Xanax Addiction and Abuse

Xanax is a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and insomnia. The drug has a high potential for addiction and should only be used under a doctor’s supervision.

Addiction to Xanax (Alprazolam)

Xanax is a powerful benzodiazepine that is often prescribed to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), insomnia, and panic disorders. It can be extremely addictive when used long-term.

Xanax is the most prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. Seventy percent of teenagers with a Xanax addiction are getting the drug from their family’s medicine cabinet.

Tolerance to Xanax quickly develops, requiring the user to take more of the drug to get the desired effect. Someone with a Xanax addiction can take upwards of 20 to 30 pills per day due to this rapid tolerance development.

If a user decides to stop taking Xanax, they may experience severe withdrawal effects, such as fatigue, impaired coordination, and even tremors. Withdrawal symptoms are a sign that a physical dependence has developed. Tolerance development and withdrawal symptoms are indications of addiction.

Once a Xanax addiction has taken root in a user, daily responsibilities, such as school, work or family, are ignored as energy is now focused more towards drug seeking behavior.

Behavioral signs of Xanax addiction include:

  • Use of Xanax even when it is contributing to personal difficulties
  • Inability to stop using despite the desire to quit
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Obsessive behavior about obtaining and using Xanax
  • Loss of control over the amount being consumed
  • Legal problems as a result of using Xanax
  • Risk-taking behaviors (ex. driving while under the influence)

If a user wishes to stop taking Xanax after dependence has formed, it is not recommended to quit “cold turkey” or without medical supervision. The symptoms of Xanax withdrawal are very similar to those of alcohol or other barbiturate withdrawal, and the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. If convulsions occur, it is possible that withdrawal from Xanax can be deadly.

Normally, withdrawal process involves slowly reducing the dosage of Xanax gradually and eventually switching the user to a long-acting form of the drug for a period of time. The gradual taper of this drug helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms to ease the transition of the user.

Understanding Xanax

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a prescription sedative belonging to the benzodiazepines family. Benzodiazepines were developed as a replacement for barbiturates.

Xanax affects the brain and nervous system. It slows down the nerve cell activity in the brain. The result is a calm and relaxed feeling.

Xanax comes in 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg and 2 mg strengths. The pills come in different shapes and colors depending on strength. The 2 mg pills are white and rectangular in shape while the rest are oval shaped and colored white (0.25 mg), orange (0.5 mg) or blue (1 mg). Xanax is a regulated schedule IV controlled substance.

After taking Xanax, the peak effects of the drug are typically felt within one to two hours. As an intermediate-duration drug, Xanax stays in a person’s system for 12 to 15 hours.

How Long Do Benzos Stay in the Body?
Brands Halcion Xanax Librium
Length of Action Short-acting Intermediate Long-acting
Time 2-4 hours 12-15 hours 10-30 hours

Street names for Xanax include:

  • Xannies or zannies
  • Handlebars
  • Bars
  • Blue footballs
  • Benzos

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Xanax Effects and Abuse

Taking more than the prescribed amount of, or using Xanax without a prescription is considered to be abuse of the drug. However, it is important to remember those who follow a prescription can still become addicted to Xanax.

Xanax may be abused in several ways:

  • Taking multiple pills
  • Injecting it
  • Snorting it
  • Taking it via blotter paper
  • Taking it with other drugs or alcohol

Xanax is abused because of the sense of calm and relaxed feeling it causes the user.

“They say drugs fill a void, or at least that’s what my therapist thinks. The first time I popped a Xanax was the first time I felt relief from my anxiety disorder…There was something oddly comforting about Xanax—the way it came in many shapes and colors, like peach and blue. I enjoyed looking at the pills. They were a pretty little assortment of happiness I could feel just by holding in my hands. Although Xanax put a temporary stop to my agony, it soon introduced a new kind.”

Former benzo addict Ashley Zlatopolsky, Salon.com, 2015

An overdose on Xanax can be deadly, especially if the drug is consumed with alcohol or other drugs. Overdose can also occur if pills are crushed or chewed, as the drug is designed to be time-released into the system. Symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Confusion
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Coma

Treatment for a Xanax overdose depends on how much of the drug was taken and whether or not other drugs or alcohol were taken as well. In the event of an overdose, medical providers may pump the user’s stomach to remove as much of the unabsorbed Xanax as possible. Medications may also be administered as an antidote. Doctors may insert an IV to provide necessary fluids. It is extremely important for anyone suffering from an overdose to be completely honest with the emergency medical personnel about exactly what substances were taken and how much so that they can provide the correct treatment.

