Xanax is a brand-name medication containing the benzodiazepine drug, alprazolam. Alprazolam is the most widely prescribed and used benzodiazepine medication in the United States, with more than 48 million prescriptions dispensed each year.
While Xanax is safe and effective when taken as prescribed, it carries a potential for misuse and addiction. Xanax abuse and addiction can impact the mind and body in devastating, sometimes irreversible ways. Without treatment, the long-term effects of Xanax abuse can greatly reduce your quality of life.
If you or someone you love are struggling with Xanax addiction, please speak with one of our trusted admissions counselors at Woburn Wellness about starting treatment.
6 Long-Term Effects of Xanax Abuse
Xanax is typically prescribed for short-term use because regular, extended use can be harmful to your health. Six of the most common long-term effects of Xanax misuse are:
1. Physical Dependence
If you take Xanax regularly for an extended period of time (usually longer than two weeks) your body will adapt to the presence of the drug in the system. Xanax is a benzodiazepine and central nervous system (CNS) depressant, so it slows down bodily functions like breathing and respiration.
When you take Xanax, your body and its receptors must work overtime to compensate for these effects. However, when you stop taking Xanax after long-term use, your receptors will continue to fire as if the drug is in your body, leading to an excited, over-stimulated state, and resulting in symptoms of withdrawal. This phenomenon is called physical dependence and withdrawal.
If you are physically dependent, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal if you suddenly stop taking Xanax. Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:
- Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
- Panic attacks
- Drug cravings
- Suicidal ideation
Rapid Xanax discontinuation can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like psychosis, catatonia, or seizures, so it is always best to detox under close medical supervision.
Physical dependence is one of the first signs of addiction. Addiction develops after long-term, repetitive, and often compulsive abuse of a substance. People who are addicted may find it impossible to control or moderate their drug use. They may place their drug use as a higher priority than more important things like school, work, or family.
3. Cognitive Issues
In the short term, a common side effect of Xanax abuse is memory loss or blackouts. However, after regular use, this side effect can become more permanent. People may start having trouble forming new memories, learning new skills, or performing academic tasks. Studies show that Xanax abuse can also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, which are conditions indicated by poor memory and thinking skills.
4. Mental Health Problems
Xanax (alprazolam) produces higher levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Over time, the brain will require more and more dopamine to feel the same effects, and the receptors will become less sensitive to dopamine.
In the long term, this can lead to feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. Long-term Xanax abuse can also increase the risk of anxiety disorders, rebound anxiety during withdrawal, and other mood disorders like bipolar disorder.
5. Liver Damage
Xanax is metabolized in the liver, but the liver can only metabolize drugs so quickly. Taking too much Xanax can overwhelm the liver and impact its ability to function to the fullest, increasing the risk of liver injury. Long-term exposure to too much Xanax causes trauma to the liver and increases the risk of liver disease and liver failure.
Fortunately, research shows that the liver can begin repairing itself after drug use is ceased.
6. Cardiovascular Problems
Being a central nervous system depressant, Xanax slows down the heart rate and respiration. In extremely high doses, it can also stop breathing and cause respiratory depression, depriving the brain of oxygen and harming the brain and cardiovascular system.
After long-term use, some Xanax users report experiencing tachycardia (rapid heart rate), heart palpitations (feeling of fluttering in the heart), and other cardiovascular issues. Some studies suggest that benzodiazepine use can be a risk factor in severe cardiovascular events.
Avoiding the Long-Term Effects of Xanax Abuse With Drug Rehab
The best way to avoid damage to your health from Xanax abuse is to stop using the drug. If you are addicted to Xanax, this may mean seeking professional treatment at a medical detox and recovery center.
Addiction doctors are specifically trained to supervise and treat drug withdrawal, so they can help you slowly taper off Xanax by prescribing another long-acting benzodiazepine and gradually reducing your dose. Tapering can keep you safe and comfortable during detoxification so you can avoid the dangers of withdrawal.
After detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment centers can facilitate group and individual therapy sessions that help you address your substance abuse and adopt healthy coping skills to use instead. Treatment typically involves:
- Behavioral therapy
- Mental health counseling
- Holistic therapy
- Family therapy
- Aftercare support
The longer you stay sober, the more time your body has to heal and recover from the effects of Xanax misuse. However, staying sober is key, so it’s important to surround yourself with other sober individuals, attend support group meetings, and stay on top of your sobriety.
Find Help for Xanax Abuse and Addiction Today
At Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, we treat the whole person and their individual needs, helping individuals achieve lasting freedom from addiction. To learn about your benzodiazepine treatment options or to take the first step toward a happier, healthier life, please reach out to us today. Our caring admissions counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and help you get started.