It is ironic that a drug most often prescribed to relieve anxiety should have become a party drug. “Xanie-popping” is now a recognized activity among young people looking for thrills. A powerful depressant, Xanax (alprazolam) is among the many prescription drugs currently being diverted from medical use to satisfy the cravings of people looking to get high. Nearly 800,000 web sites sell prescription medication; only a fraction of them are legal or regulated. Xanax abuse contributed to the nearly 2 million cases of prescription drug dependence reported in 2007.
Abuse of Xanax and other prescription drugs is growing among all age groups, in every state, but is a particular problem among young people, as shown below:
Where does the thrill come from? Like other drugs which act upon the central nervous system, Xanax, a benzodiazepine, interacts chemically with the brain. It slows neurotransmitters, inducing a calm, drowsy state when used properly. Xanax abusers, however, crave the euphoria it brings, which is enhanced when the pills are crushed and the powder inhaled. This “hit” acts on the brain’s pleasure centers, creating an intense feeling of well-being that becomes more and more difficult to capture with continued Xanax abuse. As the body builds up tolerance to it, a physical dependency develops, side by side with a psychological craving that continues even if the drug toxins no longer reside in the body. At this point, Xanax abuse has become Xanax addiction.
While many cases of Xanax addiction are accidental, arising from legitimate prescriptions, the problem of recognizing and treating the abuse remains. Loved ones may have no inkling that someone close to them is struggling with Xanax. Seeking continued renewals of the prescription should be a red flag. Physical symptoms to watch for include:
Any suspected Xanax abuse should be treated immediately. Xanax withdrawal symptoms can be severe and unpleasant. Xanax is particularly difficult to quit because sudden stoppage of the drug enhances the original symptoms of anxiety and panic for which it was prescribed. The calm cocoon it produces has been shattered, and the abuser is left with heart palpitations, acute anxiety, nausea, and sleeplessness.
Treatment for Xanax addiction should begin with an evaluation by a doctor trained in treating addiction. Per a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, over 40% of physicians are reluctant to discuss substance abuse issues with patients. Addiction specialists at one of the 13,600 drug and alcohol treatment centers located around the United States may be better able to evaluate the severity of a particular Xanax dependency and recommend the proper course of treatment. Generally this will involve inpatient or outpatient detoxification,followed by comprehensive counseling and behavior modification to address the emotional dependence and discourage relapse.
People with a Xanax addiction are urged to seek help as early as possible to prevent abuse from become full-blown addiction.