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Xanax is a trade name for alprazolam, a central nervous system depressant that slows brain activity. Typically used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, Xanax belongs to the class of hypnotics known as benzodiazepines. These drugs work by increasing levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits nerve transmissions in the brain to produce feelings of calm and relaxation. When used as prescribed, Xanax is a safe and effective medication, although it carries a risk of addiction and dependence if it’s used long term.

The Health Effects of Xanax

Initially, taking Xanax usually produces sleepiness and a loss of coordination. But as tolerance begins to develop, which means that the brain adjusts its chemical activity to compensate for the presence of the drug, these effects are reduced. With long-term use, tolerance usually leads to the need for larger doses, which can increase the risk of developing an addiction or dependence.

The long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to the accumulation of the drug in fatty tissues, which may cause cognitive problems associated with:

  • Memory
  • Judgment
  • Thinking
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of coordination

Using the drug with alcohol or other drugs, including over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, can produce dangerous side effects related to breathing and heart rhythm. In some cases, these effects may be fatal.

How Xanax Abuse May Lead to Addiction or Dependence

Taking Xanax for non-medical purposes or taking higher doses than prescribed is considered prescription drug abuse. About 21.5 million Americans have used hypnotic drugs for non-medical purposes at least once.

Chronic abuse can lead to changes in the structures and functions of the brain, and this may eventually cause the brain to operate more normally when the drug is present than when it’s not. Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when the drug is withheld from the body, which is the brain’s way of indicating that it needs the medication to operate normally.

Drug abuse can also lead to addiction, which is characterized by continuing to take a drug despite negative consequences to health, relationships or finances. People who are addicted to Xanax are generally unable to stop taking it even though they want to or have tried to quit. Addiction is far more complex than dependence, and successful recovery typically requires professional treatment.

You can be addicted to Xanax without being dependent on it, and vice versa. However, addiction and dependence most commonly co-occur.

Treating Xanax Addiction and Dependence

Withdrawal can be dangerous. Because of hypnotics slow the brain’s activity, quitting them may result in a rebound effect that can cause seizures and dangerous shifts in heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.

Quitting should never be attempted without professional help. Medical detox is a medically supervised method of treating physical dependence. Detoxing from Xanax and other benzodiazepines typically involves tapering off the dosage over time to prevent the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

If an addiction is present as well, detox alone generally won’t be enough to curb the abuse of the drug. Treating an addiction requires various behavioral therapies that delve into the complex issues behind the abuse and addiction. A high-quality drug treatment center will offer various traditional and alternative therapies to help those with an addiction change self-destructive ways of thinking and behaving.

If you or someone you love is addicted to Xanax, choosing a holistic treatment program that addresses issues of the mind, body and spirit will offer the best chances for successful long-term recovery. With professional help, you can overcome your addiction, restore your physical and mental health and improve your quality of life.

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Know Your Pills: Xanax and its Dangers
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