Xanax belongs to a group of drugs called benzodiazepines. These medications act as tranquilizers or anti-anxiety medications. The single most common drug prescribed in the United States for psychiatric treatment is Xanax. It is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and other forms of anxiety disorders. Xanax and other benzodiazepines are controlled substances with black box warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about their high potential for misuse.
What is Xanax?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 1996 and 2013, the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions increased by 67%. Despite the high potential for tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction, Xanax remains a very popular and in-demand prescription drug.
Benzodiazepines, including Xanax, all act by depressing parts of the central nervous system. They do this by acting on a system in the brain for the neurotransmitter GABA. This transmitter has an inhibitory effect and suppresses nerve cells from firing. Xanax alters these receptors to make them more sensitive to GABA, enhancing its effects. As a result, common side effects include:
Severe life-threatening overdoses can occur when taking Xanax, especially when combined with alcohol or opioids. This mix of central nervous system depressants is more likely to cause death. The NIDA reports that 16% of opioid deaths in 2019 also included benzodiazepines. The cause of death “mixed drug intoxication” has become increasingly common.
In 2020 the National Institutes of Health issued an updated black box warning applying to Xanax and all other benzodiazepines. The warning details how doctors should assess patients for abuse potential before prescribing these medications, and also instructions for how doctors should plan to taper patients off the medications.
Even though Xanax is intended as a short-term treatment, many people may end up taking the medication indefinitely. Taking any substance daily for a long period of time builds tolerance in the body and the person needs more of the substance to achieve the same effect. To continue getting anxiety relief, people taking Xanax long-term would have to increase the dose. Xanax also creates a dependency since it alters the GABA receptors in the brain. These involve signals all over the body, so removing Xanax from the body will cause withdrawal symptoms.
The NIDA rates Xanax and other substance abuse as mild, moderate, or severe. In any case, Xanax withdrawal should be monitored in a medical detox facility. Withdrawal symptoms of Xanax misuse can be life-threatening. However, severe cases of substance abuse may also require residential treatment after detox to ensure the individual develops the skills to continue abstinence from the medication.
Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may include:
Tapering is usually the safest method for withdrawing from benzodiazepines, but if for some reason someone stops completely, they put themselves at a higher risk for seizures.
How is Xanax Addiction Treated?
In most situations, doctors treat Xanax withdrawal by tapering the person’s dose over a period of time. A drastic change in dose can put a person at serious risk for seizures. While medications can treat seizures if they occur, no medication has been approved to treat the symptoms of Xanax withdrawal. Because doctors usually prescribe benzodiazepines to treat anxiety disorders or other mental health issues, they must prepare to treat these issues with alternative methods.
Research has demonstrated that people tapering off Xanax recover faster and feel better if they receive some form of therapy along with the medication adjustments. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and its related methods have proven to have the most effect.
How Does Everlast Treat Xanax Addiction?
For people with a severe substance use disorder, symptoms during the tapering period may feel unpleasant symptoms. Fortunately, some of this can be relieved with therapy and complementary therapies like art, music, and mindfulness. In addition, physical activity has been demonstrated to improve many mental health issues. At Everlast, we encourage residents to get outside and engage in outdoor activities or practice yoga.
At Everlast Recovery Centers, we also provide CBT to all of our clients. The highly trained medical staff will monitor the client’s medication taper during their stay in our detox facility. Staff will also make them as comfortable as possible with a home-like, relaxed setting where they can feel safe during the detoxification process.