Xanax (alprazolam) is among the most popular anti-anxiety medications prescribed in the U.S. The drug has several legitimate medical uses, but many people misuse Xanax to feel relaxed or euphoric. Repeated and prolonged abuse can lead to dependence and addiction that requires professional treatment. Discontinuing use of Xanax abruptly or “cold-turkey” can induce seizures and other dangerous complications.
Doctors primarily prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety and panic disorders, but it is sometimes also used for insomnia or seizures. Xanax is a benzodiazepine (benzo) and central nervous system depressant that reduces brain activity, causing feelings of relaxation and drowsiness. These effects are why many people abuse Xanax—seeking relief from anxiety and feelings of intoxication, not unlike alcohol.
But, like excessive alcohol consumption, Xanax abuse can be dangerous. It can hinder a person’s ability to make rational decisions and impair motor skills and response time required for safe driving, among other things.
Xanax Bars and What the Colors Mean
A Xanax bar contains 2-4 times the dose of medication typically required to treat anxiety. Bars allow users to save money as they are less expensive than purchasing multiple pills at a lower dose. Authentic Xanax bars have a characteristic scored appearance. Users who wish to take a smaller dose can easily break the bar into the desired portions. Individuals who want to take a full 2 mg dose can consume the entire bar.
Alprazolam is available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. By prescription, the medication is available in the following forms.
- Green three-sided pill – 3mg
- White rectangle – 2 mg
- Blue round – 2 mg
- Blue oval – 1 mg
- Yellow four-sided pill – 1 mg
- Orange oval – 0.5 mg
- White five-sided pill – 0.5 mg
- Peach round – 0.5 mg
- White oval – 0.25 mg
Is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax is one of the most addictive benzos when not used appropriately. People who misuse this drug can become addicted and experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue use. They can experience rebound anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and dysphoria—effects that make quitting difficult.
Withdrawal from the prolonged abuse of Xanax can be life-threatening. To recover from Xanax dependence, people should taper off the prescription drug by administering lower doses over the course of several weeks. Physicians or addiction professionals should supervise this weaning process to ensure safety.
How Xanax Is Used as Directed
Doctors may prescribe Xanax bars because the drug has a relatively short half-life, meaning its effects subside more rapidly than longer-acting benzos such as Valium (diazepam). People who use Xanax usually begin to feel effects within 10-15 minutes. Peak effects onset after about 30 minutes, and the overall effects typically abate after six hours.
When Xanax is taken as directed, common side effects may include the following:
- Memory problems
- Reduced appetite
- Difficulty speaking
- Poor concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Slurred speech
Xanax is considered safe for most adults to use. Benzos rarely result in life-threatening overdoses when taken alone, but can cause dangerous side effects when used with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol or opioids. Using Xanax without a prescription can be hazardous.
Those who take it recreationally often combine it with alcohol, marijuana, or other intoxicants. Mixing alcohol or drugs such as opioids and Xanax is dangerous because these substances can interact unpredictably and compound the effects of one another. When combined, these substances can make people pass out and breathe at a perilously slow rate.
How Xanax Causes Dependency and Addiction
Doctors usually initiate patients who are not experienced with benzos with low doses of Xanax, such as 0.25-0.5 mg. Of note, everyone who uses this drug regularly will develop a tolerance, meaning that over time, they will require higher doses to achieve the same therapeutic effects. Patients who have developed a high tolerance to Xanax may require doses higher than 4mg per day, thus increasing their risk of dependence.
Dependence occurs after the prolonged use of a substance results in the body’s adaptation to its presence. When the drug is absent, the body can no longer function normally, and the person experiences unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as a result of this imbalance.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Uncontrollable shakiness
- High blood pressure
Being dependent on Xanax is not always dangerous—people who need medication to control anxiety or panic disorders may become dependent on Xanax and experience few or no adverse effects. Physical dependency is one aspect of addiction, but not addiction itself. Addiction has an intense psychological component that results in compulsive drug-seeking behavior and uncontrolled use despite the incurrence of negative consequences.
Moreover, in many cases, people who are truly addicted to Xanax begin to assume they need it to relieve anxiety. However, the anxiety that they are encountering when they discontinue using the drug is actually a symptom of withdrawal referred to as rebound anxiety.
Dependence becomes problematic when people use Xanax bars for nonmedical reasons or when they misuse the medication and don’t communicate with their doctor. People with a valid prescription may, in some cases, develop an addiction to Xanax because they use the drug more frequently or in higher doses than directed. As tolerance increases and dependence develops, they become more desperate and are clueless as to how they can curb this behavior.
Excessive doses or misuse of Xanax can result in dangerous side effects, including the following:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of coordination
What Is the Timeline for Xanax Bars Addiction?
Some people become addicted to Xanax bars faster than others. Those who routinely take excessive doses of Xanax are more likely to develop a substance use disorder than those who take low doses of the drug less frequently.
Using a benzo such as Xanax for longer than 3-4 weeks can result in physiological dependence, a condition that, as noted, turns into addiction when a person begins obsessing over drug use and keeps using the drug despite the incurrence of negative consequences. For this reason, many doctors have opted to limit alprazolam prescriptions to a one or two week supply to prevent patients from developing dependence.
People addicted to Xanax will compulsively seek the drug, and may visit multiple doctors or pharmacies to obtain prescriptions or buy it illicitly on the street. They may also resort to the abuse of alcohol or other depressants when Xanax isn’t available.
Detoxing From Xanax
Alprazolam has a half-life of about 12 hours, which means it takes this length of time for half of the dose to be cleared from the bloodstream. Withdrawal symptoms can be experienced within six hours of the last dose, and peak after about 12 hours. Intense withdrawal symptoms persist for about four days, and withdrawal from a prolonged Xanax addiction can last for up to two weeks, with improvement seen after the first few days.
As mentioned, tapering off Xanax without medical direction can be dangerous. Detox facilities and treatment centers have medication and other resources that can help ease withdrawal symptoms and make the process safer and more comfortable.
While supervising clients, treatment centers can slowly wean them off Xanax by gradually reducing daily dosages. Xanax may be replaced by long-acting benzos, such as Klonopin or Librium, during tapering. Also, Buspirone and Flumazenil can be used to treat symptoms of withdrawal.
Treatment for Xanax Bars Addiction
Detox or a tapering process is followed by evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning. Therapy can also help people develop healthier ways of relieving anxiety and lessen a person’s need for anti-anxiety medications.
Midwood Addiction Treatment is a specialized addiction treatment facility that offers therapeutic services facilitated by addiction professionals. Our staff is dedicated to ensuring every client receives the tools and support they need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-lasting wellness and sobriety.
If you or someone you know is addicted to Xanax, other benzos, opioids, or illicit drugs or alcohol, please contact us today. Discover how we help people free themselves from the powerful grip of addiction and begin to experience the healthy and satisfying lives they deserve!