Xanax is a prescription medicine used for treating anxiety and panic disorders. It's not normally prescribed for long-term use, and is known to produce significant withdrawal effects even after it's used for a short time. Because of how it affects your body, the medication does come with certain risks. Learn more about Xanax and how misusing it can result in addiction.
Can You Be Addicted to Xanax?
“Xanax, also known as alprazolam in its generic form, is a prescription drug that belongs to the class of medications known as benzodiazepine,” Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, a therapist and co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
“Xanax is a central nervous system depressant that works on neurotransmitters in the brain to produce a calming effect and is subsequently often prescribed to help treat anxiety, stress, and panic. Although Xanax can be highly effective and beneficial in the treatment of anxiety disorders, it does have the propensity to be abused and lead to dependence, and in extreme cases can cause overdose or death,” Sternlicht says.
According to a 2018 study published by the Journal of Addiction Medicine, Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and panic disorders. However, many addiction specialists also consider the medication highly addictive.
“As a central nervous system depressant, Xanax slows key bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature regulation. Over time, the brain and body become physically dependent on Xanax and can result in adverse effects if stopped cold turkey. Xanax is also addictive because, in addition to producing a sedative effect, Xanax also releases dopamine and impacts the pleasure center of the brain, which is at the core of addiction,” Sternlicht adds.
“Benzodiazepines impact the brain in such a manner that any variation in dose could cause acute changes in physical and emotional wellness,” Leela R Magavi, MD, Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and Regional Medical Director for Community Psychiatry + MindPath Care Centers, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Mayo Clinic reports that any reduction in the dose of Xanax, or suddenly stopping the drug, may cause withdrawal symptoms like:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Behavioral changes
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty focusing
- Sleep issues
- Suicidal thoughts
According to Mayo Clinic, you should only take Xanax as directed by your prescribing doctor. If you take more than the prescribed dose, take it too often, or for too long, it may cause dependence or result in overdose.
“A Xanax overdose alone can have severe consequences, such as a loss of coordination, extreme sedation, and coma or death,” Kathryn Lee, EdM, MA, MHC, a psychotherapist at Intuitive Healing Psychotherapy Practice in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
“To achieve a high, individuals who abuse Xanax may combine it with other substances, such as alcohol and/or opioids, which can potentially be lethal,” Lee adds.
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