What is Xanax? Xanax Addiction, Abuse Signs, and Treatment

Last Updated: January 19, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Xanax (alprazolam) is a drug under the benzodiazepine classification, often prescribed for anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. It has a sedative effect, causing relaxation and even euphoria in those who take it. Due to its sedative nature, it is also an addictive substance and can be abused with severe consequences to health. Signs of Xanax addiction can be easy to miss or ascribe to something else entirely. Even those taking it according to their doctor’s instruction may find themselves needing Xanax addiction help. Luckily, there are many options for Xanax addiction treatment. However, the user should know as much as possible before entering into addiction treatment.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax generic form, alprazolam, is an anti-anxiety and hypnotic agent prescribed to manage anxiety, panic disorders, chronic pain, depression, and PMS. It is the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication. It has a calming and sedative effect, which is often abused. It is said to be abused when taken without a Xanax prescription, more than the prescribed dosage, more frequent usage than the prescription, or mixing it with alcohol or other drugs. These forms of misuse can lead to fatal consequences. It is available in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, 2 mg and 3 mg pills. The pills range in shape from oval to rectangular and in color from white, green, yellow, orange, and blue. Alprazolam is a regulated controlled substance in schedule IV. Alprazolam is given in relatively higher and frequent doses compared to some similar drugs due to its short half-life. For anxiety, usually, 0.25 to 0.5 mg is prescribed to be taken thrice a day, and the maximum prescribed dosage per day is 4 mg. The prescribed dosage is 0.5 mg thrice a day for panic disorders, with the maximum prescribed dosage per day being 10 mg. For elderly or debilitated patients, the prescribed dosage is 0.25 mg, twice or thrice a day.

Xanax bars on black background.

Xanax works by suppressing the inhibitory receptor, which causes excitability in the brain related to anxiety. It is highly effective, but it can also be dangerous. For this reason, doctors traditionally prescribe other medications for long-term treatment when available.

While alprazolam is commonly abused by those looking to take advantage of its sedative effects, anyone can become addicted. Some patients who take alprazolam long-term become addicted without even knowing it. Symptoms of addiction may only become noticeable when they attempt to stop taking the drug or when their bodies build up a tolerance, and more is needed to elicit the same physical effects.

Side effects of Xanax may include headaches, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, excessive sleepiness, and others. Alprazolam may also cause slurred speech, confusion, and disorientation. When Xanax overdose occurs, patients may experience extremely slowed bodily functions, including respiration. They may also experience lower blood pressure, severe confusion, seizures, coma, and even death.

Is Xanax Addictive?

Xanax works by acting on the GABA receptors in the brain. It mimics GABA, which produces a calming effect and blocks and regulates feelings of anxiety. A patient’s body can develop tolerance to the substance quite quickly over time, which is why it is not prescribed for more than six months. Gradually higher doses are needed to provide the same relief. It should also be noted that alprazolam is not prescribed to patients unless there is an absolute need and the pros outweigh the cons.

The short half-life of alprazolam makes it wash out from the body quickly, making the patient feel the need for another dose. In case of addiction, the drug’s tolerance and short half-life keep the patient addicted, and they try increasing the dose of abuse continuously, which can even lead to 20 – 30 pills a day. When a person tries to quit Xanax addiction, the withdrawal symptoms can be challenging to deal with and a substantial hurdle in quitting.

How to Get Prescribed Xanax

Xanax tends to be prescribed for panic disorder and the more extreme anxiety cases. Due to its sedative effects, the medication can be prescribed to help calm various other mental disorders. Doctors who prescribe alprazolam online may also give out prescriptions for social anxiety. When they prescribe Xanax, most doctors have to have evidence of the fear a person is suffering from. Otherwise, it may damage their credentials.

The medication can sometimes be prescribed for phobias, such as agoraphobia. In this case, it will help the client to be calmer when attempting to step outside their comfort zone. It has quickly become one of the most popular answers to anxiety and its related disorders because of how quickly it takes effect.

Is It Possible To Get Xanax Over the Counter?

Buying alprazolam online without a prescription is possible, but the drugs tend to be much more expensive for the same amount. Furthermore, it isn’t easy to know the additional ingredients that may have been added to the drug. Xanax without prescription may also be prescribed in larger amounts than 1mg, such as 2mg. This is another reason why it is often not recommended due to the drug’s highly addictive nature.

Woman holding xanax in hands.

Furthermore, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, there are many illegally operating pharmacies online, which means one could be buying alprazolam online without a prescription illegally. This is a prosecutable offense, even if one is unaware of the circumstances. The US Food And Drug Administration also provides some ways to spot a rogue pharmacy to avoid this kind of situation when purchasing Xanax without a prescription.

Xanax Abuse Symptoms

Xanax addiction symptoms may not be easy to see right away, as the person slowly becomes more and more dependent on the drug to manage, but it becomes easier to see with some education. Alprazolam is a psychotropic medication used to soothe and calm anxious and overworking minds and relieves people of worry, so it is easy to see why it would be addictive. It works like other drugs, and a person comes to tolerate the drug and needs more and more of it to feel the same effects, so Xanax prescription will be used up quickly instead of lasting the whole period.

