12 Jul Why is Xanax So Dangerous?
Xanax, the brand name for the benzodiazepine Alprazolam, has been described in previous articles as the most popularly prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the United States. We have also outlined the high risk for addiction associated with Xanax and also its rising popularity with teens and young adults.
As we touched on in our last discussion, Xanax is a very powerful central nervous system depressant and is extremely dangerous when combined with other narcotic substances. The intention of this post is to identify the substances most commonly abused with Xanax and how the trend of mixing benzodiazepines with other drugs has increased drug overdoses tremendously. We will also discuss the dangers of long-term abuse of multiple substances at once, the reasons which makes Xanax so dangerous.
Xanax and Depressants
Like opiates, alcohol and barbiturates, Xanax is a depressant. When a human ingests it, sedative effects are produced in the body that are calming both physically and emotionally, which is why it is an effective treatment for panic disorders and anxiety. Along with tranquilizing fear and negative emotions, Xanax also inhibits some normal bodily functions, such as slowing heart rate and respiratory function. In low doses and under proper medical advisement these are beneficial side effects for a patient experiencing a panic attack.
The danger arises when Xanax is mixed with other depressants such as alcohol and opiates like heroin or oxycodone. Because all of these substances act by slowing down the central nervous system, it is much more common to see drug related deaths when two or more of these substances are combined. Also to note, Xanax causes short-term memory loss, which can result in forgetting how much has already been taken and accidentally ingesting more than intended. According to the Center for Disease Control, at least 95 percent of all Xanax-related overdoses involved another drug. The most common combinations found by the CDC were oxycodone and heroin, which are both opioid depressants. This leads us to conclude that Xanax greatly exacerbates the effects of other sedatives and becomes a catalyst for overdose more often than not.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 8,000 people died of a drug overdose involving benzodiazepines in 2015, and each year this number continues to rise. Since 2002, overdose deaths involving alprazolam and other benzos increased by an astonishing four times the amount. It should be reiterated that under no circumstance could Xanax be used safely in addition to other depressant substances without risk of serious physical harm and possibly death.
Signs of a Xanax overdose include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe drowsiness and inability to stay awake
- Unresponsiveness or coma
- Labored breathing or lack there-of
- Coordination problems and loss of balance
Xanax and Stimulants
Stimulants are any substances that increase function of the central nervous system and often create feelings of euphoria in the user. Common stimulants that are mixed with Xanax are cocaine and methamphetamine and it is important to identify the risks associated with taking these substances simultaneously. When a sedative, such as Xanax is mixed with a stimulant such as cocaine, it can be referred to as “speed balling.” This form of drug abuse is extremely dangerous as it sends mixed messages to the body, causing fast fluctuations between highs and lows in reference to breathing, blood pressure and heart rate.
When overdose of these drugs occurs it is usually as a result of heart failure, due the heart’s inability to keep up with the demands of these two drastically different substances affecting it. Because these substances can also mask the side effects of the other, overdose is common because the user in unsure of really how intoxicated they are by the depressant, causing them to take too much to try to overcome the effects of the upper. Oftentimes people assume that because these substances have dissimilar effects on the body then they will cancel each other out. This is entirely untrue though and is extremely dangerous in the moment, not to mention that combining multiple substances for long periods of time increases the chances of dependence. This brings us to our next topic: poly-substance abuse.
Poly-Substance Abuse and Dependence
Over any extended period of drug abuse, physical dependence is usually the end result and this is no different for Xanax. Physical dependence is the phenomenon that occurs when a person cannot function normally without the particular substance and experiences symptoms of withdrawal when use is stopped. Essentially, dependence is addiction. It is not always confined to physical symptoms either, but is often accompanied by a slew of mental and emotional symptoms as well.
As difficult as detoxing from one substance can be, detoxing from multiple drugs is a beast in itself. Poly-substance abuse occurs for a few different reasons, though usually the motive for poly-substance abuse is that the user is not satisfied with the effects of just one drug and decides to up the ante by adding another drug to the mix. This behavior has extremely negative consequences both in the short term and long term. Obviously as we have discussed prior, mixing different sedatives for example can have major short-term consequences in the form of an overdose. But, what are the long-term risks of abusing multiple substances at once? One of these risks is the difficulty that arises when attempts are made at sobriety.
Treatment for Xanax Abuse
Treatment for multiple substances is more complex and often requires medical detox depending on which substances have been abused. In the case of say, Xanax and heroin, medically tapering down with long acting opioids as well as benzodiazepines may be necessary to avoid the dangerous withdrawal side effects of both drugs. Also, continued sobriety may become more difficult to achieve due to the myriad of post acute withdrawal symptoms of these multiple substances which could cause a lot of stress on the user.
Xanax abuse is a hot topic in modern discussions on drug addiction in America and more information will continue to unfold as time goes on. We must continue to educate ourselves on the dangers of prescription drug abuse and how it can be an easily overlooked yet seriously destructive force. Without discrediting the severity of mental illnesses, it should be said that many solutions to common illnesses exist without the need for narcotic prescription pills. Luckily awareness of addiction to medication is becoming more widespread and hopefully people will continue to seek other alternatives for relief besides abusing drugs. Professional help is available if you are experiencing an addiction to prescription drugs or you know someone who is.