The Xanax Abuse Crisis: 5 Essential Facts

Xanax abuse spiking in the US is one of the hidden threats lurking beneath the surface. Eclipsed by the much larger Opioid crisis, studies reported a significant uptick in benzo abuse around the beginning of the pandemic. Xanax (brand name alprazolam) is one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States and the most prescribed to treat anxiety. It is part of a family of drugs known as benzos (short for benzodiazepine), which include Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium.

These drugs are potent pharmaceuticals meant to be administered and overseen by doctors. When taken outside a clinical setting, they are chemically addictive and habit-forming, perhaps some of the most addictive pharmaceuticals available. They produce adverse physical effects, but their danger lies in combining them. Since they are often taken as a party drug and mixed with alcohol, benzo abuse comes with the risk of death.

Since their danger has flown under the radar, it’s crucial to know what they are, why abuse is so common, and the signs when it becomes a problem.

Fact 1: What Xanax Is and How It Work

Xanax, like all benzos, is a tranquilizer. Benzos are also called sedatives or anxiolytics. They work on your brain chemistry, specifically on a neurotransmitter called GABA. The GABA neurotransmitter is the brain’s chief traffic officer; it’s responsible for slowing everything down and ensuring the nervous system isn’t overstimulated. Without it, the brain would create too many tasks and messages, and much like in a too-busy intersection during rush hour traffic, there would be accidents. This responsibility is why low GABA is associated with seizures, a surge of electrical activity in your brain that GABA usually slows.

Since GABA has a calming effect on the body, protecting against an excess of fear, anxiety, and depression, low GABA is also associated with mood disorders. This imbalance is what Xanax tries to address. They sedate, induce sleep, and relax the muscles. Because of this, doctors prescribe them for anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and even alcohol withdrawal.

First discovered in 1955, they hit the American mainstream in the 60s as Valium, or “the little yellow pill.” It quickly became a problem. Valium was marketed as a wonder drug, ridding you of petty anxieties. Sales ballooned to over 1 million as they were freely prescribed, particularly to women. This era is where we get the pill-popping housewife stereotype and the subject of the Rolling Stones’ hit song “Mother’s Little Helper.”

In the 1980s, the psychological profession and the U.S. government noticed the dangers of benzo abuse and self-corrected. New regulations controlled their prescription, and the United States pulled itself back from a crisis of benzo abuse. However, the recent global escalation of anxiety and depression has allowed Xanax abuse to sneak back in. When taken socially, it has a powerful euphoric effect that is hard to stop craving.

Fact 2: Xanax Abuse and Why It Happens

Social interactions can be full of anxiety and awkwardness. People turn to drugs to cope with breaking the ice; hence alcohol is called a social lubricant, lowering inhibitions with significant risks. Xanax fills a similar niche. At the start, users report a loss of all anxiety and negative emotions. They feel the removal of an existential weight, which allows them to be their authentic selves, unfiltered and unencumbered by insecurities and doubts. In each case of recreational Xanax abuse, subsequent use dampens the effects. The brain builds up a tolerance and requires more to chase that original high until taking a Xanax has no more impact than drinking a single beer.

Aside from its considerable effects on brain chemistry, this is why Xanax abuse is highly addictive. Without it, users feel irritable, antisocial, and jittery. When the Xanax abuse gets serious, they fill the gaps by taking more of their prescription, stealing from loved ones and friends, or buying them off the street.

Fact 3: Signs of Xanax Abuse

Xanax can be taken orally or crushed and snorted. The behavior observed during Xanax abuse includes:

  • Impaired judgment from reduced inhibition
  • Drowsiness and lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty operating motor vehicles or machinery
  • Shopping for doctors to increase the prescription dosage
  • Sudden mood changes, which include hostility when Xanax is unavailable
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight gain
  • Confusion, memory loss, and fogginess

With increasing tolerance, a Xanax addiction is harder to sustain. Addicts combine them with other drugs to enhance Xanax’s effects or in the regular course of socializing with alcohol. This sort of mixing is where the more extreme dangers of Xanax abuse come into play.

Both alcohol and benzos are depressants and have a similar effect on the central nervous system, meaning one amplifies the other. The most common side effect is loss of consciousness. Xanax abuse mixed with alcohol leads to blacking out for hours and having no memory of events. The most severe consequence of this oversedation is death, commonly referred to as an overdose, as the respiratory system and cardiac functions slow to a crawl.

Everyone should be aware of the warning signs before an overdose:

  • Extremely slurred speech or loss of speech functions
  • Passing out
  • Significant confusion
  • Labored breathing
  • Acute loss of motor control
  • Quick sideways eye movement (called nystagmus)
  • Low blood pressure

If you notice these symptoms, contacting medical professionals is vital! You might save a life.

Fact 4: Xanax Abuse Withdrawal Symptoms

Since Xanax is habit-forming, users experience withdrawals when quitting. Withdrawal from Xanax abuse starts quickly and peaks 10-14 days after stopping use, with effects continuing for possibly months during recovery. Signs of Xanax abuse withdrawal include:

  • Troubled sleeping or loss of sleep
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tremors
  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Palpitations
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea

Fact 5: Xanax Abuse Treatment and Recovery

There is a variety of Xanax addiction treatments available, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of psychotherapy challenges negative thinking and teaches healthier coping mechanisms to help on the road to sobriety. CBT can help those recovering establish goals, identify problems, think realistically, and learn problem-solving skills that make life’s challenges less daunting. It is personalized and can be combined with other treatments to form a complete improvement plan.

GateHouse Treatment and Xanax Abuse

At GateHouse Treatment, we don’t see you as a set of symptoms. Our team of highly trained and compassionate experts puts every care into ensuring your wellness. We have sober homes, partial hospitalization, outpatient programs, medication-assisted treatment, and other innovative forms of therapy that form a holistic plan toward sobriety.


If you or a loved one is struggling with Xanax abuse, pick up the phone and call (855) 448-3588 or visit our website. We offer 24/7 service and are always ready to help, no matter the challenge.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff

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