xanax addiction treatment

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is the most well-known brand of a drug called alprazolam. Xanax, in many ways, has become a household name. It’s extraordinarily well known by many people, joining the ranks of brands like Tylenol® or Benadryl®.

Xanax is a prescription medication that is part of a classification of drugs called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines (or benzos, as they are more commonly known) are substances that affect the body’s central nervous system (CNS). When they are ingested, benzos attach to specific receptors in the brain. There, they induce a sense of calm by making the brain’s receptors less sensitive to stimulation. Benzos will also slow down the CNS, reducing a person’s breathing rate and brain function so they can relax.

The sense of calm produced by Xanax is the result of increased activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical responsible for regulating excitement. This helps to reduce the physiological reaction to anxiety. The sedative effects of Xanax aid some people in falling asleep, as well as remaining emotionally balanced throughout the day.

Because of the calming effect that benzos can create, they are often used to treat medical conditions such as:

  • Panic disorders
  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Depression-induced anxiety
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Sleeping disorders

Similar to Ativan® (lorazepam), another anti-anxiety medication, Xanax is fast-acting. While some anti-depressants can take weeks to make a difference, Xanax relieves anxiety right away. This means that it has a high potential to be misused in a variety of ways, especially by individuals seeking to relieve themselves of stress or look for ways to induce artificial feelings of relaxation.

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What Are Benzodiazepines And Are They Safe? 

When discussing Xanax use, dependency, and addiction, it is impossible to avoid discussing benzodiazepines (benzos), the classification of drugs that Xanax belongs to. Benzos attach to receptors in the brain in order to suppress some stimulation, rendering users more relaxed. These substances are labeled as a Schedule IV drug. This means that it is a controlled substance and deemed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to be a substance that has potential for misuse and addiction.

Some side effects of benzos can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Forgetfulness or confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Unsteady balance
  • Slowed breathing
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Blurred or double vision

Benzos sometimes receive a negative reputation for being associated with addiction and may leave some people with fears about taking prescription benzos. Some individuals may refuse a prescription medication like Xanax because they are uncomfortable with taking a controlled substance and fear becoming addicted.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that controlled substances are not automatically bad because they are controlled substances. When benzos are prescribed by a doctor and used for short periods of time to treat specific conditions, such as a sleep aid for a week after a major surgery, they are perfectly safe.

The risk of addiction or dependency is increased when higher doses of benzos are taken or if they are taken for a longer period of time. However, although the risk is increased, this does not necessarily mean those who take a medication like Xanax for a long period of time will automatically become addicted. Addiction is a complex condition that is not just dependent on the substance, but the mental state and environment of the user. 

When taken for a long period of time, those who use benzos may develop a tolerance to the drug. As the body begins to become accustomed to a drug, a user will require a higher dose of the substance in order to achieve the same effects. In general, it is recommended that benzos only be used when necessary and ideally prescribed for a short period of time.

If an individual has been taking benzos for a long time, there is a possibility that they will experience some withdrawal symptoms or have some trouble coming off the drug. It’s important to alert a doctor, such as your primary physician, if there is any problem. When someone comes off benzos, the dosage should be properly supervised and weaned appropriately. 

Whenever someone takes prescription benzos or other controlled substances the most important thing to ensure good health and well-being is to stay in contact with one’s doctor and keep track of any side effects and changes. Allowing for a free flow of information between an individual and their doctor can help alleviate concerns and make it easier for proper medical advice and assistance to be administered.

Clinical Pharmacology Of Xanax:

When discussing the pharmacology of a drug, information can be organized and understood through the use of the acronym ADME. This stands for absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion.

Every drug has an individual time frame and method for things like absorption into the body and expulsion from the body. This information is vital in clinical settings in order to best prescribe dosage and directions for administering medication. A patient learning more about the prescriptions they consume can become more involved in their care and better understand the decisions and consequences behind taking certain medications.