Common Xanax Drug Combinations

Xanax is commonly used in combination with alcohol or other pills—particularly opiates—to get a better high. Heroin users regularly consume Xanax, as do methadone users. In addition, approximately 40 percent of alcoholics regularly abuse Xanax. Alcohol is particularly dangerous when mixed with Xanax because they are both depressants, which can lead to an overdose and respiratory failure.


Signs of Xanax Abuse

The sedative is very habit-forming and is not recommended for long-term use.

An individual who abuses Xanax will most likely appear extremely tired. They may lack their usual energy and motivation to engage with friends and family as well as lose interest in normal daily activities.

“Even when I forced myself to go out, I still felt so alone. It’s incredible how lonely the road of addiction can be, especially when you’re surrounded by people who love you. Addicts are always alone on the inside, but perhaps the loneliest part of all is feeling like the drugs are your only friends when your real friends are sitting at your side staring at you and wondering why you won’t say a word. It’s kind of hard to talk when you’re that far gone.”

Former benzo addict Ashley Zlatopolsky, Salon Magazine, 2015

Outward symptoms of Xanax abuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Sleeping for extended periods of time
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Sluggishness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Delirium
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Vertigo
  • Impaired coordination
  • Weakness

Xanax is often abused with other drugs, primarily opioids and alcohol. Combining Xanax with other substances can result in severe side effects, like respiratory arrest, coma and even death. Symptoms of abuse will vary from person to person and depending on the combination of drugs taken.

The Dangers of Xanax

Xanax can be exceptionally dangerous  and even fatal when taken in large doses and/or in combination with alcohol or other drugs. When taken with alcohol, a small dose of Xanax can even be fatal.

Because Xanax is a sedative, there is a high risk of automobile or machinery accidents due to the decreased alertness and response time in the user. If a large dose of Xanax is taken, the user may experience severe sedation lasting possibly up to several days.

Prolonged use of Xanax can cause very serious side effects. Dangerous side effects include:


Aggression and impulsivity

Increased risk of dementia


Cognitive impairment


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Recognizing a Xanax Addiction

An addiction to Xanax causes consequences that affect all aspects of a user’s life.

Those addicted to Xanax will exhibit physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Requiring more of the drug to feel its effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Manic type moods
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of interest in normal daily activities
  • Strong cravings for the drug
  • Avoiding tasks that require sustained attention
  • Strained relationships with family and friends
  • Financial problems due to excessive spending on the drug

There is a quite distinct separation between Xanax abuse and a Xanax addiction. With recreational use of Xanax, the drug is abused for an event, like at a party or concert. The user may combine Xanax with alcohol and/or other drugs to achieve the desired high. These people can usually quit taking the drug without any of the severe side effects. When use of Xanax leads to both a physical and psychological dependency on the drug, that is an addiction.

Addicts to Xanax need it to function normally. They are not in control of their drug use, and that can be seen in all aspects of their life.

“I was manipulative, cunning and selfish. I learned how to lie through my teeth so well that lying to get what I wanted (drugs, mostly) became as natural as breathing. I stole from stores and pawned jewelry for drug money. When I disappeared into the deeper holes of my addiction, I told my friends and family I was sick and couldn’t leave the house, but in reality, I had passed out in the bathtub high….How do you know when you’ve hit rock bottom? Maybe it’s the day you finally realize your life is a disaster.”

Former benzo addict Ashley Zlatopolsky, Salon Magazine, 2015

Intervention and Next Steps

Many who develop an addiction are unaware they have a problem while others may suspect they are becoming dependent on the drug, but they are often in denial about their dependence.

It is very important to approach someone about their addiction carefully, so they will be responsive to your concerns and not become defensive. Xanax can cause aggression, rage and agitation, making it important that they are not confronted out of anger or while you are alone. The success of an intervention relies on a calm, professional approach and will result in the user agreeing to get help.

It may be best to hire a professional interventionist who can help you in the process of confronting a loved one about their drug problem. Interventionists are trained to deal with the addicted mind. They know the responses of addicts, so they can help prepare family members for the various possibke outcomes. An intervention should be planned in advance, with an interventionist doing research into family dynamics to determine the best course of action.

