Anxiety disorders currently rank at the top of the list of most common mental health concerns in the United States. Medications prescribed to help people manage their anxiety are therefore becoming increasingly common. These medications most often belong to a class of mild tranquilizers called benzodiazepines, or “benzos.” They include brand names such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin and Ativan, and generic names alprazolam, diazepam and clonazepam, among several others. These medications can be lifesavers for people with severe anxiety; as a mental health disorder, anxiety can be debilitating, and having a way to manage symptoms when they arise can mean the difference between leading a fulfilling life and feeling too afraid to leave the house.
Despite their legitimate uses, these drugs are still mind-altering substances. For people with a real need for a prescription, the changes that these drugs cause are helpful. But if you take these drugs recreationally, or if you take them in ways other than as directed, you are putting yourself at risk for developing an addiction. A 2017 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration found that approximately 1.7 million Americans aged 12 and older had misused tranquilizers like Xanax within the last month, and that 739,000 people met the criteria for being addicted to these drugs. The increasing availability of benzodiazepines like Xanax means that people are able to get prescriptions or use others’ prescriptions to access these drugs for illicit use. If you or your loved one has access to anxiety medications and you are worried that they are addicted, we encourage you to reach out to get help as soon as you can.
What is Xanax Addiction?
Xanax and similar medications are depressant drugs, which means they lower activity in your nervous system to make you feel calmer. Overactivity in the brain is what leads to anxiety or panic attacks, so using these drugs to decrease the racing thoughts can help when symptoms arise. But if you take more Xanax than directed, or if you take it when you aren’t feeling anxious or panicked, you’ll experience a sleepy, pleasant high thanks to the drug’s tranquilizing effects. Xanax floods the brain with chemicals that slow down fight or flight responses and boost feelings of happiness and reward. But as it wears off, the rush of euphoria fades and leaves all the affected neural pathways empty. This comedown can actually cause anxiety symptoms to worsen, or to make someone who doesn’t have anxiety disorder feel panicked, depressed or otherwise agitated.
Taking Xanax recreationally on a regular basis results in long-term changes in brain chemistry that manifest as similar symptoms. When you aren’t high, you’ll nearly constantly feel these twinges of anxiety, which can make you feel like you need more of the drug. It’s also easy to build a tolerance to Xanax, so you’ll need to start taking higher doses to achieve the same calming effects. The more you take and the longer you take it for, the worse your dependence will get. Eventually, this becomes a fully fledged addiction where you feel unable to get through your day without Xanax and will experience withdrawal symptoms if you don’t have access to the drug.
Signs of Xanax Addiction
Xanax addiction has several warning signs, but can be harder to detect if it arises in someone who originally started taking these drugs for a legitimate reason. If you or your loved one has a prescription for Xanax for anxiety, it’s essential to be very careful and always check in with your doctor to make sure your use is still necessary and normal. Watch for signs of Xanax abuse and addiction, including:
- Signs of being high — drowsiness, euphoria, dilated pupils
- Drug-seeking behavior (visiting multiple doctors or refilling the prescription without consulting their prescribing doctor)
- Running out of their prescription very quickly
- Taking higher doses of the drug over time
- Periods of extreme agitation in between periods of calm
- Other mood swings or irritability
- Changes in interests or friend groups
- Poor performance at work or in school
- Heightened symptoms of anxiety
If you are seeing any of these signs in yourself or a loved one, please consult with a medical professional — you may be addicted to or developing a dependence on Xanax or a similar benzodiazepine. Don’t brush off signs of drug abuse just because the drug in question is a prescription medication — all drugs can be harmful if used incorrectly. It’s important to get real recovery treatment: first you will need medically monitored detox to ensure that you get through withdrawal safely, and then you will need comprehensive recovery care to learn the best ways to manage your addiction in independent life.
Treating Xanax Addiction
Struggling with addiction can make you feel hopeless, isolated and caught in an inescapable cycle. But it is possible to get effective treatment for Xanax or benzodiazepine addiction, and to learn to live a sober life free from the chains of substance abuse. Treatment centers like The Kimberly Center are here to help. After undergoing detox to heal your body from addiction, we are here to offer a range of flexible outpatient programs to lead you back to a fulfilling, substance-free life. In our programs, we focus on holistic therapies that teach you sustainable skills for long-term recovery without relapse. We equip you with healthier coping mechanisms to deal with symptoms of anxiety or any other concerns that led you to substance abuse, so you won’t feel like you need to use Xanax or other substances in the future. We also help you discover new hobbies and habits so you can replace drugs with constructive activities.
And we do all of this with a personalized focus on each person. We work one-on-one with every client to create a treatment plan that meets their needs and accounts for their interests and strengths. We want to be sure that the treatment we provide will work just for you — since every person is different and everyone’s journey through addiction and recovery is equally unique, treatment must also be tailored with attention to the individual. Our therapies include a range of evidence-based approaches, such as individual and group therapy, family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, so you can find which methods work best for you. We also offer a range of levels of care to account for busy schedules or outside responsibilities, including:
- Intensive Outpatient Program
- Outpatient Program
- Continuing Care Program
- Sober Living
- Long-Term Treatment
Contact The Kimberly Center
The Kimberly Center is located in Fort Myers, Florida, and provides high-quality addiction recovery treatment for adult men and women. We focus on helping our clients build their support systems and rediscover their confidence, giving them the tools they need to succeed in independent life after treatment. If you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with Xanax addiction, benzodiazepine addiction, alcoholism or other drug addiction, treatment at The Kimberly Center might be right for you. We can also help connect you with other resources that are appropriate for your needs. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and to find out if we can provide the help you need.