Peak concentrations of Xanax in the blood’s plasma occur one to two hours after the medication is administered. Prescription Xanax is almost always administered as a pill. According to Pfizer, it has been observed that the average plasma elimination half-life of Xanax is around 11.2 hours in the typical healthy adult. The half-life measure of a drug indicates the amount of the drug that remains in the body’s system after a certain period of time. For example, if one dose of prescription Xanax is for 30mg, after 11.2 hours, there will still be 15mg of the drug left in the body.

The half-life of a drug is crucial to know so that doses can be administered after the proper amount of time. If a patient took another 30mg dose of Xanax after three hours, the amount of the drug in the body would continue to build up, extending the time until the drug is expelled from the body. Building up too much of any substance in the body is extremely dangerous.

On the whole, Xanax has a relatively long half-life. Consider another common drug like Tylenol® (acetaminophen). Acetaminophen has a half-life of approximately two to three hours, which is why the directions on the bottle allow for doses every four hours.


Alprazolam binds to serum proteins and is then carried through the bloodstream around the body.


Before a substance is excreted, the body must first break it down. Alprazolam is metabolized (broken down) by cytochrome P450, a superfamily of enzymes. Cytochrome P450 enzymes are located primarily in the liver cells. Within the cells, these enzymes are located in the areas involved with protein processing and transport, that is, the endoplasmic reticulum, as well as the mitochondria, the energy-producing center.


After metabolization, the alprazolam is excreted through urine.

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A Brief History of Xanax Addiction:

Xanax was developed in the 1960s, following the uptick in the popularity of psychiatric treatment in the United States. During this time, there was a need for a medication that could help soothe anxieties so patients who suffered from anxious tendencies could get quality sleep.

In 1956, the first benzodiazepine was developed by Dr. Leo Sternbach. This drug was called Librium®. The whole driving force behind the development of new drugs during this period was to find less addictive and safer alternatives to existing drugs like barbiturates. Barbiturates are drugs that depress the central nervous system. They can cause muscle relaxation. Currently, they’re one of the oldest classes of drugs.

As development continued, a patent for alprazolam (Xanax) was filed in 1969 and granted in 1976. In 1981, Xanax was released on the market by the Upjohn company. Now, Upjohn has been absorbed to be part of what is now known as Pfizer. Alprazolam hit the market to be used for anxiety disorders. Alongside Valium®, alprazolam quickly became one of the most popular drugs on the market.

Upon the FDA’s approval of Xanax in 1981, it was also deemed a Schedule IV controlled substance.

Now, Xanax is a widely used and helpful prescription. The problems arise when someone misuses the drug in order to boost their morale or make themselves feel better. There are a variety of ways that someone can misuse Xanax, all explored in greater depth in the next section.

How Do People Form a Xanax Addiction and Require Treatment?

Xanax (alprazolam) is intended to be used for temporary relief of anxiety or panic attacks. A Xanax prescription should be carefully followed to avoid the risk of dependence and addiction. Taking Xanax in higher doses, more frequently or for longer than prescribed is considered misuse.

Any deviation from the dosage instructions and the manner of taking the prescription can be classified as misuse. For example, taking any extra dose of the medication on a day that is particularly stressful can be considered a misuse of the prescription.

Individuals with a Xanax prescription may also misuse the prescription by taking more of the drug for it to have a stronger effect. They may also decrease the time between doses against their doctor’s recommendation to avoid experiencing “rebound anxiety.” While the quick onset of Xanax is desirable, the drug has a short half-life. A dose of Xanax may wear off before the next one is due, causing anxiety levels to increase.

A person does not have to have a Xanax prescription in order to misuse it. Some people use Xanax to self-medicate their anxiety symptoms, even if they have not been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Others take Xanax in high doses to experience a sense of euphoria.

