Xanax Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects
Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication that is fairly addictive and often abused. It is part of a class of drugs called benzodiazepines that slow down the central nervous system. Xanax may be prescribed for anxiety disorders and panic attacks. This drug acts as a tranquilizer by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that calms down activity in the brain.
People who use Xanax can quickly become psychologically and physically dependent on it. Individuals should only take Xanax as it has been prescribed to them. If they take it at high doses, for long periods of time or recreationally, it can lead to addiction. People using Xanax should be aware of its side effects and talk to a healthcare provider if they feel like they are losing control over their Xanax use.
Signs of Xanax Abuse
How is Xanax abused? Many people take the medication for far longer than what was originally prescribed to them because they are afraid they can’t cope without it. Others find that they enjoy the effects of Xanax, and they take it in higher doses than their doctors recommended. Many young adults also get this drug from friends or family and use it without a prescription.
Misuse can easily lead to physical tolerance, where a person’s body adjusts to always having the drug around and they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it. Psychological dependence can also occur, where a person finds themselves unable to control their Xanax use. If not addressed, dependence can easily become more severe and lead to addiction.
It is only recommended that people take Xanax for up to six weeks. Unfortunately, it may only take a month for people to develop a mental or physical tolerance to Xanax, even when it’s used at low doses. The higher dose a person takes, and the longer they use Xanax, the more likely addiction becomes. People should only take Xanax as prescribed, and avoid recreational Xanax use in order to lower the chances that they will become addicted.
Signs of Xanax abuse include:
- Experiencing cravings for the drug
- Wanting to reduce or eliminate Xanax use, but not being able to
- Needing to take higher doses of Xanax to feel the same effect
- Spending a lot of time or energy trying to find, buy or use more Xanax
- Having problems at school, work or in relationships because of Xanax use, but not being able to stop
People who are experiencing these symptoms may have a Xanax use disorder. Once someone becomes addicted to Xanax, it can be very difficult to stop using it without professional help. Rehab centers offer many different types of treatment programs to help people learn to get back in control of their Xanax use.
Xanax Side Effects
Xanax makes people feel relaxed and reduces feelings of panic or agitation. Benzodiazepines also typically influence dopamine levels in the brain, which can produce a euphoric high. Xanax side effects can range from mild to severe, depending on a person’s dose. Side effects may be worse in people who are older or in poor physical health. They may also have negative side effects when combined with other drugs or alcohol.
Any side effects, such as hives, trouble breathing or swelling of the face or throat may be a sign of an allergic reaction to Xanax. People should get immediate medical attention if they experience these symptoms.
Short-Term Side Effects of Xanax
Xanax acts quickly, with effects being able to be felt within one or two hours. People who take Xanax may experience:
- Dizziness and coordination problems
- Nausea or vomiting
- Problems with memory or focusing
- Feeling sad or irritable
- Slurred speech
- Blurry vision
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mouth
Anyone who is going through these or other short-term side effects of Xanax should talk to their doctor. A doctor may want to lower the dose of Xanax or prescribe a different medication that may not cause the same side effects. Rarely, people may experience more severe side effects like shortness of breath, hallucinations, jaundice or seizures. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should get medical attention right away.
Long-Term Side Effects of Xanax
Common side effects of Xanax in people who have been taking the drug over a long period of time include:
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss or gain
- Absent or missed periods
- Low sex drive
Xanax use may also lead to developing dementia in the future. One study found that the longer a person took benzodiazepine medications, the higher their likelihood of developing dementia was, with people taking Xanax for more than six months having an 84% increased chance of developing the disease.
Those who are struggling with long-term side effects of Xanax may need to talk to their doctor about whether they should stop using the drug. Help is available for people who are having trouble giving up Xanax.
Physical Effects of Xanax
Xanax causes the processes in the body to slow down drastically. This often results in extreme tiredness among people who use it often. The effects of Xanax on the body may also include weight gain because people tend to be much less active while taking the medication. It can cause someone’s appetite to increase and lead to binge eating. On the other hand, in some people, Xanax can lead to weight loss because it causes their appetite to be repressed.
Effects of Xanax on Brain
Long-term Xanax use can cause brain damage, which can affect a person’s mental function. People who use Xanax may start to have difficulty focusing or concentrating on tasks, be confused or irritable, and become extremely forgetful. People around them may notice that they are starting to forget about plans or deadlines, and this may affect their performance at work or school. Other effects of Xanax on the brain may include being more likely to take risks. People who chronically use Xanax might attempt extreme physical feats or engage in risky sexual behavior.
Xanax use can also affect a person’s mental health. People on Xanax may become very depressed, and start thinking about committing suicide. Anyone who receives treatment for Xanax misuse may also need help addressing mental health issues. People struggling with co-occurring disorders like depression should look for a rehab facility that offers dual diagnosis treatment and can address both addiction and mental health disorders at the same time.
Mixing Xanax and alcohol or other street drugs is not a good idea. When people take Xanax along with opioids such as Vicodin, morphine or cough syrup that contains codeine, they are at serious risk for breathing difficulties, coma and death. Nearly a third of opioid overdoses occur while a person is also taking benzodiazepines. Additionally, mixing cocaine and Xanax is fairly common because the drugs have counteracting effects and benzodiazepines can help people come down more comfortably from a cocaine high. People may also mix Xanax and Adderall for similar reasons. However, taking any of these drugs together increases their negative side effects and puts people at a higher risk of experiencing an overdose.
Other drugs that Xanax may interact with include antidepressants, pain killers, sleeping pills, contraceptives, antibiotics, heart medications, over-the-counter drugs like cold or allergy medicine and herbal supplements like St. John’s wort. People who use Xanax should make sure their health care provider knows about all the drugs they’re taking, and talk to a doctor or pharmacist if they’re not sure whether they should be mixing Xanax with a certain type of medication.
Taking Xanax While Pregnant
Xanax use can cause birth defects, so taking Xanax during pregnancy should be avoided. People who have been taking Xanax for anxiety should talk to their doctor to see if they can use a different anti-anxiety medication in order to avoid these negative effects. Xanax should also not be used while breastfeeding as it can be excreted in milk and affect nursing babies.
Signs of a Xanax Overdose
People who take too much Xanax at once may experience an overdose. Xanax overdose symptoms include:
- Sudden or extreme tiredness
- Coordination problems
- Passing out
If someone using Xanax starts experiencing any of these effects, contact the poison control center helpline for immediate help (800-222-1222). Xanax overdoses often result in a person’s breathing slowing or stopping completely. If someone appears to be having breathing difficulties, or if they are having seizures, call 911 to get emergency medical care. Someone experiencing a Xanax overdose can be given flumazenil to help counteract the dangerous side effects.
Anyone who experiences severe Xanax side effects or struggles to stop using Xanax may have a substance use disorder. Call The Recovery Village Ridgefield if you or a loved one would like to learn more about breaking free from Xanax dependence. Our expert team can help you learn how to live a life free from substance use.
Billioti de Gage, Sophie; et al. “Benzodiazepine use and risk of Alzheimer’s disease: case-control study.” The BMJ, September 9, 2014. Accessed August 31, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.” March 2018. Accessed August 31, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What classes of prescription drugs are commonly misused?” Misuse of Prescription Drugs, December 2018. Accessed August 31, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.