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The Dangers of Abusing Xanax ‘Bars’

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Xanax (alprazolam) is the most frequently prescribed anti-anxiety medication in the United States. Though relatively safe when used as prescribed, Xanax may come with negative side effects and has caused many people to develop an addiction.

What Are Xanax Bars?

Xanax “bars” are 2 mg rectangular tablets of alprazolam, a benzodiazepine drug. When marketed under the Xanax brand name, these tablets are white. There are many generic 2 mg alprazolam pills that come in other colors, such as green or yellow. Though not branded as Xanax, these are also referred to as Xanax bars.

Alprazolam (Xanax) is a sedative-hypnotic drug that depresses the central nervous system (CNS) to help a person relax. Some people use Xanax to self-medicate, taking pills that were not prescribed to them or taking more than recommended by their doctor. Others simply enjoy the calming sensation that Xanax produces.

The 2 mg dosage of Xanax bars is the highest dose offered in a single immediate release tablet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions that taking more than 4 mg of Xanax per day (two Xanax bars) can lead to “severe emotional and physical dependence.”

The Dangers Of a Xanax Bar

As with many prescription drugs, side effects may occur even with the recommended use of Xanax. If the drug is used in excess of prescription guidelines, side effects are more likely, and they can be worsened by uncontrolled Xanax use.

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Side effects of abusing Xanax bars may include:

  • sleepwalking
  • memory loss
  • slurred speech
  • lack of coordination and balance
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • changes in appetite and weight
  • change in sex drive
  • dry mouth
  • constipation
  • nausea
  • mood swings
  • seizures

The most common way to use Xanax bars is orally or sublingually, by letting the pill dissolve underneath the tongue. Through these methods, the greatest amount of Xanax gets into a person’s system. Some people use Xanax by snorting (insufflation) and injection, though these methods are less common because they are less effective.

For Xanax bars to be snorted, they must first be crushed into a powder. When inhaled into the nose, Xanax irritates the nasal tissue and can cause nosebleeds. Over time, snorting Xanax can wear a hole through the nasal septum (wall between the nostrils).

Injection is not a popular mode of intake as Xanax bars are not water soluble (they do not dissolve in water). It is possible to dissolve them with propylene glycol, but this may be painful when injected. Injection drug use can also cause bacterial skin infections and spread diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

Can You Overdose On Xanax Bars?

When benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax (alprazolam) are used with other central nervous system depressants, the combination is very dangerous. Alcohol, opioids or other benzodiazepines combined with Xanax bars can cause the central nervous system to slow down too much, resulting in seriously depressed breathing, extreme sedation, and possibly coma or death.

Mixing Xanax bars with central nervous system stimulants, such as cocaine or Adderall (amphetamine) also raises the risk of overdose. Stimulant and depressant drugs have opposing effects and may counterbalance each other. The combination of euphoria and relaxation may be attractive, but it can lead people to think they need more of one drug or the other because the effects do not seem as strong.

When Xanax is taken with another substance (polysubstance use), it is hard to tell how much of each is a “safe” amount. Different drug combinations have different negative effects, and most of them increase the chance of overdose.

Why Do People Use Xanax Bars?

Xanax (alprazolam) is prescribed for severe cases of anxiety and panic attacks, but people without these issues may take the drug without a prescription for its sedative and calming properties. Even people who do have a Xanax prescription may take more of it to have a greater effect.

Xanax works by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This brain chemical regulates brain activity to promote calm and relaxation. Enhanced GABA functioning reduces anxiety during the day and can also help someone sleep at night.

Xanax Tolerance and Dependence

With regular use, Xanax (alprazolam) can cause a person to develop a tolerance. This means that their body needs more Xanax to relax to the same degree. Because of this, doctors recommend tapering off of a Xanax prescription rather than stopping it abruptly.

If someone uses Xanax by using it outside of prescription guidelines, they risk becoming physically dependent on it. When this happens, the body needs Xanax in order to function and exhibits uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like tremors, headaches or diarrhea if the person stops taking the drug.

Physical dependence is often accompanied by addiction. When a person uses Xanax, their brain chemistry begins to change. While the brain naturally produces gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), taking Xanax can cause the brain to produce less GABA to counterbalance the effects of the drug.

The brain begins to depend on Xanax to produce this chemical altogether, which leads a person to experience mental withdrawal symptoms like increased anxiety and depression if they stop taking Xanax. These unpleasant symptoms usually cause them to take more Xanax for relief, and the cycle of addiction continues.

Signs Of Xanax Use And Addiction

If someone uses Xanax or becomes addicted to it, they risk serious negative consequences on their life and health. Addiction to Xanax can result in total realignment of priorities so that obtaining and taking the drug becomes the most important thing.

Signs that someone may be addicted to Xanax bars include:

  • pills that are not prescribed to them, possibly stored in baggies
  • multiple prescriptions from different doctors (doctor shopping)
  • missed social obligations because of drug use
  • strained relationships with friends and family
  • financial struggles related to spending money on Xanax
  • strange behavior or hiding drug use
  • constant sedation or fatigue

Sometimes people can see that their loved one is suffering from addiction, but it can be hard to know how to help. Addiction is a chronic disease that is difficult to overcome alone. At Vertava Health, our compassionate staff provides each individual with the support they need to recover.

Find Recovery For Xanax Addiction

Our inpatient treatment programs for benzodiazepine addiction begin with detoxification. Since Xanax (alprazolam) can provoke an intense physical dependence even with prescribed use, it is necessary to rid the body of the drug before treating the addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms from Xanax can be life-threatening. Our medically assisted detox program ensures that individuals are monitored closely and kept safe as they go through the withdrawal process.

Once detox is completed, individuals seeking addiction recovery work with a medical professional to develop a personalized xanax treatment program. Each person has different needs, and we implement a combination of therapies individual and group counseling, motivational interviewing, art and adventure to give individuals the most relevant treatment.

We also offer dual diagnosis treatment to help those struggling with co-occurring disorders, such as addiction and anxiety. By addressing all of the unique issues related to Xanax use and addiction, we work to heal the whole person so they can find lasting recovery.