Addictions often stem from one crucial moment when a person decides to take a substance for the very first time. For example, alcoholism stems from an alcoholic’s decision to take that first boozy sip, and heroin addictions form when people choose to heat the substance and inject them. It’s easy for people who do not have addictions to question why someone would choose to take in drugs like this, when its well known that they can lead to addictions. Often, people are condemned for making that fatal choice. But what happens when addictions stem from a specific disease and the therapies used to treat that disease?
This is often the path that people take in order to develop a Xanax addiction: They develop a mental illness, ask for help with the illness, take a prescription and then begin abusing that prescription. The lines are a little harder to draw in these cases, although the consequences of addictions to prescription drugs like Xanax and illicit drugs like heroin remain much the same.
An Effective Therapy
Xanax, also known by the generic name alprazolam, is designed to help people who have severe anxiety disorders. People with these conditions may be so debilitated by fear that they find it hard to form relationships, hold down jobs or even leave the house. Leaving these conditions untreated can be devastating, as people may simply not be able to function normally unless they have access to medication assistance, and evidence suggests that many people can and do heal with the help of Xanax, and they never move on to abuse.
For example, a study in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry found that about 77 percent of patients who had panic disorders had moderate to significant improvements while on Xanax. In addition, out of all of those studied, only 12 percent of patients showed some form of “unauthorized use.” This study seems to indicate that the drug truly can be helpful, and that only some people move on to abusing it.
As a result of studies like this, no one would suggest that people who are taking the drugs according to their doctor’s instructions should do anything differently. Taking medications according to a doctor’s instructions, even if that means taking medications each day and feeling uncomfortable or even painful without them, is not considered abuse. Only when people move from following instructions to disregarding instructions do worries about abuse and addiction arise.
Risk Factors for Addiction
It’s hard to know why some people develop addictions to Xanax while others do not, but there are some studies that could shed some light on the topic. For example, researchers conducting a study for the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that people who were active alcoholics gave Xanax higher marks for producing euphoria, compared to people who did not have alcoholism. It’s not clear why this is the case, but it’s possible that alcohol abuse causes damage to receptors in the brain that are also used by Xanax. Therefore, abusing alcohol could make the brain more responsive when Xanax is introduced, producing even bigger waves of emotion. When drugs cause this sort of large response, they tend to be addictive.
Genetics may play a role as well. In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, daughters of alcoholics also gave Xanax higher pleasure scores than women who did not have alcoholic parents. Perhaps the genetic vulnerabilities that could lead to alcoholism could also lead to Xanax abuse, as the brain is simply hardwired to produce a large response to both of these substances. More research must be performed before this link is made definitive, but it is safe to say that people who have a family history of addiction might be at higher risk of a Xanax addiction.
The type of Xanax provided by the doctor might also play a role in the risk of developing a Xanax addiction. According to a study published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Xanax capsules that are considered “immediate release” drugs were associated with higher risk of addiction compared to those Xanax capsules that provide an extended release. In this study, people were given Xanax and then asked to name how much they might pay to obtain the drug again. Those people given immediate release doses were willing to pay more than people who were given extended-release tablets. This is likely due to, again, a flooding of sensations in the brain. Immediate release tablets cause a huge response, while extended release tablets tend to provide a slow onset of symptoms.
According to a study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, people who abuse Xanax tend to be male and adolescent. These users might have anxiety issues of their own for which they’re receiving therapy, but they might also be recreational users who are stealing or buying Xanax from other people who are in therapy for their anxiety issues. Addictions in this population group demonstrate how powerful the drug really is, and how addictive it can be, even in people who have no medical need to take the drug in the first place.
Moving Toward an Addiction
People who abuse Xanax may do so in many ways, including:
- Taking tablets more often than recommended
- Taking higher doses than recommended
- Chewing pills to make them work faster
- Crushing and snorting pills to force them into the bloodstream immediately
As people begin to abuse Xanax in this manner, their bodies become accustomed to accessing large amounts of the drug, and these people may find that they need to take even higher doses of the drug in order to feel the same effects. As a result, they may need to buy pills from street dealers, or they may attempt to visit multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions for Xanax. Unfortunately, this becomes a race against the body and it’s not a race the person is likely to win. Each time the person ups the dose of Xanax to keep the sensations moving forward, the body calibrates its response, requiring the person to take yet higher doses.
Taking extremely high doses of Xanax can prove fatal, and according to a study of Xanax-related deaths published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, the amount considered lethal can be extremely variable. In fact, these experts weren’t quite sure what dosage could be considered lethal in all people, as the results were so changeable and different in the people they studied. People who abuse Xanax may be walking a very fine line between feeling high and overdosing, and they may not even realize that the risk is looming so near. Some people attempt to augment the sensations caused by Xanax abuse by taking other drugs such as alcohol, cocaine or even methadone. This is an understandable behavior, as it’s likely that people in the end stages of an addiction need these other drugs in order to feel some sort of euphoric response, however, combining drugs in this way can lead to an even higher risk of an overdose or some other serious medical complication.
No Quick Fixes
The body’s adjustment to Xanax can cause people to take higher doses as an addiction progresses, but this same process can also make recovering from a Xanax addiction a bit complicated. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, people should not stop taking Xanax or reducing their dosages of the drug without speaking to their doctors, as sudden withdrawal from the drug can cause:
- Blurred vision
- Sleep disorders
- Tingling hands and feet
- Weight loss
Since some of these problems can be life threatening, it’s best for people with a Xanax addiction to go through a withdrawal process supervised by consulting physicians. Here, they can receive help that could keep problems from forming, and they can receive the emotional support they’ll need in order to go through the process while feeling safe and cared for.
People who have mental illnesses and who began their addictions to Xanax because they were in therapy for their mental illnesses may face a rebound of their anxiety symptoms when they stop taking Xanax. These symptoms can be profoundly upsetting, and they can lead to resurgence in addiction, or they can lead to other mental health concerns including depression or suicidal thoughts. These people will need to work closely with their doctors in order to control their addiction issues, to ensure that their mental health concerns are also addressed and dealt with as their addiction treatment moves forward.
Since Xanax addictions are so common in people who have anxiety disorders, it’s best if these people look for care from facilities that are designed to provide assistance with both addictions and mental illnesses. These Dual Diagnosis programs, as they’re often called, can assist with concurrent treatment, ensuring that no problem is allowed to supersede the other, and that the special needs of people who have both of these conditions are honored and protected. This is the sort of program we provide at Michael’s House. We have therapists on staff who are trained in dealing with anxiety problems, and we use up-to-date techniques to help people recover from addictions. If you’d like to know more about our programs, and how we can help, please call us.