What Is Xanax? — Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects
For people struggling with certain mental health issues, prescription medications can help manage their condition. Xanax is one such medication that works to balance out the chemicals in the brain to treat panic disorders, anxiety, or depression. This medication, also referred to as alprazolam, belongs to the group of drugs known as benzodiazepines and is currently the most prescribed anxiety medicine in the United States.
How Does Xanax Work?
Taking this medication increases the number of neurotransmitters in the brain that help a person relax, be calm, and feel better. When taken correctly, Xanax effectively slows down the movement of unbalanced brain chemicals and helps relieve tension and anxiety. Because this drug is so powerful and can be addictive, it is recommended for use only for up to six weeks.
How to Get a Xanax Prescription
It is important to receive a Xanax prescription from a doctor and not an outside source. A physician will be able to determine if Xanax is right for you based on your symptoms. Combining Xanax with other medicines can be detrimental, so you must let your doctor know all the prescriptions, medications, and vitamins you might already be taking.
Why Is Xanax Prescribed?
Typically, Xanax is for those suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Compared to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that can take several weeks to increase serotonin levels in the brain for more of a long-term solution, Xanax can be used for anxiety when short-term help is needed to alleviate symptoms that come on quickly. Xanax is not a solution for an extended period of time and is typically intended for use for six weeks or less. While it is not a cure for anxiety, it can help with the immediate symptoms one can experience from anxiety or panic attacks.
Panic attacks do not discriminate and can happen to anyone, at any place, at any time. Furthermore, they can come on rather quickly, sometimes without warning. Xanax can de-escalate panic attacks and be used preemptively in certain situations, such as before getting on a plane if you fear flying. Doctors recommend taking Xanax about an hour before the stressful event, especially for those suffering from social anxiety or specific phobias.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD occurs when an individual has a difficult time recovering after witnessing or experiencing a terrifying and traumatic event. This condition can last weeks, months, or even years. With triggers, memories of the trauma can be accompanied by intense physical and emotional reactions. Some symptoms can include avoidance of people, places, and situations that might bring back memories from the trauma, nightmares, heightened reactions, depression, and anxiety.
As with anxiety and panic attacks, Xanax can bring immediate relief when someone is experiencing symptoms of PTSD. However, since this drug is linked to drug dependence, working with a doctor or therapist to find a longer-term solution is ideal.
What Symptoms Does Xanax Help to Alleviate?
As its primary purpose is to treat anxiety and panic attacks, Xanax is used to lessen some of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Clammy hands
- Exaggerated startle response
What Are Some Side Effects of Xanax?
In the early days and weeks of using Xanax, you will likely experience some side effects. However, upon further use of the drug, these tend to lessen. Some side effects can include:
- Low energy
- Impaired coordination
- Memory impairment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chest pain
- Slurred speech
- Strange dreams
Is Xanax Addictive?
Unfortunately Xanax is considered a highly addictive drug, even for those who have never abused drugs before. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that taking Xanax can lead to dependence, especially when taken longer than a month.
As their body becomes accustomed to the dosage, some people will increase the amount prescribed, seeking for the same or a more significant effect. Often, individuals don’t realize they are addicted until it is too late. At that point, they may try to decrease their dose but then experience withdrawal symptoms that mirror their initial anxiety, leading some users to think they cannot cope without Xanax. Many will then continue abusing the drug, not realizing that the substance-induced symptoms will dissipate if they stop using Xanax altogether.
As with all drugs, you don’t need to be prescribed this particular medication to become addicted. Taken unnecessarily or in overly large dosages, Xanax can cause intense euphoric feelings, making it a popular option for recreational drug abuse. And because Zanax is so widely prescribed, it can be relatively easy for abusers to find.
According to SAMHSA, the risk for drug dependency for teenagers, college students, and people with mental illness has peaked in recent years. This is especially concerning for younger people who may be doing long-term irreversible damage to their brains and bodies.
What Are the Symptoms of Xanax Withdrawal?
Varying based on a users’ level of dependency, withdrawal symptoms can occur within a few hours of the last Xanax dose and will be most severe the first few days. These symptoms can include:
- Muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness in hands or fingers
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light or sound
Is It Safe to Detox at Home?
The detox process from any drug can be painful, difficult, dangerous, and potentially fatal. Detox leaves both the mind and the body vulnerable, which can raise the risk of an overdose. Home-based detox is not recommended. Instead, those with addiction are encouraged to seek out medically supervised detox facilities.
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