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.
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:
  • Seizures
  • Blurred vision
  • Sweating
  • Sleep disorders
  • Nervousness
  • Aggression
  • 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.