Xanax: How It Affects Your Mind and Body

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bottle of Xanax pills spilling over

Xanax belongs to a drug class called benzodiazepines. Xanax was initially created to be a sleep aid and muscle relaxant, but as time progressed, the substance was found to be effective in treating anxiety, panic attacks, and mood disorders. Also referred to as alprazolam, this drug has grown in popularity over the years for its fast-acting relief. The downside is that long-term benzodiazepine use can have many side effects on the mind and body, and one of the most debilitating is addiction.

Understanding Xanax

Benzodiazepines like alprazolam are central nervous system depressants that slow down brain activity by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters. This brain chemical is seen as a natural tranquilizer, producing a calming feeling in the mind. GABA stops signals that excite the body and lead to anxiety or panic. The medication’s effects usually kick in an hour after consumption and last around four to six hours. When people misuse Xanax in an attempt to extend the high, whether it’s by taking more than prescribed or crushing it to snort the powder, they are likely to pass out from the drug’s sedative effects.

Most medical professionals will prescribe benzodiazepines on an “as-needed” basis. People struggling with anxiety might be told to use alprazolam when they feel a surge of panic or when their anxiety prevents them from completing a task, such as driving or sleeping. Some doctors are hesitant to prescribe Xanax because of the high potential for misuse and long-term side effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved alprazolam to treat panic disorder—but only for short-term use (up to 10 weeks).

As for its appearance, alprazolam comes in various forms and strengths including pills, capsules, and liquid. Individuals who self-medicate their anxiety might purchase the substance illegally from dealers, sometimes referred to on the street as “bars,” “Xannies,” or “Xanny bars.” However, this is very risky as cases of Xanax laced with fentanyl and other synthetic ingredients have risen in recent years.

Why Do People Take Xanax?

As mentioned, doctors and psychiatrists prescribe alprazolam to treat anxiety and panic attacks. In such a high-stress world, it’s no surprise that 1 in 5 people in the US suffer from an anxiety disorder. Off-label, some users also take the drug to relieve insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and depression.

Many users suffering from anxiety are drawn to Xanax because it creates a sense of relief to allows them to focus on their lives without troubling thoughts or phobias swarming their minds. The substance also works to reduce physical anxiety symptoms, like rapid heart rate or hyperventilation. While Xanax has been proven to ease anxiety, the benzo has also attracted a group of users who don’t have a legitimate need for it.

Taking benzodiazepines “casually” has become normalized in our society. Some people report using alprazolam to cope with emotions, sleep, or just to fit in with friends. But the line between medicinal vs. abuse becomes blurred when someone is constantly taking the drug to control moods or to relax at a party. The other issue here is ease of access. Xanax is simple to “score” on the street or from friends. Today, over 5.9 million people over the age of 12 misuse sedatives and/or tranquilizers, such as alprazolam and other benzodiazepines.

What Are the Effects of Misusing Xanax?

Even when taken daily as prescribed, users can quickly build up tolerance and dependence. If they do attempt to quit, their brain goes into a sort of shock, as it’s forced to learn how to produce GABA naturally again. During this period, a person might experience severe anxiety and other psychological symptoms, leading to a vicious withdrawal cycle. This is why many people get hooked—sometimes in as little as six weeks— and end up becoming reliant on Xanax.

Below are some of the physical and psychological long-term side effects of misusing alprazolam.

Physical Side Effects of Xanax Use:

  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Blurry vision
  • Change in appetite
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Psychological Side-Effects of Xanax Use:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory impairment
  • Depersonalization
  • Nightmares
  • Mania
  • Suicidal thoughts

Combining Xanax with alcohol can intensify the side effects of both substances. Although this interaction is still being examined, one study reveals that ethanol, the main ingredient in alcohol, may increase the concentration of alprazolam in your system. Taking any benzodiazepine and alcohol together can cause excessive drowsiness, and respiratory depression, which can increase a person’s risk of a blackout or overdose.

How Might Your Behavior Change After Xanax Use?

Aside from the negative effects that happen to your mind and body, several behavioral changes may occur from long-term Xanax use. Individuals addicted to alprazolam may go to great lengths to obtain more of the substance, like going to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions. To experience a greater high, they might also start crushing or chewing the pill. They may also act more aggressively, tarnish relationships, and fall behind in school or work. Other behavioral changes include:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Having less inhibition
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Violent behavior
  • Hyper-confidence

How to Manage Anxiety Without Xanax

It’s important to note the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Everyone gets nervous or anxious—whether it be at a party or a public speaking event—and feeling anxious is normal.

Calming Anxious Feelings

If you’d rather avoid using benzodiazepines to calm your anxious feelings, there are healthy alternatives you can try. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, repeat a mantra to yourself such as, “This feeling is only temporary.” Or, you can count to 10 while concentrating on your breathing. Going for a walk or just finding a space to be alone can help you unwind and reset. Sometimes you might not even know why you feel nervous in the first place—in these cases, write everything you’re feeling down on paper. Cutting alcohol out of your routine will also help since drinking tends to raise anxiety levels.

Reducing Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

For those with an anxiety disorder, there is help as well. Numerous effective treatments are available for anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and agoraphobia. The most appropriate treatment approach will depend on the specific disorder, its severity, and the individual’s preferences. Here are some commonly used treatment options:

Psychotherapy: Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves working with a mental health professional to explore and address the underlying causes of anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders.

Non-addictive medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly prescribed medications for anxiety disorders, and they have much less potential for abuse. Other medications commonly prescribed for anxiety include Vistaril® (hydroxyzine), which is an antihistamine, and BuSpar (buspirone), which is an anxiolytic.

Lifestyle modifications: Certain lifestyle changes can complement other treatment approaches and help manage anxiety. These may include regular exercise, a balanced diet, proper sleep hygiene, and stress management techniques like mindfulness and relaxation exercises.

Support groups: Engaging with others who have similar experiences can provide a sense of community and support. Support groups offer a safe space to share experiences, learn from others, and gain valuable insights into managing anxiety disorders.

There’s no permanent fix for getting rid of anxiety. But you can certainly gain awareness of what triggers you and be mindful of your symptoms. Some of these suggestions may be useful while others might have no effect. But the important point is that you keep trying things to find out what works best for you.

Seeking Xanax Treatment

If you have constant thoughts about using Xanax and experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the medication, such as depression, muscle convulsions, and headaches, you might need help. Detoxification is a crucial first step in seeking recovery from Xanax that offers medical supervision and physical and emotional support, ensuring a gradual tapering of Xanax to minimize withdrawal discomfort while maintaining safety. Although the long-term effects of alprazolam are challenging, it is possible to achieve recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.