Sold under the brand name Xanax, alprazolam is among the most widely abused benzodiazepines in the United States. Not only do high prescription rates lead to naturally increased rates of dependence, but many cases of Xanax addiction and abuse begin with non-medical use. Xanax abusers may acquire pills from a friend or family member, whether voluntarily or by stealing from the medicine cabinet. Alprazolam is intended for the treatment of panic disorders and generalized anxiety, but its high potency makes it desirable among those who merely seek to alter their state of mind.
Despite the drug’s potency, alprazolam addiction quickly leads to increased physical and mental tolerance. As a result, users must increase the dosage and/or frequency of alprazolam abuse if they wish to continue experiencing the same effects. At the height of Xanax addiction, users may take as many as two dozen or more pills per day. As is often the case with addictive substances, increased rates of Xanax abuse raise the risk of dangerous side effects.
Xanax Effects and Abuse
As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alprazolam primarily appeals to users due to its calming effects. Users may prefer Xanax abuse alone or may combine it with other CNS depressants. Those who suffer Xanax addiction may additionally vary their route of administration. Common forms of alprazolam abuse include oral ingestion, crushing pills and snorting them, blotter paper and intravenous use.
Using alprazolam in any fashion other than as prescribed will greatly increase the odds of developing Xanax addiction. This is especially true when users intensify the effects by varying the route of administration or take more than the recommended dosage. Non-medical use of Xanax will increase the rate at which the user develops a tolerance to the drug’s effects. As a result, the user’s brain chemistry will become altered much faster. Those who already suffer from other forms of substance use disorder are especially at risk of developing an alprazolam addiction when using non-medically.
Xanax Abuse Statistics
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Xanax abuse accounted for 154,016 emergency room visits in 2011. This is more than twice the second-highest number of emergencies caused by anti-anxiety medications, and nearly 30,000 more than the number of emergencies caused by Ativan and Klonopin combined.
Despite the clear dangers of misuse, doctors wrote more than 39 prescriptions for Xanax in 2015. These prescriptions fueled the habits of at least 16 million Americans per year who use alprazolam and other prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Nearly half (49%) of teenagers who took Xanax at the time this 2017 survey data was collected reported concurrent alcohol abuse. Although many suffer from Xanax addiction, only about 61,000 seek professional treatment services each year.
Common Xanax Drug Combinations
Not all who engage in Xanax abuse necessarily prefer alprazolam as their drug of choice. Many heroin and opioid users enjoy combining their chosen substance with benzodiazepines. Due to its potency and relative availability, many use Xanax as the acting benzo in this combination. Alcoholics frequently use alprazolam as well. With up to 73% of heroin addicts and 90% of methadone addicts engaging in benzo abuse according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Xanax frequently appears in drug tests when determining the cause of overdose following an emergency room visit.
The combination of Xanax addiction and polydrug use can be highly dangerous, and potentially fatal. Mixing CNS depressants with any substance—let alone other depressants—may result in severe respiratory issues. Users may suffer adverse health effects, including coma or even death, when combining alprazolam with other drugs.