Xanax is a psychoactive drug usually prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia. Also marketed as Niravam and alprazolam (generic), Xanax is a benzodiazepine, a group of drugs that depress the central nervous system and initiate strong sedative-hypnotic responses.
The term sedative-hypnotic describes drugs that sedate or relax the body and have hypnotic or ‘sleep inducing’ properties. Xanax is one of fifteen benzodiazepines legal in the United States. With another twenty variations available in other countries, these drugs are among the most commonly prescribed chemicals on the market. Tragically, this also makes them one of the most abused prescription drugs.
Xanax and Xanax XR (extended release) are approved for the relief of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and anxiety related to depression. Other benzodiazepines, including diazepam (Valium), Lorazepam (Ativan), and temazepam (Restoril), are prescribed for seizures and convulsion control, muscle relaxation, alcohol withdrawal, and anesthesia and/or pre-anesthesia before surgery. Some, like midazolam (Versed) also produce short-term amnesia.
Xanax works on the central nervous system by slowing the uptake of certain neurotransmitters, thus slowing these nerve transmissions throughout the body. This produces a calming effect, relieves anxiety, and aids significantly in relaxation prior to sleep.
Xanax XR is prescribed for anxiety disorders and panic attacks. This extended release version is released into the body slowly over several hours, leveling the highs and lows created by taking regular Xanax every four hours or so.
While the benefits of Xanax and other benzodiazepines are well noted, users, and abusers, should understand potential dangers associated with the drug. Although benzodiazepines require a prescription to be legal in the United States, there are countries that allow over-the-counter marketing and that sell these drugs worldwide.
Unfortunately, not all countries maintain high protocols for manufacturing and marketing drugs. Caution should also be taken when purchasing Xanax over the internet or by mail, since what is advertised as Xanax may actually be a different chemical or may contain a variety of other drugs and/or contaminants.
When taken in conjunction with doctor’s intent and orders, alprazolam is relatively safe and effective. Xanax is not recommended for long term use, neither should it be stopped abruptly, but rather tapered off slowly to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
When abused or taken for long periods of time, Xanax and other benzodiazepines build tolerance, cause physical dependence, and may lead to addiction. Tolerance occurs when increased amounts of the drug are needed to achieve therapeutic levels in the individual or to produce the desired effects when abused.
Dependence is a physical need of the body for a chemical. When the drug is removed, the user will experience physical withdrawal symptoms, including intense anxiety, insomnia, tension, tremors, and fatigue. Dependence may occur slowly over time, and users may not recognize, or may refuse to acknowledge, the signs and symptoms that can eventually lead to addiction.
Psychological addiction involves an obsessive-compulsive component, causing a life style change. Obtaining and taking the drug, then recovering from its use, become the most important aspects of a person’s life. Addiction is a form of insanity, where nothing and no one is more important than the chemical the mind and body craves.
Obtaining Xanax can be difficult because of legal restrictions. The physically and psychologically addicted initiate a variety of methods for supplying their habit, including stealing medicine from a family member or close friend. Some visit different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions (called doctor-swapping), and still others buy directly from illegal drug dealers.
Xanax is listed on the Federal Drug Administration’s Pregnancy Risk List as Category D, meaning it poses a high risk for birth defects in unborn babies. Nursing mothers should not take Xanax since it passes into breast milk, and can cause sedation and deep sleep in nursing babies.
Older people can be extra-sensitive to the sedative-hypnotic effects of benzodiazepines. An increase in falls, already a source of injury for the elderly, has been contributed to enzodiazepine use. In addition, taking Xanax in combination with other central nervous system depressants, particularly alcohol, amplifies the effects of both, increasing the danger of toxicity and dangerous, or even deadly, side effects is increased.
Open communication between patient and physician is vital when mood and mind altering drugs are involved. Physicians make informed decisions based on current and correct information provided by the patient, the patient’s family, and/or the caregiver. Recognizing therapeutic responses to Xanax (and other drugs), what happens when the dosage is too low, and the signs and symptoms of overdose can aid the doctor in choosing the correct drug and dose for that individual.
No drug is without risk, but the risks of taking benzodiazepines are minimal when compared to positive benefits. Xanax is and continues to be a safe and effective method for improving the quality of life for millions of people afflicted with anxiety disorders.