Rehab for Xanax Addiction

After someone has formed a Xanax addiction, they shouldn’t stop taking the drug “cold turkey.” Experts recommend that the user be placed on a medically supervised tapering program which will slowly wean them off, quitting the drug suddenly can lead to serious health effects, including seizures and possibly death. It is always recommended for those overcoming a Xanax addiction to start with a medical detox.

Those with a moderate to severe addiction to Xanax will benefit most from the high level of care provided in inpatient treatment centers. An outpatient program may be a more suitable option for those with a mild Xanax addiction.

For help finding a treatment program, please call us now.

What is Xanax Withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs when a person who has physical dependency on Xanax suddenly stops taking it. Without Xanax, a dependent person can’t function normally or feel normal, and they will often experience physical pain and psychological disturbances.

Xanax leaves the body more quickly than longer-acting benzodiazepines, this can cause sudden and severe withdrawal symptoms. Even the extended-release version of Xanax causes stronger withdrawal symptoms than most other benzodiazepines. Xanax is also 10 times as potent as drugs of the same class, like Valium and Klonopin and it hijacks the reward centers of the brain more intensely.

“Xanax has a very short half-life, which is a fancy way of saying that it goes into and out of the body very quickly. This property appears to make Xanax even more likely to cause emotional and physical dependency than other benzodiazepines. The short half-life means people will often start withdrawing from Xanax between scheduled doses, which tends to powerfully reinforce their psychological dependency of the medication.”

Dr. Charles Raison, CNNHealth, 2011

People who have taken benzodiazepines in high doses or for a longer periods of time generally have more intense withdrawal symptoms than those who do not.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Xanax is only intended for short-term use because of its high addiction potential. Some people have experienced withdrawal symptoms after taking Xanax for only a few weeks, even when on their prescribed dose.

The most common symptoms of withdrawal are:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Aggression
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
  • Muscle cramps and pain

Rebound Symptoms

Those who were prescribed Xanax for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or insomnia may experience rebound symptoms after quitting the drug. Rebound effects are intensified symptoms of a pre-existing disorder and may include anxiety, panic attacks and/or the inability to sleep. These symptoms usually fade away after a week, but the underlying disorder often requires specialized treatment.

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Duration of Withdrawal

While withdrawal from Xanax is more intense than from other benzos, it usually doesn’t last as long. Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, so its effects are felt sooner and are over quicker than most others. Withdrawal will start as soon as the body and brain are deprived of the drug. Therefore, withdrawal may start in as little as a few hours and will usually last for little more than a week.

In some cases, symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can appear two years after giving the drug up. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) or protracted withdrawal.

Xanax Withdrawal Timeline

First 6-12 hrs. Within the first six hours, the effects of Xanax wear off, and the effects of withdrawal start. As the body is starved of the drug, users will start experiencing anxiety and irritability that gets worse throughout the withdrawal period.
Days 1-4 The symptoms of Xanax withdrawal are at their peak during the first few days after stopping use. Rebound anxiety and insomnia are also at their peak. Other symptoms, such as shaking, muscle pain, and sweating are common occurances. After the fourth day, the withdrawal symptoms intensity typically begin to decrease.
Days 5-14 Withdrawal symptoms can last for up to two weeks after stopping. At this point, the worst is over, and symptoms tend to be less severe. Anxiety and insomnia may still persist.
Days 15+ Lingering symptoms should be mild. Protracted withdrawal symptoms may begin suddenly, even if the initial withdrawal symptoms are gone. Protracted withdrawal symptoms tend to fluctuate and can last up to two years.

Xanax Detox

Tapering down use is the safest, and most effective, way to detox from Xanax and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

“Following a sudden withdrawal or even too-rapid taper, the brain thinks it’s being injured, so it marshals all these other mechanisms to try and mitigate these reactions…fatigue, disorientation, malaise, severe panic and startle reactions, nerve pain, muscle aches, short-term memory loss. Xanax withdrawal especially can be dangerous, even fatal, which is why you need a slow, individualized taper.”

Dr. Peter Madill, Huffington Post, 2015

Medically assisted detox is the most effective way to get clean and avoid health complications. Medical detox programs help keep patients comfortable and minimize the effects of withdrawal. This is the safest form of detox, as doctors are close by in the event that withdrawal symptoms should become life-threatening.

