What is Xanax?
Xanax, the brand name for Alprazolam, is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and benzodiazepine commonly prescribed for treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder. In the United States, Xanax is the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medication.
How Xanax Affects the Brain
Xanax acts on the brain by slowing down activity and limiting exertion in the mind and body. It promotes relaxation throughout the entire body while releasing muscle and joint tension. Alprazolam targets the neurons in the brain, stimulating the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is naturally formed in the brain to activate a calming effect, and Alprazolam enhances and boosts that process.
GABA works to exhaust the central nervous system (CNS), hence why CNS depressants are essential for treating chronic anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Alprazolam suppresses the signals in the brain that may prompt those feelings of anxiety. It provokes the brain’s reward system—also known as the mesolimbic system, which is composed of brain structures responsible for mediating the reward’s physiological and cognitive processing.
The mesolimbic system is one of four dopaminergic pathways that play a dominant role in releasing dopamine to targeted areas of the brain, such as the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is known as “the reward pathway” and is responsible for controlling our memory and behavior. The role of Xanax is to trigger the dopaminergic mesolimbic system, release dopamine, and promote relaxation throughout the body while calming symptoms of anxiety.
Side Effects of Xanax
Due to such desirable side effects, Xanax is one of the most commonly abused medications in the United States. While Xanax is only legally available through prescriptions, it is sold illegally on the black market for recreational purposes. Illegal sales make it accessible for anyone to consume and abuse Xanax for purposes outside of anxiety and panic disorders. The side effects of Xanax can range from mild to severe, depending on the dose and daily intake.
Xanax side effects may include:
- Feeling relaxed and calm
- Sleepy or drowsy
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Changes in behavior
- Lack of motivation
- Mood changes
- Blurred vision
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Feeling sad or numb
- Suicidal ideation or thoughts
- Lack of appetite
- Being in a trance-like state
- Brain fog
Is Xanax Addictive?
Xanax (Alprazolam) is prescribed on a short-term basis due to the addictive effect it has on the mind and body. When someone is on Xanax for a long time, their dependency on the medication builds, making it more and more difficult to taper off it. Not to mention, withdrawal symptoms are magnified for someone who’s been on it longer.
With its known label, Xanax is often misused and abused by those seeking relief and relaxation in their life—legally and illegally. Xanax abuse can happen when someone becomes so dependent on the drug, they’re unable to function without it. If you’re frequently taking something, it becomes so familiar to where it no longer affects you. This familiarity also commonly happens with medications, causing someone to require a higher dose. It’s even more difficult to taper off Xanax when you’re entirely dependent on it for relief and have been on it longer than the recommended term.
Xanax is often misused and abused when taken with other substances. Xanax should not be consumed with alcohol, other opioids, or benzos. Check with a medical professional before taking Xanax with another medication.
How to Get Off of Xanax
Consult a medical professional before choosing to stop your Xanax prescription. Your doctor will best advise you on how to taper off Alprazolam safely. One of the most common ways to safely wean off medication is easing yourself by taking smaller doses to prevent your brain and body from going into complete shock— also known as withdrawal. Xanax withdrawal can range from mild to severe to potentially lethal if the proper steps aren’t taken. It isn’t uncommon for someone to develop a dependency on the medication, which is why it is not recommended to go cold turkey. Switching up your routine, even in the slightest, is an uncomfortable shift in and of itself.
Taking small steps to withdraw from Xanax by lowering your daily intake and participating in other activities that promote relaxation and relief are two effective methods for tapering off Alprazolam.
If you’re at a higher dose, you’ve likely developed a higher dependency on the medication, which is why that method doesn’t work for you. Often what’s necessary for a Xanax withdrawal is a medical detox or a potential treatment plan if you find yourself addicted to the substance. An addiction treatment center provides its patients with professional support and supervision while under their care.
The withdrawal process is often uncomfortable and even miserable for some. Following your doctor’s recommended method for withdrawal will provide you with the safest and most effective results.
Potential Xanax withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Panic attacks
- Increased anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble focusing
- Increased stress levels
- Severe confusion
- Hypersensitivity to sound, touch, or light
- Loss of appetite
The withdrawal symptoms can be as mild as they are severe. A few main factors determining the severity of the withdrawal process are the duration of use, how high or low the dosage is, and concurrent use of other substances—also known as polysubstance use.
Consult a medical professional if you or a loved one are contemplating tapering off of Xanax or are currently experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Our medical detox and treatment options are available to provide professional support and oversight if you or a loved one are struggling with Xanax abuse or addiction.
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- American Addiction Centers. (2022). Polysubstance Use & Misuse: The Unique Treatment Needs of Polydrug Users
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2022). Alprazolam.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2021). The Brains Reward System in Health and Disease.