Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Xanax Abuse Epidemic
Treatment centers across the US are reporting a striking upward trend in the number of patients they are treating for addiction to prescription drugs, including the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. Some have legitimate symptoms and take drugs like Xanax to find relief and to be able to live a normal life. Some teenagers and young adults experiment with prescription drugs, which they believe to be safer than street drugs like heroin and cocaine, at what they call pharm parties.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has stated that illegal use of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana use in prevalence throughout the country. In response, advocates are calling on doctors to limit their prescriptions of potentially-addictive pharmaceuticals. Some clinics have stopped prescribing it altogether in light of recent statistics showing that emergency room visits increased 89 percent between 2004 and 2008 due to abuse of prescription benzodiazepines. Of these, Xanax is the most commonly used and abused.
Xanax, also known by its generic name alprazolam, is a benzodiazepine intended to treat anxiety disorders and ward off panic attacks. It is also used to treat nausea as a result of chemotherapy.
Benzodiazepines work by binding to GABA-A receptors in the brain. When this happens, a general sedation occurs as the GABA-A pathways are important in calming and inhibiting the nervous system. When people are exceedingly anxious there is too much brain activity, which is related to such familiar symptoms as sweating, increased heart rate, and not being able to concentrate or think clearly.
Xanax can be especially addictive because the calming effect it gives comes very quickly after the pill is taken. Since there is such a clear connection between taking the drug and feeling better, people are more likely to become addicted to it. A quick-acting drug is good if people take it only in emergency situations when they need quick relief. However, it is easy for people to start overusing it, and to want to pop another pill when they feel the soothing calm of the first one start to wear off.
If the person takes Xanax too much, their brain will adapt to the new environment. With so much benzodiazepine between synapses, the GABA-A receptors will be sufficiently stimulated. If this remains the case for a while, the brain will stop making its own GABA A, as it is no longer necessary. The user will then become habituated to Xanax and will experience severe side-effects, including rapid pulse, panic attacks, delirium and even hallucinations in withdrawal.
People must be slowly weaned off such drugs so that their body has time to once again begin producing it’s natural neurotransmitters like GABA-A. People who have already experienced withdrawal symptoms sometimes resist any reduction in their dose. This is because they remember how intense the pain was when they were formerly separated from the drug.
Recently, clincs in the USA has begun to ease their patients off Xanax and put them on other medications, such as clonazepam, which may be less addictive. Some of the former Xanax users complain that their new medications are not as effective in preventing panic attacks. However, a doctor at the clinic estimates that 90 percent are doing well on alternatives to Xanax.
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