Xanax, with the generic name alprazolam, is a drug that is often used to treat panic attacks and anxiety disorders. When used as directed by your doctor, it is effective in relieving symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders. In fact, it is one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States.
However, Xanax is considered a habit-forming drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) puts it under the list of Schedule IV controlled substances. That means Xanax has a low potential for abuse. So yes, it can damage your brain if misused.
How can Xanax mess with your brain? Read on to find out more.
How does Xanax work?
This drug works by increasing the levels of a certain neurotransmitter in your brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA blocks the transmission of nerve impulses, and this in turn makes you feel relaxed and calm. For this reason, Xanax is quite effective in treating panic and anxiety disorders.
However, these relaxing feelings can become addictive in the long term. Xanax is only meant to be used up to a maximum of six weeks. Beyond that, drug-seeking behavior becomes a huge risk.
It is also believed that Xanax can influence your body’s natural production of GABA in the long run. Thus, your body can no longer make GABA on its own without Xanax. This is another risk of abusing the drug.
Also, Xanax is highly potent. It’s about ten times more powerful than diazepam (Valium), which is a more common anxiety medication. With that, Xanax can produce similar effects in smaller doses. In fact, the usual starting dose is only 0.25 milligrams (mg) at a time.
Xanax is also a fast-acting drug. That makes it useful in treating acute panic attacks or bouts of anxiety
How fast does Xanax work?
Once you take it, this drug enters and circulates through your system quickly. It takes about 15 minutes to one hour to kick in, and you can feel the calming effects for up to four hours.
How can Xanax disrupt your brain?
Because of its potency and quick action, Xanax can wreak havoc on your brain if not used properly. You can quickly develop tolerance for it, and you’ll find that the drug becomes less effective after the first few weeks.
The reduced effects may compel you to take a higher dose than what you were prescribed. Once you do, your body will be so used to the effects of Xanax that you will keep craving the drug. At this point, you will have become physically dependent on it.
Dependence can also develop even when you take the drug as prescribed. This is one of the risks of taking Xanax. Once your body has become dependent on this drug, you will find it difficult to stop using it.
When you take this drug in higher doses, it may produce a pleasant high. In turn, you’ll get feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and lowered inhibitions. Soon enough, you will keep wanting to get those feelings, so you’ll end up wanting to take more Xanax.
How is Xanax abused?
People who use this drug recreationally often do not take the tablets orally. Instead, they crush the tablets into a powder and snort it. Some would smoke the powder, and others would inject the drug directly into their bloodstream.
But it’s also possible to abuse Xanax by taking the tablets. Thing is, most users take higher doses than what doctors usually prescribe. They do this to get the pleasurable high and the heightened feelings of relaxation.
When used as prescribed, Xanax is quite effective in relieving anxiety and panic attacks. But when abused, taking the drug can lead to serious consequences.
What are the effects of Xanax abuse on the brain?
When abused, this drug has both short-term and long-term effects on the brain. These depend on how much of the drug was taken and the duration.
In the short term, the effects of this drug include:
- Hostile behavior
- Slurred speech
- Poor concentration
- Changes in appetite
In the long term, users would also experience these:
- Mood swings
- Hostile behavior
- Risky behaviors
- Memory problems
One ironic long-term side effect of Xanax is triggering anxiety. While the drug is meant for treating this condition, research has shown that long-term use can cause an increase in anxiety over time. This is especially true when Xanax is not used as intended.
Dependence on Xanax will also affect your concentration and focus. Throughout the day, you will feel agitated and anxious, and it will be quite hard to focus on anything aside from getting more Xanax.
When you become aware of the consequences of Xanax use on your life, you may suffer from depression later on. Depression may also be the result of the drug’s effects on your brain.
Aside from these, Xanax can additionally produce withdrawal symptoms in the long run. These symptoms may include:
- Blurry vision
- Muscle pain
- Numb fingers
- Loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Heart palpitations
When you have become dependent or addicted to Xanax, these withdrawal symptoms will make it a lot harder to quit. If you try to stop taking the drug, withdrawal can get so uncomfortable that it will compel you to just keep taking Xanax.
How can I quit taking Xanax?
The first step is to seek professional help. Ask your doctor or a mental health professional to find out the best options for treatment.
Often, the first step of treatment is medically assisted detox. Here, doctors and other medical staff will monitor you as you wean yourself off the drug. They will help you manage withdrawal symptoms, keeping them to a minimum.
If your case is more severe, an inpatient rehab program may be recommended to you. There, you will go through different behavioral therapies and activities meant to make you form new, healthy habits. That way, you can regain control of your life and live sober once again.