Xanax is a benzodiazepine primarily prescribed for anxiety disorders. It works by increasing how much GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is in the brain to promote feelings of relaxation and calm. When taken on a short-term basis and exactly as prescribed, most people can use this medication safely. However, it does have the potential to cause tolerance and become habit-forming.
Xanax acts on the central nervous system and brain to cause a relaxing and calming effect. The medication accomplishes this by heightening the effects of GABA, a type of chemical in the body.
People might receive a prescription for Xanax due to having an anxiety disorder. In some cases, it might be used on a short-term basis to treat insomnia. It is imperative that people only take this medicine exactly as directed to reduce the risk of tolerance and other possible issues. Benzodiazepines like Xanax are not prescribed for long-term use due to how rapidly dependence forms.
Whether someone uses Xanax as prescribed or misuses the medication, certain short-term effects are possible. According to MedlinePlus, these might include the following:
When someone takes more Xanax than prescribed, drowsiness can be extreme. It is also possible to experience the following, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research:
Once someone takes Xanax, the effects occur relatively quickly — typically within about 30 minutes. This is a short-acting drug, so the effects do not last long. To continue experiencing the effects of the drug, people will take more pills. This is what can lead to tolerance.
How quickly someone develops tolerance to a drug depends on several factors, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Tolerance can increase a person’s risk of experiencing an overdose on Xanax. As soon as someone notices that their regular dose is no longer providing the same effect, it is important to consult their physician.
If the person has been abusing Xanax in any way, which includes using it without a prescription or taking it more often than prescribed, substance abuse treatment may be needed.
Those who have developed a tolerance to this drug need professional assistance. This is especially true for people experiencing a dependence on or addiction to Xanax. It is estimated that about 40 percent of people who take benzodiazepines every day for at least six weeks become addicted to the medication, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Most people who become addicted to Xanax need help to find recovery. Mayo Clinic states that the following signs typically indicate that someone is experiencing addiction:
It is generally recommended that people detox from Xanax while under medical supervision. During the acute detox period, it is possible to experience abnormal changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. There is also the risk for grand mal seizures, according to research published in the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
Because of these potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, those who have been abusing Xanax must undergo medical detox. In these programs, physicians will usually put clients on a tapering schedule with a long-acting benzodiazepine. The dosage is then gradually lowered over weeks or months, helping to mitigate the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
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Treatment typically consists of a combination of dose tapering and psychological support, according to research published in Current Opinions in Psychology. Chosen therapy techniques can include a focus on relapse prevention, stress management, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Once someone develops Xanax tolerance, they should consider taking a break from the medication but only after they have consulted with a physician. As tolerance continues to build, if someone keeps increasing their dose of Xanax, this puts them at risk for dependence, addiction, and overdose.
If a person is dependent on a benzodiazepine, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. The symptoms of withdrawal might include the following, according to research published in Addiction:
Research shows that the acute withdrawal period typically lasts about one to four days; however, people can go through withdrawal for an additional 10 to 14 days after this acute period. Ultimately, there is the potential for withdrawal effects for several months, especially for those who attempt to stop using Xanax cold turkey and without medical supervision. Again, doing this is incredibly dangerous and could even result in death.
Using this type of drug chronically can cause certain long-term effects, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, such as:
Any person who notices physical or psychological changes as a result of Xanax use should consider taking a break from using this drug. Remember that tolerance lowers once someone stops taking the drug. If their use returns to prior levels, overdose is possible.
Xanax overdose can be very dangerous. Overdose symptoms may include the following, according to Medscape:
While overdosing on any benzodiazepine medication can be dangerous, one study shows that a Xanax overdose could be even more toxic than an overdose on the rest of the drugs in this class, according to research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
When someone takes Xanax, it is vital that they keep an eye out for the signs of tolerance. Should they occur, consult with a substance abuse treatment professional and the prescribing doctor to determine the next steps.
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Benzodiazepines. Royal College of Psychiatrists. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/treatments-and-wellbeing/benzodiazepines
Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112
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