Is Xanax a Controlled Substance? – Xanax (alprazolam) is among the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications in the United States. Xanax is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule IV drug, indicating that it has a relatively low potential for abuse and risk of dependence.
Xanax has many legitimate medical uses, but many people abuse Xanax for the relaxing and euphoric feelings it induces. Repeated and prolonged abuse can result in dependence and addiction. Discontinuing the use of Xanax suddenly or “cold-turkey” can cause seizures and other dangerous health complications.
Most often, doctors prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety and panic disorders, but it is sometimes also used to treat insomnia or seizures. Xanax is a benzodiazepine and central nervous system (CNS) depressant that works by reducing activity in the brain, causing feelings of calm and sedation. These effects are why many people abuse Xanax—to seek relief from anxiety and induce feelings of intoxication, not unlike alcohol.
However, also like excessive alcohol consumption, Xanax abuse can be hazardous. It can impede a person’s ability to make rational decisions, and impair motor skills and response time required for safe driving, among other problems.
Is Xanax Addictive?
If it is not used as directed by a physician, Xanax is considered to be one of the most addictive benzos available. Those who misuse this drug can become addicted and experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they try to discontinue use. They may encounter rebound anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and dysphoria—effects that make quitting very challenging.
Withdrawal from prolonged misuse of Xanax can be life-threatening. To recover from Xanax dependence, people should taper off the prescription drug by gradually using lower doses over the course of several weeks. Doctors or addiction professionals should supervise this weaning process to ensure safety.
How Xanax Is Used as Directed
Doctors may prescribe Xanax because it has a relatively short half-life, meaning its effects wear off faster than longer-acting benzos, such as Valium (diazepam). People who use Xanax usually start to feel the effects within 10-15 minutes. Peak effects begin after about 30 minutes, and the overall effects typically subside after about six hours.
When Xanax is taken according to directions, common side effects may include the following:
- Memory problems
- Reduced appetite
- Difficulty speaking
- Poor concentration
- Sleep disturbances
- Drowsiness and lethargy
- Slurred speech
Xanax is considered safe for most adults. Benzodiazepines rarely result in life-threatening overdoses when taken alone, but can result in dangerous side effects when taken with other CNS depressants, such as alcohol or opioids.
Those who take Xanax for non-medical purposes often use it in conjunction with alcohol, marijuana, or other intoxicants. Combining alcohol or drugs, such as opioids, with Xanax is hazardous because these substances can interact with each other in unpredictable ways, and also amplify the effects of one another. When combined, these substances can cause a person to pass out and breathe at a dangerously slow rate.
How Xanax Use Can Result in Dependence and Addiction
Doctors usually start patients who have not been exposed benzos with low doses of Xanax, such as 0.25-0.5 mg. Of note, everyone who takes this drug on a regular basis will develop a tolerance, meaning that over time, they will require increasingly higher doses to achieve the same therapeutic benefit. Those with a burgeoning tolerance to Xanax may begin to require doses succeeding 4mg per day, thereby increasing their risk of dependence and addiction.
Dependence occurs after the extended use of a substance, which results in the body’s adaption to its presence. When the drug is removed, the body no longer functions normally, and the person encounters unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as the body works to reestablish chemical equilibrium.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Uncontrollable shakiness
Being dependent on Xanax is not always hazardous. Some people need the medication to control anxiety or panic disorders and become dependent on Xanax yet experience few or no adverse effects. Physical dependency is only one aspect of addiction, not the addiction itself.
Addiction has an active psychological component that is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior and uncontrolled use despite the incurrence of adverse consequences. Moreover, in many instances, people who are genuinely addicted to Xanax begin to assume they require it to alleviate anxiety. And yet, the anxiety that they are experiencing when they stop using the drug is actually a symptom of withdrawal—this is also known as rebound anxiety.
Dependence becomes a problem when people use Xanax for non-medical purposes or when they abuse the medication and don’t talk with their doctor about it. People with a legitimate prescription may, in some cases, develop an addiction to Xanax because they take the drug more frequently or in doses exceeding those prescribed. As tolerance increases and dependence grows, they become increasingly desperate and are clueless as to how they can control this behavior.
Excessive doses or the abuse of Xanax can lead to dangerous side effects, including the following:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of coordination
What Is the Timeline for Xanax Addiction?
Some people become addicted to Xanax more rapidly than others. Those who regularly use high doses of Xanax are more likely to develop an addiction than those who take low doses less often.
Using a benzodiazepine such as Xanax for longer than 3-4 weeks can lead to physiological dependence, a condition that, as noted, can turn into addiction when a person begins obsessing over the use of the drug and keeps using it despite the potential for negative consequences. For this reason, many physicians have opted to limit Xanax prescriptions to a 1-2 week supply to prevent patients from becoming dependent.
People who are addicted to Xanax will compulsively seek the drug and may visit multiple physicians or pharmacies to obtain prescriptions or purchase it illicitly on the street or online. Likewise, these individuals may abuse alcohol or other CNS depressants when they do not have access to Xanax.
Detoxing From Xanax
The half-life of Xanax is around 12 hours, which means it takes this length of time for half of the dose to be purged from the bloodstream. Withdrawal symptoms can onset within six hours of the last dose, and generally peak after about 12 hours. Severe withdrawal symptoms persist for about four days, and withdrawal from an extended Xanax dependency can last for up to two weeks.
As mentioned, discontinuing Xanax use without medical supervision can be dangerous. Treatment centers can administer medication and other resources that can help relieve symptoms of withdrawal and ensure the process is safe and comfortable.
While supervising clients, treatment centers can gradually wean them off Xanax by slowly reducing daily dosages. Xanax may be replaced by long-acting benzodiazepines such as Librium. Also, buspirone and flumazenil can be used to relieve symptoms of withdrawal.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Harmony Treatment and Wellness is a specialized addiction treatment center that offers therapeutic services facilitated by caring, highly-skilled addiction professionals. Our staff is dedicated to providing every client with the tools and support they need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and maintain long-lasting wellness and sobriety.
If you or someone you know is dependent on Xanax, other benzos, opioids, or illicit drugs or alcohol, please contact us today. Discover how we help people break free from the chains of addiction and begin to experience the healthy and fulfilling lives they deserve!