Treatment for Xanax Addiction

Many inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer detox as the first step. These programs help Xanax users beat their physical dependence, while also addressing the psychological aspects of addiction. Treatment for Xanax addiction will give you your best chance at a successful recovery.

For help finding a treatment program, please call us today.

Xanax Addiction Treatment

Breaking free from a Xanax addiction is best managed within a rehab center.

Many inpatient rehab facilities offer medically assisted detox to help with the withdrawal process.

Residential inpatient programs provide therapeutic treatments to ensure a successful recovery.

If inpatient rehab is not a viable option due to outside responsibilities or time restraints, a quality outpatient program may be a good alternative for those with mild addictions. An outpatient program with medically supervised detox will help make the withdrawal process safer and more bearable. After detox, the user will be able to attend counseling and support groups on an outpatient basis.

Aftercare for a Xanax addiction is important as it provides support and ongoing counseling a person early in recovery will need to prevent relapse. Ongoing services may include group therapy, individual therapy and a 12-step program.

“Keep an open mind. Trust that [treatment] can work.”

Vinny, formerly addicted to benzos and other drugs

Treatment Centers for Xanax Addiction Treatment

It is important to find a rehab that specializes in treatment for your specific addiction. Recovering from a Xanax addiction means learning to cope with anxiety and difficult situations without drugs, which can be learned through therapy and counseling. Tthe best rehabs for Xanax addiction treatment include:

Inpatient Xanax Rehab

Inpatient rehab is one of, if not, the most effective treatment options for Xanax addiction. These programs provide you with absolutely the highest level of care, support, and structure.

Most residential treatment programs last from 28 days to a couple months. The length of the program will depend on how severe the addiction is and whether there are any co-occurring mental disorders.

After detox, the psychological symptoms of Xanax addiction are targeted through one-on-one therapy. These sessions help change the user’s response to stimuli that trigger their drug use. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one therapy that has proven extremely effective at treating most behaviors of addiction.

Inpatient therapy offers many treatment therapies and options, including but not limited too:

Questions about treatment?

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Outpatient Treatment and Relapse Prevention Strategies

For mild cases of Xanax addiction, outpatient treatment programs offer medical detox as an alternative to inpatient rehab. These programs may be a better fit for individuals who don’t have flexibility in their schedules needed for inpatient treatment or may be the sole caregiver for young children. Outpatient services include family therapy, counseling, continuing education, relapse prevention methods and support groups.

For newly recovering Xanax addicts, relapse prevention needs to be a huge part of their ongoing treatment program. Breaking old habits and solidifying new behaviors learned in therapy doesn’t happen overnight—it will take time. Knowing how to prevent relapse can help with maintaining sobriety until these newly learned behaviors become a natural way of life.

Tips for avoiding relapse:

  • Know your triggers – During treatment, the user will identify the triggers—people, places or things—that caused their Xanax abuse. Learning to avoid and/or manage these triggers is extremely important when it comes to preventing a future relapse.
  • Reduce stressors – Stress can be a trigger for Xanax abuse, so learning to reduce stress and coping techniques can help a person in recovery avoid a relapse. Three ways to reduce stress include exercise, deep breathing and meditation.
  • Have a support system – Twelve-step programs offer fellowship with others who are committed to long-term sobriety from addiction. Being accountable to the group or a sponsor is powerful motivation to remain sober.
  • Avoid people use drugs– It’s important for recovering users to be surrounded by people who support and encourage their sobriety. While it can be hard to say goodbye to old friends, recovery has to be a priority—which means cutting loose any bad influences.
  • Get healthy – Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and learning to manage stress provides a foundation for a healthy mind and body. The stronger a person feels less likely he or she will feel the need to turn back to Xanax on bad days.
  • Keep busy – In recovery, boredom is not your friend. Stay busy, find a new hobby or reclaim an old passion. Art, music, blogging, hiking and reading can occupy the mind and give you a sense of purpose and meaning.

“Get professional help, you can’t do it alone…Stay away from people, places and things that trigger you. Attend meetings, get a good sponsor and give it 100 percent. Don’t get over confident and be patient—it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Guy, formerly addicted to Xanax and other drugs

Get Help Now

Xanax addiction is treatable. There are a many options available for inpatient or outpatient Xanax addiction treatment. You first must admit that you have a problem, and that you’re ready to be free of it.

Take the first step in overcoming your addiction today. Please call today for help finding treatment.