Physical signs

Xanax drug dependence symptoms begin to show when the person stops taking the medication as prescribed and begins abusing it, taking dangerous amounts of the drug. Symptoms become increasingly unstable the longer a person has been taking it and will impact more and more of what the nervous system controls, as well as other organs of the body.

Symptoms Of Xanax Drug Abuse Can Be Seen Physically With:

  • Confusion. A sign a person is abusing alprazolam becomes increasingly harder to understand, and it is more difficult for them to understand things as well. This confusion becomes more severe and can result from damage done to the brain
  • Loss of consciousness. When someone abuses the substance, they will be taking significant amounts of it regularly. Being a depressant, it will cause intense drowsiness and the inability to stay awake or even conscious
  • Blackouts. Like with alcohol, people can have drug blackouts too, where they are upright, talking and moving, but will have no memory of what they did or said
  • Lethargy. The user will not have much energy or do much anymore
  • Oversleeping. The relaxed state often makes people feel tired or sleepy and increases time spent asleep
  • Slurred speech. People on Xanax drug will not have as much motor control as those who are sober; as a result, they will slur their speech a lot

Psychological signs

Alprazolam is a widely abused prescribed medicine. The psychological symptoms of Xanax abuse may be some of the more challenging to see, but also perhaps some of the more painful symptoms. A person becoming addicted to the drug will have their life focused on the substance and will do whatever it takes to get it, as alprazolam becomes the center of their world. It is a significant warning sign for drug addiction. This is where it goes from abuse to symptoms of Xanax addiction.

Here Are Some Other Warning Signs Of Xanax Abuse:

  • Depression. It is a depressant medication, which slows the central nervous system. A severe side effect of Xanax is depression, sadness, hopelessness, and other symptoms associated with mood disorders.
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable things. Using drugs like alprazolam takes away the highs and the lows, so pleasurable activities leave them feeling nothing.
  • Loss of control of their use. People using and abusing drugs have lost control over how much they use, how often, or from where they get it. Even if they want to stop, they just cannot without help.
  • Impulsivity. Abusing alprazolam takes away a lot of a person's ability to think or reason. They frequently do things on impulse that they would not have otherwise done, which may include dangerous or deadly decisions.
  • Hallucinations. In some worse cases, alprazolam, like illegal drugs, may cause hallucinations, where people see, hear, or feel things that are not there.

Behavioral signs

One final piece of the picture is how someone abusing Xanax acts or what actions might be symptoms of drug addiction. Signs of Xanax addiction can be seen in how they talk and how they move. Parents and friends can look out for telltale signs of addiction observed in addiction to most drugs. While having one or two may not necessarily mean the person is addicted to drugs, it should be enough to ask a person questions and share any concerns that one may have to find out if any symptoms of Xanax abuse present.

  • Risk-taking. With low impulse control and a high need for the drug, people addicted to alprazolam often do riskier and riskier things to obtain it.
  • Withdrawing from life. The person abusing alprazolam withdraws from life, stops acting like a part of the family or hanging out with friends, calls into work a lot, or skip church.
  • New friends. It's also likely they will be hanging out with friends you have never seen before, and likely friends that are helping them get high. Friends can influence individuals to think taking alprazolam is normal.
  • Drug-seeking. They will begin going to the doctor more, the ER, or use other means to try to get drugs when they run out.
  • Slow or sluggish responses. People on alprazolam do not have a good reaction time for anything, which is a common drug abuse sign. They may often appear like they are falling asleep constantly, and likely they are. It may take time to compose their thoughts or even speak.

Xanax abuse and addiction impact thousands of people each year, both with the disease and their friends and family members. Knowing the signs of Xanax addiction helps avoid this and lead to earlier intervention and recovery. The cost of ignoring Alprazolam dependence symptoms can be dangerous, even deadly. While this sounds tragic, it does not have to end that way. Help is available, and recovery is possible.

Xanax Statistics

Xanax generic form, alprazolam, is one of the most prescribed psychotropic drugs in the US. According to a national data report, 48 million prescriptions of this drug were given in 2013. Having a high potential for misuse, it is often found as a substance of abuse in emergency departments. According to the same report, out of the total patients admitted for drugs in 2012, 2%, i.e., 29,495 were admitted for alprazolam. Out of these, 0.6% or 5,097 were using Xanax as the primary drug, 3.2% or 15,007 were using it as the secondary drug, and 4.7% or 9391 were using it as a tertiary drug. It was found to be the second most common prescription drug to be responsible for emergency department visits for substance misuse. The overall class of drugs, benzodiazepines, has been linked to 1 in 3 suicide attempts. Xanax generic form, alprazolam, is responsible for 2.06 times more ICU admissions than other benzodiazepines. The 2013 national survey on drug use found that a total of 5.9% population had admitted to non-medical use of benzodiazepines, including alprazolam. Out of these, 1.6% were aged between 12 to 17 years,10.3% were aged between 18 and 25, and 5.7% were over 26 years of age.