Xanax may be misused through several modes of intake, such as:

  • Oral: The most common way to take Xanax is the way it was intended. Since Xanax is a fast-acting drug, it gets into the system quickly and is most effective when orally consumed.
  • Sublingual: Dissolving Xanax tablets under the tongue causes the drug to reach the bloodstream faster, as it does not have to go through the digestive system first. The effect is similar to that of oral consumption.
  • Snorting: Xanax tablets can be crushed into a powder and snorted (insufflated). This can be painful, cause damage to the nasal tissue, and is less effective than oral consumption.
  • Smoking: Some people smoke Xanax off the heated tin foil or sprinkle crushed pills onto marijuana before smoking it. This can harm the lungs and raise the risk of overdose from polydrug use.
  • Injection: Though Xanax does not dissolve in water, it can be converted to a liquid form with propylene glycol for injection. This is also less effective than taking it orally and can damage the veins, cause infection, and transmit disease through unsanitary needles.

Side Effects Of Misuse

Long-term Xanax (alprazolam) use and misuse can impair a person’s memory, coordination, and overall cognitive functioning. Misusing Xanax has been linked to an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It may also cause changes to a person’s sex drive, menstruation, appetite, and weight.

Adverse side effects can occur with regular Xanax use, even if prescription guidelines are followed. Taking more Xanax increases the risk of negative effects.

Side effects of Xanax misuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability

Over time, Xanax can actually worsen anxiety and insomnia, as the brain stops working efficiently and becomes dependent on Xanax to spur the action of GABA. Tolerance also causes Xanax to have a lessened effect. This may lead to someone taking the drug in excess to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which is very dangerous.

Treatment for Alprazolam Overdose

If someone takes repeated, overlapping doses of Xanax (alprazolam), the drug builds up in their system. Xanax may remain present in the body anywhere from eight to 59 hours. The more Xanax a person consumes, the higher their chance of reaching toxic levels that cause an overdose.

The same situation can occur when Xanax is mixed with other drugs. Polysubstance misuse with depressants and stimulants alike can multiply a person’s risk of overdose.

When Xanax is combined with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol, opioids or additional benzodiazepines, an individual’s breathing rate can drop to dangerous levels. Severe respiratory depression can cause brain damage, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.

When a person mixes Xanax with a stimulant, such as cocaine or Adderall (amphetamine), it can be hard to tell how impaired they are from either substance. The differing effects create the illusion that a person is less intoxicated than they are, causing them to take more than they normally would. This can easily lead them to take too much and overdose.

Purchasing Xanax on the street or online poses a unique risk for overdose because there is no guarantee that the pills are actually Xanax. Several deaths in the United States have resulted from counterfeit Xanax pills containing fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid drug.

Xanax Dependence And Withdrawal

Prolonged use or misuse of Xanax (alprazolam) induces tolerance, which means that the same dose produces weaker effects. Tolerance can lead to physical dependence. When someone is dependent on Xanax, their body craves the drug and experiences withdrawal symptoms without it.

Xanax withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • Dysphoria (general unease)
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions

Withdrawing from benzodiazepines like Xanax can be life-threatening. Seizures are especially dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can result from the disruption of GABA regulation in the brain. GABA levels are drastically increased with Xanax misuse and may drop very low when Xanax is no longer present.

Some people may experience a post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which consists of withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks, months, or even years after a person stops taking Xanax. This syndrome occurs in 10 to 15 percent of people who have misused benzodiazepines for a prolonged period.

Symptoms Of Xanax Addiction

If an individual has become addicted to Xanax (alprazolam), they will take it despite how it affects their quality of life. Addiction can destroy physical and mental health, deplete finances, and ruin relationships.

A person suffering from Xanax addiction may become distant and secretive. They may take Xanax as a way of coping with everyday life and insist that they need it to get through the day. Evidence of their lack of control over drug use is likely to show through their attempts to rationalize their behavior.

Since Xanax is a prescription medication, it is not always easy to get. Someone who is addicted to Xanax may go to great lengths to obtain it. They may go “doctor shopping,” or visit several doctors to get multiple prescriptions. They may get it from a friend, on the street, or online without a prescription.

