Recreational Use of Xanax: A Slippery Slope to Addiction

Woman struggling with Addiction in the Modeling Field

Xanax has emerged as nothing short of a life-altering prescription drug for many individuals battling anxiety. It has allowed them to regain some control of their life, allowing them to live a more independent and active lifestyle.

From 2005 to 2013, Xanax was the number one prescribed psychiatric medication in America. Yet, this popularity was closely followed by a dire consequence: the more common Xanax use became, so did its abuse and addiction.

Due to its immediate relaxing effect and a consequential sense of bliss, many individuals have gone on to use Xanax recreationally. Some hard-hitting facts regarding Xanax abuse are as follows:

  • Seventy percent of teenagers battling a Xanax addiction acquired the drug from their family’s medicine cabinet.
  • Emergency room visits owing to recreational abuse of Xanax escalated from 57,419 in 2005 to 124,902 in 2010.
  • In 2013, 50 million prescriptions were written for alprazolam (the generic name for Xanax), an increase from 38 million prescriptions in 2006.
  • Prescription rates for Xanax have been at a steady increase of a 9 percent rate since 2008. [1]
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What is Xanax?

Xanax is the trade name of the prescription medication alprazolam and is in a category of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescribed for the treatment of panic disorders and extreme anxiety.

Like all other benzodiazepines, Xanax functions by strengthening the activity of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that limits the nerve impulses throughout the body, creating a sense of sedation, calmness, relaxation and anti-anxiety effects. This helps alleviate the symptoms of GAD, panic disorder and agoraphobia.

The results are almost immediate. Xanax typically produces the required effects within minutes, and the alleviation of symptoms of GAD and Panic Disorder is initiated within hours or days of the first dose.

This happens through the interaction of the medication with receptors in the brain responsible for enhancing inhibitory brain activity. As a consequence, any unusual excitement in relation to anxiety is quickly limited.

Since Xanax is a fast-acting drug, most of its beneficial effects are established within an hour its intake, effects lasting at least 6 hours. This, in particular, is why Xanax is commonly abused by some users for recreational purposes.

Xanax Abuse and Addiction

Anyone can become addicted to Xanax. When misused, that is used recreationally or other than as directed, Xanax is particularly addictive.

Even people who take the medication strictly as prescribed can become addicted to it without even realizing it.

Xanax can particularly be a weakness for individuals with substance use disorders or people seeking a high. It is a high-potency benzodiazepine.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Xanax abuse can lead to tolerance, addiction, and dependence if taken in large quantities or used for a prolonged duration.

Users without a prescription may abuse the drug for its almost immediate sedative and relaxing effects.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network has declared Xanax to be the most abused drug for these very reasons.

Man lying in the grass with a hat

Xanax abuse can elicit pleasurable effects such as lightheadedness, a sense of unreality, a feeling of detachment from yourself or your body, an emotional numbness and a greater sexual inclination.

Under extreme circumstances, Xanax abuse can also result in visual, auditory and sensory hallucinations and significantly reduced awareness of surroundings.

However, there are other accompanying mental and emotional repercussions as well.

Since this medication is a central nervous system depressant, it slows down the mental and physical functioning of the body which is why, many users may experience slurring of speech, lack of coordination, disorientation, and confusion.

It can also slow down respiratory rates, which in itself can prove to be highly dangerous. Especially when mixed with alcohol, another depressant, the combined effect could lead to serious injury, coma and even death.

Others may also develop memory impairment as benzodiazepine drugs can have an amnestic effect, making individuals abusing them to forget the details of important conversations or tasks that need to be performed.[2]

Not only do such side effects hold a strong appeal for the abuse, but it’s also the fact that these conditions can be attained within minutes of intake.

Xanax reaches peak blood concentration in a matter of an hour or two and has a short half-life, ranging from a minimum of 6.3 hours to an average half-life of 11.2 hours. The short half-life allows non-medical users to consume Xanax repeatedly and in quick succession.

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 55 percent of nonmedical users acquired prescription pain-killers (including Xanax) for free from a friend or relative,
  • 17.3 percent abused medications that were prescribed by their own doctor,
  • 11.4 percent bought them from a friend or relative,
  • 4.8 percent sneaked from a friend or relative,
  • Whereas only 4.4 percent bought them from a dealer.[3]

Treatment and Recovery

If your life or that of a loved one has begun to revolve around drug use and ways to acquire it, then it’s time enlist professional help. Overcoming an addiction to Xanax is a difficult and complicated process, but people do it every day.

Woman struggling with xanax addictionSudden, professionally unsupervised cessation of Xanax can result in serious health repercussions, in serious cases even stroke. Hence, a suitable, evidence-based medical detox and treatment program can give a Xanax addict their best chance at achieving a long-term sobriety.

Depending on factors such as the intensity of dependence, the duration of addiction and the patient’s general physical well-being, inpatient treatment programs may be the best option.

Such treatment centers bring together various aspects of treatment in a secure and stable environment, with 24-hour medical supervision. Treatment typically includes therapy, support groups, healthy physical and psychological exercises, education of a healthy lifestyle and relapse prevention techniques.

Sana Ahmed photoAbout the Author:

A journalist and social media savvy content writer with wide research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana Ahmed has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute focusing on mental health and addiction recovery, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. The art of using words to educate, stir emotions, create change and provoke action is at the core of her career, as she strives to develop content and deliver news that matters.



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on September 19, 2017
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 19, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.