Xanax is a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It works by depressing the nervous system, having a calming effect.
Abuse of prescription drugs in the US is high and there are higher rates of overdose from prescription drugs than street drugs. In 2020, 4.8 million people in the US reported misusing benzodiazepines in the last twelve months.
With long-term Xanax abuse, there is a high risk of developing dependence which makes it very difficult to quit. It is generally thought that snorting Xanax carries a higher risk of leading to dependence; however, there is little evidence to support this. Snorting Xanax can lead to long-term damage to your nose, throat, and respiratory pathway.
Seeking addiction treatment can be difficult, but we will talk about the process of quitting Xanax so that if you feel ready to quit, you have a better idea of the treatment process and treatment options.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescription drug that is taken in pill form as an extended-release tablet. It is used to treat panic and anxiety disorders.
Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam. It works by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. GABA reduces neuronal excitability, depressing the nervous system, and having a calming effect.
Benzodiazepines were first synthesized in 1955 by a chemist in the Hoffman-La Roche labs. Previously anxiety was treated with barbiturates, but they carried a high risk of developing tolerance, dependence, and overdose. Despite being used to replace these negative effects, benzodiazepines, including Xanax, still carry a high risk of abuse and addiction.
Abusing Xanax is the use of the drug in a way that is different from what was prescribed or taking fake Xanax. This includes taking:
- more than the prescribed dose
- a larger dose than prescribed
- Xanax prescribed for someone else
- Xanax in a different way than prescribed e.g., snorting or injecting
- fake Xanax bought illicitly
Xanax is taken recreationally for its euphoric, relaxant, and sedative effects. It is sometimes combined with other drugs to enhance depressant effects, ease a comedown from stimulants, or alleviate a bad psychedelic trip.
However, using Xanax with other depressants such as alcohol, ketamine, allergy medication, and opioids can be very dangerous. The effects of both can potentiate each other and be unpredictable. For example, mixing Xanax and opioids can cause memory loss, blackout, and respiratory depression.
Xanax is a Schedule IV controlled substance which means that it has a lower potential for drug abuse than Schedule III substances which can cause moderate or low physical or high psychological dependence. However, there is still the risk of developing dependence.
Using Xanax occasionally has a low risk of harm. However, if you use it for more than three to four weeks, dependence is likely to develop. Dependence is where the body and brain get used to the effects of the drug and react adversely when you stop taking it, causing you to experience withdrawal symptoms. It is therefore not recommended to take Xanax for more than one to two weeks.
When taken recreationally, Xanax can be taken as a pill, snorted, smoked, or injected.
While it is generally thought that snorting Xanax causes a stronger and faster onset of effects, there is actually no clear evidence of this. There is also some research to suggest that due to Xanax being water-insoluble, it is not absorbed easily through the nasal cavity and that most of the effect from snorting is due to unabsorbed residue dripping into the throat.
However, like with snorting any drug, there can be long-term effects of snorting Xanax.
Effects of Snorting Xanax
People who snort Xanax, especially for a long period, can develop long-term damage to their nose, throat, and respiratory system. The effects of snorting Xanax can be:
- Loss of smell
- Nasal irritation
- Nasal inflammation
- Damage to the nasal cavity
- Sinus infections
- Perforated septum
- Respiratory tract blockage
- Lung damage
Damage to Nose
Snorting Xanax causes damage to the nasal membrane. There is a loss of blood flow so that the membrane becomes thinner and can eventually disappear entirely. With heavier use, this can lead to a hole forming between your nostrils and even to the collapse of your nose as the cartilage breaks down.
In extreme cases, perforation of the nasal septum can get worse and lead to the perforation of the roof of your mouth.
Longer-term use can damage the throat and the upper respiratory system. This can cause upper respiratory infections including pneumonia and tuberculosis which increases the risk of throat or lung cancer.
Signs of snorting drugs
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Continually sniffing as though sick
- Having razors or crushing implements
Symptoms of Xanax Use
Those who abuse Xanax can experience both long-term and short-term side effects which are not specific to snorting the drug but are important to understand.
Short-Term Side Effects
- Reduction of anxiety and aggression
- Loss of time
- Weight gain or loss due to appetite fluctuation
- Poor coordination
- Muscular weakness
- Poor concentration and memory
- Emotional blunting
- Dry mouth
- Constipation and urination problems
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
Long-Term Side Effects
Even at therapeutic doses, Xanax can have long-term side effects, causing cognitive impairment which affects:
It may also increase your risk of dementia but evidence around this is still inconclusive.
The likelihood of negative effects is much greater with high doses.
Increased Risk for Taking Xanax
There are particular conditions and situations in which taking Xanax is especially risky.
- Angle-closure glaucoma – Xanax increases the pressure in your eyes which can be dangerous if you already have susceptible eyes.
- Regular cocaine use – If you use cocaine regularly, you are more sensitive to Xanax so the effects can be more intense.
- On the combined contraceptive pill – Taking Xanax while on the combined contraceptive pill should be done with caution as the hormones in the pill can slow your liver’s ability to metabolize Xanax, leading to stronger effects.
- Heart problems – Mixing stimulants and depressants when you have heart problems can be very dangerous as the two have opposite effects, one increasing heart rate, and the other decreasing heart rate. This can cause dysrhythmias and heart failure.
In 2020, approximately 12,290 people died from an overdose involving benzodiazepines.
The dose taken to overdose is dependent on personal factors including weight, gender, metabolism, and tolerance. It should be noted that there is cross-tolerance between benzodiazepines, so if you abuse a different type of benzodiazepine, you will develop a higher tolerance for Xanax.
Signs of a Xanax Overdose
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination and shuffling walk
- Irregular heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
There is a particularly high risk of overdose when taking fake Xanax as it can be cut with other drugs. If cut with fentanyl, this combination could cause a fatal overdose.
The first step of quitting drugs is detox. This is where you stop taking the drug so that the toxins leave your body. The most difficult part of detox is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. This happens when you have developed a dependency on a drug so that your body thinks that it needs the drug to feel normal.
There are two main ways of detoxing cold turkey and tapering.
- Cold turkey – where you stop taking the drug completely after the last dose. In severe cases, suddenly stopping taking Xanax can lead to life-threatening seizures or death.
- Tapering – where you stop taking the drug slowly, reducing the dose gradually. It is generally recommended to do this under the supervision of a medical professional. Withdrawal symptoms still need to be managed when tapering.
- Anxiety, panic attacks
- Increase in risk-taking behavior
- Increase in sexual arousal
- Hallucinations, paranoia, delirium
- Palpitations, tremor
- Muscle pain
- Hypersensitivity to senses
- Abnormal body sensations like pins and needles, tinnitus, metallic taste, etc.
- Derealization and depersonalization
Physical and psychological symptoms may take up to three weeks to appear after taking your last dose.
Unlike withdrawing from most drugs, craving is not a major problem when withdrawing from Xanax.
Cirque Lodge is a private and exclusive treatment center that offers an enriching rehabilitation experience. If you choose to become an inpatient with us you will receive a medically supervised detox so that you are as comfortable as possible.
We use a combination of techniques including cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, experiential therapy, and outdoor activities.
Seeking substance abuse treatment can be very difficult. If you would like more information about our treatment process, please visit our website.