Is Xanax a Controlled Substance? – Xanax (alprazolam) is one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines (benzos) in the U.S. to treat anxiety and seizures. Xanax is classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) as a Schedule IV substance, implying that it has some, albeit low, potential for abuse and dependence.
Xanax has been associated with many legitimate medical purposes, but many individuals abuse Xanax for the calming, rewarding, and euphoric feelings it produces. Repeated use or abuse can lead to both dependence and full-blown addiction. Discontinuing the use of Xanax abruptly or “cold-turkey” can result in seizures, severe rebound anxiety, and other potentially hazardous health complications.
Health providers often prescribe Xanax to treat symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder, but it is sometimes also used to treat seizures or sleeping difficulties. Xanax is a benzo and CNS (central nervous system) depressant that decreases activity in the brain and body, causing feelings of relaxation and sedation. These effects are precisely why many people abuse Xanax—to achieve relief from anxiety and induce feelings of being mildly drunk or high, not unlike alcohol.
However, also like heavy alcohol consumption, Xanax abuse can be dangerous. It can impair a person’s decision-making abilities, motor skills, and the response time required for safe driving, among other issues.
Is Xanax Addictive?
If Xanax is not used as prescribed by a physician, Xanax is considered one of the most addictive benzos available. Those who have abused this medication can become dependent and experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using it. They may experience rebound anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and dysphoria—effects that can make discontinuing use of the drug challenging.
Withdrawal from extended abuse of Xanax can be life-threatening. To recover from Xanax dependence, a person should be tapered off the prescription drug by gradually decreasing doses over the course of several weeks. Health providers and addiction professionals should guide this weaning process closely to ensure safety.
How Xanax Is Used as Prescribed
Physicians may prescribe Xanax because it is an intermediate-acting benzo, meaning its effects subside sooner than longer-acting benzos, such as Valium (diazepam). People who use Xanax usually start to experience effects within 10-15 minutes, which peak after about 30 minutes and typically wear off after about six hours.
When Xanax is administered according to a prescription, common side effects can include the following:
- Memory problems
- Reduced appetite
- Difficulty speaking/slurring
- Impaired concentration
- Sleep disturbances
- Lethargy and drowsiness
Xanax is considered safe for use in most adults. Benzos rarely cause life-threatening overdoses when taken independently (even in excessive doses) but can lead to dangerous complications when used in conjunction with other CNS depressants, such as opioids or alcohol.
Those who take Xanax for recreational purposes often mix it with alcohol, marijuana, or other intoxicating substances. Combining Xanax with other drugs is hazardous because they can interact with each other in unpredictable ways and compound one another’s effects. When used concurrently, these substances can cause a person to pass out and reduce respiration to a perilously low rate.
How Xanax Use Can Lead to Dependence and Addiction
Physicians usually start patients who have not been exposed to benzos with relatively low doses of Xanax, such as 0.25-0.5 mg. Of note, individuals who regularly take this drug for an extended period will develop a tolerance, meaning that they will require higher and higher doses over time to achieve the same effects. Those who have developed a tolerance to Xanax may begin to need amounts exceeding 4mg per day, thereby also increasing their risk of dependence and addiction.
Dependence is a condition that occurs after the prolonged use of a substance that results in the brain and body’s adaption to its presence. When the drug is removed, the body can no longer function in the way in which it has been accustomed. As a result, the person begins to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as the body works to restore the balance of chemicals.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms can include the following:
- Increased anxiety
- Insomnia/sleep disturbances
- Suicidal ideations
- Uncontrollable shakiness
Being dependent on a benzo such as Xanax is not always dangerous. Some individuals need the medication to control anxiety or panic disorder, and despite dependence, experience few adverse effects. Physical dependence is just a single aspect of addiction, not addiction in and of itself.
Addiction also includes a psychological component that is hallmarked by compulsive drug-seeking behavior and use despite adverse consequences that occur. Moreover, in many instances, persons who are genuinely addicted to Xanax begin to assume they require it to function. However, the anxiety they experience when they discontinue using the drug is actually a symptom of withdrawal, also known as rebound anxiety.
Dependence becomes problematic when individuals use Xanax for recreational purposes or misuse the medication without consulting their prescribing health provider. Persons with a legitimate prescription may, in some instances, develop an addiction to Xanax because they use the drug more frequently or in doses exceeding those as directed. As tolerance and dependence levels increase, they become increasingly desperate to use Xanax and are hopelessly unsure of how they can curb this behavior.
The abuse of Xanax can lead to many harmful side effects, including the following:
- Blurry vision
- Impaired coordination
The Timeline for Xanax Addiction
Because every individual’s circumstances are unique, some people will become addicted to Xanax more quickly than others. However, those who routinely use high doses of Xanax may be more likely to develop a full-blown addiction than those who use lower doses less often.
Using a benzo such as Xanax for longer than 3-4 weeks can lead to physical dependence, a condition that, as mentioned, can progress into addiction if a person begins obsessing over the attainment of and use of the drug and keeps doing so despite the potential for adverse consequences. For this reason, many health providers opt to limit Xanax prescriptions to a 1-2 week supply to prevent patients from developing a dependence.
Persons addicted to Xanax will seek the drug compulsively and may visit multiple physicians or pharmacies to obtain prescriptions (doctor-shopping) or purchase it illicitly on the black market. Likewise, these individuals may use alcohol in excess or abuse other depressant substances if they find themselves unable to access their drug of choice.
Xanax’s half-life is about 12 hours, meaning that it takes this amount of time for half of the dose of the drug to be eliminated from the bloodstream. Withdrawal symptoms usually onset within six hours of the last dose and peak after 12 hours. Severe symptoms can last for several days, and more intense Xanax dependencies have been associated with symptoms that can persist as long as two weeks.
As noted, discontinuing Xanax use without medical supervision can be dangerous and even life-threatening. However, detox centers can administer medication and offer other resources that can help relieve withdrawal symptoms as well as ensure the process is safe and as comfortable as possible.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers are specialized addiction treatment facilities that offer therapeutic services facilitated by compassionate, highly-skilled health and addiction professionals. Our caring staff is committed to providing each individual we treat with the tools, education, and support they need to achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and sustain long-lasting wellness and sobriety.