The effects last for only about 4 hours. While the average half-life of Xanax is around 12 hours, the drug is no longer effective in the system after 4 hours. For this reason, people who use Xanax may have to take it several times per day, depending on the prescription and severity of symptoms.
Many factors can influence how long Xanax stays in a person’s system, including the following:
- Height and weight
- Liver and kidney function
- Metabolic rate
- Urinary pH
- Presence of other substances
- Frequency of use
Uses for Xanax
Xanax (alprazolam) is a prescription benzodiazepine and central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It is most often prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, and seizures. Xanax is specifically approved for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder, though it may be used off-label to treat other conditions.
GAD is characterized by persistent and excessive concern about everyday life, the anticipation of adverse outcomes, uneasiness, and sleep difficulties. Panic disorder is associated with anxiety and occurs when a person encounters sudden panic attacks.
Panic attacks are typically accompanied by several terrifying symptoms, including the following:
- Changes in heart rate
- Chest pain
- Feelings of impending doom
- Fear of losing control or dying
Effects of Xanax
Xanax, like all benzodiazepines, works by improving the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA, a neurotransmitter, works to reduce nerve impulses throughout the body, and, in doing so, induces sedation, relaxation, and relief from anxiety. Xanax becomes effective quickly, often producing the desired effects within minutes.
Why People Misuse Xanax
Xanax has been a popular choice for people with substance use disorders or those seeking to self-medicate for emotional problems. Xanax can induce many pleasant and desirable effects, including feelings of deep relaxation and euphoria, detachment from reality, and sound sleep.
These effects compel some people to experiment with Xanax for non-medical purposes for the pleasurable feelings it can provide. And because Xanax also achieves peak blood concentration in 1-2 hours and has a short half-life, this may encourage potential abusers to take doses repeatedly in rapid succession.
Xanax Use Disorders
As with many substance abuse disorders, people who use Xanax often do so either out of curiosity or via recommendation from someone else. To obtain it, those without legitimate prescriptions must have access to someone who does or buy it on the black market.
More than half (55%) of recreational users received prescription drugs such as Xanax for free from a friend or relative, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, 17% abused medications that were prescribed by their own physician, 11% bought them from a friend or relative, 5% stole them outright from a friend or relative, and only 4% obtained them from an actual dealer.
Of note, if used chronically, even those with legitimate prescriptions can become dependent on Xanax. For this reason, long-term regular use of Xanax is not usually advised.
Signs of a Xanax use disorder may include the following:
- Obsession with acquiring and using the drug
- Using medication faster than prescriptions are ready to be refilled
- Taking higher doses of Xanax than directed
- Taking Xanax non-orally, such as by crushing pills and snorting the powder
Dependence on Xanax can manifest in just two weeks, but more often, it will take between 30-60 days. Chemical dependence occurs when the body has adapted to having a certain amount of a drug in the system. Regarding Xanax, the body will stop producing its own GABA in normal amounts, thus relying only on the presence of Xanax for feelings of relaxation and calm.
Dependence is also characterized by the development of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. These symptoms can include rebound anxiety and sleep disturbances, and in severe cases, life-threatening seizures.
Adverse Side Effects
Side effects of Xanax use, misuse, or abuse may include the following:
- Memory impairments
- Loss of pleasure
- Impaired coordination
- Appetite changes
- Weight loss or gain
- Lack of inhibition
Also, according to research from Harvard Medical School, people who had taken a benzodiazepine such as Xanax for three to six months raised the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 32% and taking it for more than six months increased the risk by 84%.
Severe interactions with other intoxicating substances can also occur, including those related to alcohol, other sedatives and hypnotics, antihistamines, and painkillers, among others.
Overdoses and fatalities are rare while using Xanax by itself, but the drug is commonly involved in other overdose deaths. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the total number of overdose fatalities in the U.S. involving benzodiazepines rose significantly between 1999-2017, reflecting a ten-fold jump from 1,100 deaths to over 11,000.
Why People Are Tested for Xanax Use
People are most often tested for Xanax use as part of a compliance program for those with substance use disorders. Testing may also be conducted if an overdose is suspected or confirmed.
Urine tests are the most commonly used, as they can test for all prescription and illegal drugs. Blood tests can identify everything that urine tests can, but they are more expensive and, thus, less common. Hair testing can be performed for all illicit drugs and some prescription medications—a form of testing mainly used only by the criminal justice system to identify long-term drug use.
Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Detox from Xanax should occur gradually using a tapering schedule as directed by a doctor or addiction specialist. Abrupt cessation of prolonged Xanax use can lead to a life-threatening syndrome comparable to alcohol withdrawal, so it should not be attempted without medical help.
Recovery By The Sea offers comprehensive treatment programs for substance abuse that include behavioral therapy, individual counseling, peer group support, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare planning. Our services are offered in partial-hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient formats.
We employ a team of highly-skilled addiction specialists who render services to clients with compassion and expertise. We are committed to ensuring that every client receives the resources and support they need to be successful at recovery and enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness.
If you or a loved one is dependent on Xanax, other drugs, or alcohol, give us a call now. Find out how we guide people toward an addiction-free life. You are not alone—we can help!