When a person is severely addicted to Xanax, the drug has a lot of influence in their life. It becomes the most important thing. For some who are addicted, the substance becomes all they can think about and their primary goal is to get more of it. Even when Xanax has paradoxical negative effects (increased anxiety and insomnia), they continue to take it, not because it makes them feel better, but because they cannot stop. When habits set in, it can be tough to break, even when mental and physical consequences are all stacked against someone. 

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Get Help From Abuse With Xanax Addiction Treatment

Our treatment programs for Xanax (alprazolam) addiction at Vertava Health Ohio begin with medically-supervised detoxification. Since the withdrawal process can be dangerous, medical detox programs keep individuals under observation while they go through withdrawal.

These programs may provide medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and are often accompanied by nutritional support and counseling to prepare someone for formal treatment. Following detox, individuals are medically-assessed and work with a therapist to create an individualized plan for an inpatient treatment program.

Our addiction treatment programs use many treatment methods, like counseling and behavioral therapy, to help individuals alter their thoughts and behavior. We do not only deal with the addiction but also how it has affected an individual’s life and how their lifestyle has contributed to the addiction.

Treatment Options

We offer dual diagnosis treatment, which examines co-occurring mental disorders. If these issues are not addressed in a treatment program, they are likely to contribute to relapse in the future. Many people suffering from addiction to Xanax are also struggling with an anxiety disorder, and dual-diagnosis treatment aims to heal both.

The inpatient environment provides a setting wherein individuals have access to constant support through the healing process. By implementing a variety of evidence-based treatments targeted at individual needs, we work to give each person the best chance at recovery. Through inpatient treatment, individuals will have the chance to learn the skills they need to apply in life in order to help support their recovery and new substance-free life.

At Vertava Health Ohio, we recognize that addiction can be challenging and embarrassing to address. We aim to provide high quality and comfortable care for all of our clients. You deserve the best future possible, and we are here to help make that goal a reality. Contact us today at 888-481-7821.

Xanax Addiction FAQs

How can someone get off Xanax addiction?

Kicking any addiction is tricky. Getting off of a Xanax addiction often requires professional treatment and support. At Vertava Health Ohio, we believe in recovery that gives people the tools they need to live their best possible future.

Through detox and inpatient rehab, we can help provide the skills and therapy to support your desire to quit a Xanax addiction. It may not be an easy path, but it is possible.

How to prevent addiction to Xanax?

The best way to prevent an addiction to Xanax is to carefully follow the dosage and administration instructions of your Xanax prescription. Dosages are carefully selected by a medical provider to specifically fit you and treat the condition you have. Taking too much too often can negatively affect your health. Xanax should also be taken in short-term schedules. Taking Xanax for a long period of time can lead to tolerance and dependence on the drug. Speak with your doctor if you have any concerns about your prescription.

If you don’t have a Xanax prescription, don’t take the drug. Taking substances that you have not been prescribed can be dangerous, especially when it comes to polysubstance use or dosage. Although it might seem like an option to relieve stress and make yourself feel better, in the long-term, taking drugs you don’t necessarily need can have many negative consequences. Instead, try to find healthy ways to relieve and cope with stress, such as journaling or exercising.

How long does Xanax addiction take to develop?

Developing an addiction to a drug like Xanax is not just dependent on the drug itself. A lot of factors play into addiction including environment, a history of family drug addiction, mental state, frequency of use, relationships to others, and individual body chemistry.

Since Xanax is intended mostly for short-term use, it may be possible to develop an addiction to the drug in three to four weeks. However, the specific timeframe can and does vary from person to person.

If you suspect you have developed an addiction, or dependence on Xanax, don’t panic. There is help available. Xanax is a very common prescription in today’s world and many treatment programs, including ours at Vertava Health Ohio, are well-equipped to deal with Xanax addiction.