Addictions to prescription medication are complex and layered, especially when they stem out of a disease and the drug’s ability to treat that disease.
Other addictions, such as addictions to illicit drugs or alcohol, are viewed differently, and often come from the user’s choice to pick up the drugs or the drink for the very first time. After the using goes awry, and the user is in the throes of addiction, many condemn the user, saying, ‘they never should have picked up,’ or ‘it was their choice to use in the first place.’
With prescription medication, it is often not the users choice to start using in the first place. There are often conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, depression, or other diseases that prompt the beginning of an addiction to prescription medication.
Xanax, or alprazolam, its generic name, is in the benzodiazepine class. Its purpose is to help people with severe anxiety and panic disorders to function normally in everyday society. This medication is designed for short-term use as it has a high potential for addiction. Often, people with these conditions cannot work, take care of family responsibilities or be in public settings. Without medication therapy, many of these individuals are unable to function in society.
Xanax is a short-acting substance with a rapid onset, working to quickly reduce anxiety and produce a calming effect by binding to the GABA receptors in the brain. After prolonged use, benzodiazepines can cause changes to these receptors, making them less susceptible to stimulation, building up a tolerance to these medications. This starts a dangerous cycle where more and more drugs are needed for the same effect.
Since Xanax is a fast-acting drug, and users often feel effects after about an hour, it also burns off quickly, lasting only about six hours. This quick pass-through of the drug can cause users to crave more and more.
It’s no surprise that many people are finding themselves addicted to Xanax. It is the number one most prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. According to drugabuse.gov, people who take the drug even as prescribed can become addicted without even knowing it.
We know if can be difficult to overcome an addiction to Xanax without professional help. An increased tolerance and dependence can also trigger withdrawal symptoms in individuals who try to lower their dosage. Keep in mind that withdrawal from these drugs is not only difficult, but it can be fatal, and should always involve medical professionals so nothing goes awry.
When you develop a Xanax addiction, there is often a certain chain of events that occurs. First, the individual discovers they are suffering from anxiety or panic. Next, they work with their doctor to find a medication that will help alleviate their symptoms. This simple prescription often turns into an addiction, with the user taking more of the drug than prescribed, running out of the prescription early.
The consequences of Xanax abuse and addiction are similar to those of illicit drugs such as heroin, but are even more dangerous at times because benzodiazepines are just a prescription away.
Co-occurring disorders are also a precursor to an addiction to Xanax in many causes. A co-occurring disorder is when a patient presents with both a mental illness and an addiction. Both must be treated for full recovery. Some examples of co-occurring disorders are:
Other causes of addiction are related to four main categories: brain chemistry, genetics, psychological factors and environmental factors.
Brain chemistry: Benzodiazepines such as Xanax work with the brain’s reward center in the nervous system, creating feelings of relaxation and pleasure. If you are an individual who lacks the brain chemicals to naturally make these feelings, this drug will feel like it is replacing everything you are missing. Seeking to get that feeling over and over starts an addiction to Xanax.
Genetics: It is pretty well known that addiction issues run down family lines. You may find someone addicted to Xanax who has a family history of alcoholism or drug addiction. Individuals with a close relative with addiction issues are two times as likely to get issues of their own.
Psychological factors: As discussed above, psychological factors such as a co-occurring disorder play a huge role in addiction. Diagnosed or undiagnosed issues all present with symptoms that need to be carefully managed and treated at the same time as an addiction to Xanax. Often times, people with mental illness self-medicate with other drugs, especially other prescription drugs, so it is important to isolate the issues to find out where the real problem lies.
Environmental factors: Where you live, how you grew up, whether you saw addiction or not all play a role in whether or not you will be an addict yourself. Sometimes people have extreme stress in their family or work life, and use Xanax as a way to cope. Either way, using Xanax as a coping mechanism for life is a hallmark of addiction.
There are both physical and emotional addiction symptoms you should look out for. Physically, those addicted to Xanax may experience:
Emotionally, there are other consequences that may creep up. People can experience marital problems, relationship issues with close friends and family and financial struggles. People on Xanax often find it hard to attend work due to some of the physical symptoms, and experience trouble with social activities due to lethargy and lack of energy.
Heavy or frequent users can experience memory problems and also build up a tolerance. Once the addiction is in full swing, people may find they spend a lot of time thinking about where they are going to get more of the drug. This can alienate a lot of friends and cause a lot of issues, ironically causing more anxiety, and therefore, more Xanax is needed.
With Xanax addiction, users experience significant withdrawals if they do not have the medication every day.
Drug abuse and addiction do not normally occur unless some abuse tendencies start to happen, however, for anyone trying to get off Xanax, withdrawal symptoms will occur.
Some of these problems, such as seizures, can be extremely dangerous. For this reason, it is important that you consult with a doctor or go through a detox program to get off or change your dosage of medication
The first step in a Xanax addiction program is to remove all traces of the drug from your body in a safe manner. This is called detoxification, and it is the first stage of treatment. In detox, you may receive medications or supplements or other supportive measures to help you get off of this benzodiazepine. Your vital signs are measured and you are kept comfortable.
Once you are considered detoxed, you will move into the residential treatment portion of your treatment stay. In safe, serene surroundings, you will have access to therapy sessions, meditation sessions, exercise, group sessions, process groups, addiction classes and more. Most importantly, you will have relapse prevention classes where you will learn tools and strategies so you do not fall back into a life of addiction.
If you are dealing with a co-occurring disorder, you will receive treatment for that as well, so you can conquer your addiction once and for all.
After your residential program is complete, you can move on to outpatient treatment, where you attend treatment a few times a week and meet with a therapist, so you can get treatment while resuming your home and family activities, as well as going back to work. You can bring any issues and concerns into treatment on a real-time basis so you can get help quickly before issues get bigger.
After outpatient, you can go on to aftercare. You are able to attend alumni events and still get access to weekly treatment sessions.
*Note: adults are not the only ones with addictions to Xanax. Addictions among teens are on the rise, so be sure to talk to your teens, particularly if you have had this drug in the house.
Unfortunately, most people who develop a Xanax addiction will never be able to use this particular drug again in a safe manner. Luckily, there are alternative therapies and medications available to manage anxiety, and with the help of a therapist or psychiatrist, the person with anxiety can manage their symptoms and still recover from Xanax abuse.
Committing to a treatment program, entering a 12-step program and continuing on with therapy are all important components of staying free from Xanax addiction.
If you or someone you love is addicted to Xanax, you can get a confidential assessment from one of our intake specialists. Contact us today for help.