Common Xanax Combinations

Many people who abuse alprazolam also abuse other drugs. Heroin users often use benzodiazepine medications to offset some of the adverse effects. Alcoholics may also mix sedatives like Xanax with alcohol to enhance the sedative effects of both. This is especially dangerous, as in some cases, respiration can slow down so much with the combination of chemicals that the person stops breathing entirely and dies.

Woman combined heroin and xanax.

23% of people who died of opioid overdose were also using benzodiazepines in 2015. It has been found that people who are prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines simultaneously have ten times increased chance of an overdose.

Xanax Addiction Treatment

Xanax addiction treatment is necessary for anyone to misuse the medication because, without the proper interventions, serious side effects can occur. The risks are so significant that the FDA requires special labeling for Xanax and all other types of benzos. The effects of alprazolam abuse are unpleasant at best and deadly at worst.

But experiencing effects is not a sign the user is too far gone for help. Even if a user has begun to experience the effects of alprazolam abuse, these effects can be reduced or eliminated with treatment. The sooner rehab is started, the lesser the side effects will be. Anyone who is or suspects they are addicted to the medication should seek help from Xanax addiction treatment centers.

Alprazolam treatment centers offer both inpatient and outpatient therapy options. Inpatient options allow the user to live on-site and receive around-the-clock care from medical professionals, including doctors who specialize in the physical side effects of drug detox and therapists who can help users build the skills they need to conquer addiction. Outpatient options allow the user to continue living at home while coming into the facility for several hours a day to get help. In the case of Xanax addiction, inpatient centers see higher success rates as it is impossible to relapse during the most difficult recovery stages. There are also combination programs available. Combination programs have the user detox while living at the facility and stay for a few weeks after to get stable, then have them come in for therapy daily until they are doing well enough to decrease their sessions.

People getting treatment for Xanax addiction.

While committing to recovery can seem daunting, rehabilitation results mean living a better life. Although no program can guarantee results, the statistics are hopeful, showing that most adults who opt for extended treatment can stop using drugs.

No matter the type of therapy chosen, the recovery itself will be a lifelong process, and the user will need to work with therapists and recovery groups to stay on the right path. Alprazolam treatment must also be avoided going forward, even if monitored by a doctor.

What Are the Xanax Rehab Programs?

Xanax rehab treatment offering help programs are available throughout the country. The correct choice will depend on various factors, including the type of therapy wanted, location, and cost. There are some questions users and their loved ones can ask to determine which center is best for them.

These Include:

  • What are the goals of treatment? The obvious one is to stop using Xanax, but this is not the only treatment goal. Think beyond just getting off drugs and about things like quality of life, developing willpower, improving relationships, etc.
  • Which types of therapies are used? Rehab centers may use medications, individual therapy, group therapy, meditation, yoga, and more to help the user cease their abuse.
  • What is the suggested inpatient, outpatient, and combination schedule? This will help you see if it is a good fit for your lifestyle.
  • How often do they treat patients recovering from alprazolam abuse? You want a center that knows how to help those addicted to alprazolam as the patients' needs will be unique.
  • Which licenses do the therapists have? You want to make sure the staff has the appropriate permits for their work.
  • Which certification does the center have? The specific certifications needed may vary by jurisdiction, but certification is required.
  • If inpatient or combination, are guests allowed? With a patient with children, being able to have guests is essential. However, with someone who abused the medication in social settings, seeing friends could harm treatment.
  • What is the cost, and are there financing options? Keep in mind that there are options to make rehabilitation affordable, even on a budget. Price should never be a barrier to treatment.
  • Is the therapy designed to address specific religious beliefs, and do they align with those of the patient? Some patients do best in environments that work with their religious beliefs, while others prefer to avoid religion-based rehabilitation.
  • What is the follow-up care after the primary program is completed? This is important to know because recovery does not end with the primary program.

While rehab is vital to the recovery process, selecting the wrong facility may prevent the user from making the gains they need to get healthy. What exactly rehab will look like depends on the facility and the patient. It could be as short as 28 days or as long as 120 days. It may place extra focus on spiritual matters, physical fitness, coping mechanisms, and more. What is important is the patient gets help getting off alprazolam, no matter the rehab used.

Starting Right Now

Alprazolam is a highly addictive drug, and once addicted, it can be difficult and dangerous to stop its use alone. Instead, contact should be made to seek Xanax addiction treatment. Because Xanax withdrawal symptoms can be hazardous to health, it is essential to get off the drugs slowly and under the supervision of trained medical professionals. They can help choose other alternatives for the treatment of one’s mental disorders, and select the right approach to help a person stay clean. Sometimes withdrawal symptoms can be so severe and death can occur. With the right treatment, the user will experience Xanax withdrawal in a safe and controlled manner and then develop the skills needed to remain in recovery for life and achieve good health.

The consequences of continuing use are dire, and there is no shame in needing help. Xanax addiction treatment centers are happy to get people, who contact them, started with their recovery.


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Published on: October 2nd, 2015

Updated on: January 19th, 2021

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.