Xanax (Alprazolam) Misuse and Addiction

Xanax is a medication used to treat certain anxiety disorders. People who misuse Xanax by taking it without a prescription or in ways other than prescribed are at risk of developing an addiction. Xanax addiction is a serious condition that may require medical detox and treatment.1

Read on to learn more about the signs and symptoms of Xanax addiction, and how to get help if you or someone you love has lost control of their drug use.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is a benzodiazepine medication. Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are a class of prescription medications known as sedative-hypnotics.1 Xanax is available as a pill or tablet and also prescribed under the generic name alprazolam.1

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants.1 They work by calming down an otherwise over-excited nervous system and, as a result, produce feelings of relaxation.1

CNS depressants like Xanax can be misused by taking them without a prescription, taking them in ways other than how they are prescribed (e.g., larger doses, more frequently, crushing the pills), or taking them to get “high.”1

This is a dangerous practice that may result in addiction and could potentially lead to an overdose, especially when taken in combination with opioids or other CNS depressants like alcohol.1

Xanax is the most prescribed benzodiazepine and is also frequently sold on the street for illicit purposes.2,3 Benzos like Xanax are also referred to by street names such as:4

  • Zannies.
  • Yellow/Blue Zs.
  • Downers.
  • Tranks.
  • Poles.
  • Z-bars.

Other commonly used and misused benzos include:3,5

  • Valium (diazepam).
  • Ativan (lorazepam).
  • Klonopin (clonazepam).
  • Halcion (triazolam).
  • Restoril (temazepam).

 What Is Xanax for?

Xanax is intended to treat generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder involves excessive worry that is hard to control and negatively impacts a person’s functioning.6

Panic disorder involves recurrent panic attacks and fear of future panic attacks. Panic attacks are periods of intense fear combined with physiological symptoms, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweating, and/or numbness and tingling.6

Xanax can help relieve symptoms of these conditions.6

While Xanax is meant to be prescribed by a doctor for medical purposes, some people take the drug for recreational purposes.1 A 2020 national survey found that 4.8 million Americans over age 12 reported misusing benzodiazepines like Xanax that year.7

People may misuse Xanax to feel more calm or relaxed.

Is Xanax Dangerous?

Yes, Xanax can be dangerous when misused and carries a risk of overdose.2

Overdosing on benzos like Xanax alone is rare, but it can happen.8 The signs of Xanax overdose include:3

  • Confusion.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Impaired reflexes.
  • Slowed breathing.

During a Xanax overdose, a person’s breathing slows down, which impacts the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain.1 This can lead to permanent brain damage, coma, and even death.1,8 The amount of Xanax it takes to overdose varies and depends on factors like a person’s tolerance, weight, age, and genetics.8

The risk of overdose is greater when Xanax is taken with alcohol, opioids, or other central nervous system depressants.7 Both Xanax and opioids have the potential to slow down breathing, which makes the combination of these substances especially dangerous.9

A recent study found that people who were prescribed benzos and opioids together had a 10 times greater risk of overdose than people who were only prescribed opioids.9 In 2020, 92.7% of all benzodiazepine-related deaths also involved opioids.10

Illicit opioids sold on the street may contain traces of benzodiazepines and vice versa (illicit benzodiazepines can be laced with opioids), so some people may take these substances together without even realizing it.9,11

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that counterfeit pills sold as drugs like Xanax may contain deadly doses of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that carries a high risk of overdose.11 In 2021, more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized across the country. Testing revealed that 2 out of every 5 pills with fentanyl contained a lethal dose.11

Xanax Side Effects

Xanax can cause a range of short- and long-term side effects when taken as prescribed or misused. These side effects most often impact a person’s cognitive abilities, including their memory, focus, and alertness.1,6

Possible side effects of Xanax include:1,6

  • Confusion.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Memory problems.
  • Slowed breathing.

Serious side effects can also occur while taking Xanax. These side effects are more likely when Xanax is misused. Possible serious side effects include:6

  • Paranoia.
  • Extreme confusion.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

Combining Xanax with alcohol or other drugs can increase the severity of these side effects.6

How Addictive Is Xanax?

Xanax is very addictive. Benzodiazepine use is associated with an increase in dopamine activity. As dopamine is released through the nervous system, it serves to reward or reinforce continued use, which can eventually drive addiction.5,12

Addiction refers to the compulsive, uncontrollable use of a substance despite the harm it causes. Addiction may entail physiological changes (such as tolerance and dependence), as well as several harmful behavioral changes adversely impacting every aspect of an individual’s life.12

Addiction development is often accompanied by functional changes within the brain that can impact a person’s drive, motivation, thought processes, and behaviors—so much that drug use becomes prioritized over all else.12

The development of addiction can be influenced not only by repeated substance use, but also by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors.12

Signs & Symptoms of a Xanax Addiction

There are certain signs of Xanax addiction that may be noticeable to other people.1

Professionals use the term “sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder” to diagnose people with an addiction to CNS depressants like Xanax. Criteria for this condition includes:13

When a person is taking Xanax under medical supervision, tolerance and withdrawal do not count toward the criteria for diagnosis, because these symptoms are expected to occur when the medication is stopped.13

Learn more about Xanax withdrawal.

How to Help Someone With a Xanax Addiction

Xanax addiction is a serious condition that often requires medical interventions with an addiction treatment team. Through a combination of intensive therapy and medications, professional treatment can help people with addiction begin the recovery process and get the support they need to live healthier lives.

Desert Hope Treatment Center is an inpatient rehab in Las Vegas that offers personalized care and various levels of addiction treatment including:

  • Medical detox.
  • Inpatient.
  • Partial hospitalization.
  • Intensive outpatient.

At Desert Hope, we believe each person is unique and that treatment should be tailored to meet the individual needs of each patient. Our quality programming includes specialized services for Veterans and first responders, support for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and telehealth treatment.

People with Xanax addiction may also be dealing with other co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Desert Hope specializes in the treatment of co-occurring disorders, addressing both conditions at the same time, rather than separately.

At Desert Hope, we strive to make addiction treatment accessible and offer different ways to pay for rehab. We are also in-network with many major health insurance companies and can provide assistance if you’re planning on using insurance to pay for rehab.

To find out whether your benefits cover treatment at Desert Hope, simply fill out this quick and confidential .

To learn more about our programs or start the admissions process, call us at today.

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Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.