead to nosebleeds and damage to the nasal septum and surrounding tissues. Injection is not a popular intake method because Xanax bars do not dissolve in water. It is possible to dissolve them in propylene glycol (a synthetic food additive in the same chemical group as alcohol), but this may be quite painful when injected. Of note, intravenous drug use in any form can cause skin abscesses and infections and spread blood-borne and viral diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
Can You Overdose on Xanax Bars?
When benzos such as Xanax are used with other CNS depressants, this combination can be hazardous. Alcohol, opioids, or other benzos used in conjunction with Xanax bars can cause the nervous system to slow down to a dangerous level, leading to severely depressed breathing, profound sedation, and possibly coma and death.
Combing Xanax bars with CNS stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines, also increases overdose risk. Stimulant and depressant drugs have counteracting effects that oppose each other. The combination of increased energy and relaxation may be attractive to some. Still, it can lead people to use more of these substances as these two types of drugs can conceal the extent of intoxication of the other.
When Xanax is used with another substance, it may not be possible to determine how much is a “safe” amount. Different drug combinations have various adverse effects, and many of them increase the risk of overdose when used together.
Why Xanax Abuse Is Widespread
Xanax is prescribed for moderate-severe cases of anxiety and panic attacks, but individuals without these conditions may abuse the drug without a prescription for its euphoric and sedative properties. Even those with a legitimate prescription may use more of it to induce more intense effects.
Xanax acts in the brain and body by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This neurochemical regulates brain activity to promote feelings of well-being and relaxation. Enhanced GABA functioning relieves anxiety during the day and can also help individuals with anxiety or insomnia sleep better.
Xanax Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction
Upon repeated use, Xanax can lead to the development of tolerance. This condition is characterized by a person’s need to increase a drug’s dose to achieve the sought-after effects. Persons with a burgeoning tolerance for Xanax are at an increased risk of developing chemical dependence and addiction.
Even when used as directed, Xanax has the potential to lead to physical and emotional dependence. When dependence has developed, the brain and body require Xanax to function. The individual may then experience highly uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using the medication. For this reason, doctors generally recommend tapering off of Xanax rather than discontinuing use abruptly or “cold turkey.”
Tolerance and dependence are often accompanied by full-blown addiction. This condition is also hallmarked by the compulsive need to obtain and use a substance despite the incurrence of adverse consequences. When an individual abuses Xanax, their brain chemistry begins to change, and not in a good way. Although the brain naturally produces GABA, using Xanax for an extended period can cause the brain to create less of this vital neurochemical to counteract the drug’s effects.
Signs of Xanax Abuse, Dependence, or Addiction
If a person abuses Xanax or becomes addicted to it, they risk severe adverse consequences to their life and health. Addiction to Xanax can lead to a reassignment of priorities so that the need to obtain and use the drug becomes compulsive.
Signs that a person is abusing, dependent upon, or addicted to Xanax include the following:
- Buying or stealing tablets not prescribed to them
- Seeking out and obtaining multiple prescriptions of Xanax from different doctors or pharmacies
- Loss of interested in social obligations due to drug use or recovery
- Damaged or broken relationships with loved ones
- Financial issues due to spending money on Xanax
- Odd, erratic behavior
- Concealing the extent of drug use
- Constant sedation or fatigue
Treatment for Addiction
Often, people recognize that their loved one suffers from addiction, but not everyone has the first clue how to help. Addiction is a lifelong, chronic disease that is extremely challenging to overcome. At Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers, our compassionate, highly-trained staff provides each person we treat with the care and support they need to recover and foster long-lasting wellness and sobriety.
Like alcohol, withdrawal symptoms related to Xanax cessation can be life-threatening. Our medically-assisted detox program ensures that those we treat are monitored closely and kept safe and comfortable as they undergo the withdrawal process.
Once detox is complete, individuals seeking long-term addiction recovery work with medical and addiction professionals to develop a customized treatment program. Each person has unique needs. Therefore, we implement a combination of behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and many more services and activities to ensure that individuals receive the most effective treatment.
We also offer treatment for co-occurring disorders to help those struggling with mental health conditions, such as addiction and anxiety. By addressing all of the unique issues related to Xanax abuse and addiction, we work to heal the whole person—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and help them to sustain lasting recovery.