The way that prescription drugs like Xanax (alprazolam) produce their effects is by altering certain chemicals in the brain. When taken as prescribed, Xanax has the ability to slow down activity in the brain, resulting in feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Abusing Xanax by taking large or multiple doses can result in more intense effects, including euphoria. Alprazolam abuse can also cause many other unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects, including impaired motor control and low blood pressure.
Taking high doses of Xanax or abusing it for an extended period of time can increase the risk of long-term effects on mood, memory, and behavior. It can also put a person at greater risk for overdose and severe dependence.
What Is Xanax Used For?
Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a drug belonging to the benzodiazepine (benzo) drug class. The most common uses for Xanax are as a treatment for anxiety and panic disorders due to its sedating effects.
One of the most effective – and dangerous – appeals of Xanax compared to some other anti-anxiety drugs is its potency. Xanax is about ten times more potent than the anti-anxiety drug, Valium, which allows it to cause strong effects in smaller doses. It is also fast-acting, making it effective for relieving acute panic or anxiety attacks.
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Xanax is not known to be effective for long-term use. As the body develops a tolerance to the drug, people may notice a decrease in its effectiveness within the first few weeks of use.
Chronic use of Xanax can also cause the body to become physically dependent on the drug, even when taken as prescribed. This can make it difficult to stop taking the drug and increase the risk for abuse and addiction.
How Is Xanax Abused?
Many people abuse Xanax recreationally or begin abusing it after initially taking it as prescribed by a doctor. People that abuse Xanax for recreational purposes may swallow illegally-obtained tablets, crush and snort the drug, inject, or smoke it.
A common appeal of Xanax is its ability to produce a high in larger doses. This can create feelings of relaxation, pleasure, and lower a person’s inhibition. The effects of Xanax on the brain can also make a person want to take more of the drug. This can increase the chance of falling into a pattern of regular Xanax abuse, which is a common precursor for addiction.
What Does Xanax Abuse Do To Your Brain?
Xanax activates a brain chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which slows brain activity and other functions throughout the body. This can produce several physical and mental effects, such as lessened anxiety, drowsiness, and slower reflexes.
As a short-acting benzodiazepine, Xanax moves through a person’s system fairly quickly. The effects most often kick in between 15 and 60 minutes, and can last between three and four hours.
Taking Xanax without a prescription, or in any way other than prescribed, can be risky. Although it can be effective for short-term therapeutic use, abusing Xanax can make changes in the brain that make it harder to stop taking it. This can lead to a psychological addiction to the drug, causing a person to crave Xanax and feel agitated between doses.
Thus, the question of what does Xanax do to your brain can be answered in a few different ways, depending on how a person takes it, in what amount, and for how long.
Short-Term Effects Of Xanax Abuse On The Brain
Compared to several other anti-anxiety drugs, Xanax is fast-acting, allowing people to feel its effects fairly quickly. Initial effects, especially for people with a low tolerance, include drowsiness and a sense of calm.
Taking excessive doses of Xanax, or using a recreational method of use (e.g. snorting, injecting), can result in more intense effects affecting both the mind and body.
The short term effects of Xanax abuse on the brain include:
- slurred speech
- poor concentration
- changes in appetite
Long-Term Effects Of Xanax Abuse On The Brain
Long-term use of Xanax can have lasting effects in the brain due to its interaction with GABA and a gradual buildup of the drug in the body. This can lead to drug tolerance and dependence, which can grow more severe with time.
In addition to this, Xanax abuse can also have long-term effects on mood, behavior, and cognitive functions like memory.
Changes In Mood And Behavior
Many people originally take Xanax to help them relieve severe anxiety or stress. Short-term, therapeutic use of Xanax can be effective for this. Long-term use of the drug, however, has shown to cause an increase in anxiety over time, especially when abused.
This can cause people to feel anxious and agitated throughout the day, and make it difficult to concentrate on anything outside of getting or taking another Xanax. People may also begin feeling depressed due to how the drug abuse is affecting their life, or as a result of its effects in the brain.
Other effects on mood and behavior can include:
- mood swings
- hostile or strange behavior
- isolating from others
- engaging in risky behaviors
Several research studies have found that chronic or heavy Xanax use can cause short-term memory loss. This is listed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as one of the more serious side effects of Xanax requiring immediate medical attention.
Memory problems are even more likely among people who abuse Xanax in high doses. Chronic and heavy abuse of Xanax can have impactful changes in the brain that alter its ability to function normally. In addition to memory problems, people may also experience difficulty with concentration, speaking, and coordination.
Xanax Dependence And Addiction
Chronic use of Xanax can lead to physical and psychological dependence on the drug, even when taking it as prescribed. This can cause people to experience symptoms of withdrawal once the effects of the drug begin to wear off.
Symptoms of withdrawal can range from physical to psychological, and be mild or severe in nature. Severe dependence can make some of these symptoms feel unbearable if not followed by another dose. This may include sweating, intense anxiety, and seizures in severe cases.
The severity of Xanax withdrawal symptoms, especially in those that regularly abuse the drug, is a common struggle in those with dependence. This, in addition to a compulsion to keep taking the drug, can make a person feel forced to take it multiple times a day just to get by.
Dependence and addiction only grow worse over time, and can lead to serious health consequences if left untreated. The most effective way to prevent lasting effects of Xanax on the brain is to seek professional help.
Treatment For Xanax Abuse And Addiction
Many effects of Xanax addiction, including short-term memory loss, are treatable and can get better in time. Although some mental effects of Xanax abuse can in some cases be permanent, the brain is also a complex organ that is capable of healing with proper treatment.
The first step for many people seeking help for Xanax abuse is to enter a medical detox program. Although Xanax withdrawal is rarely deadly on its own, it can be dangerous to undergo without medical support. Medical detox services are commonly integrated into inpatient addiction programs to help patients safely withdraw from moderate to severe drug dependence.
Inpatient programs also offer other effective services such as dual-diagnosis programs and behavioral therapy. These can be helpful during the recovery process to help patients learn coping strategies for dealing with their triggers and working through other emotional struggles.
Recovery from Xanax addiction is possible, and you’re not alone. Contact us today to find the right treatment program for you or a loved one today.