Xanax addiction is a devastating, complicated dependency that often comes with unique challenges. For most people who are addicted to a substance, they made an initial choice to consume a substance they knew to be addicting, such as heroin or methamphetamine. Many Xanax addicts, however, first took the anti-anxiety medication as prescribed by a doctor to manage their mental illness. Over time, they began to abuse the prescription and develop a physical dependency on Xanax. Even though the path to addiction may be different, a Xanax dependency is similar to that of other dependencies. It can tear apart families, cause atypical behavior, and impact performance at school and work.

Xanax is a prescription medication that can only be legally obtained through a doctor’s prescription. It is the brand name for the generic medication alprazolam, which is a part of a family of drugs called benzodiazepines. Other popular brand names for benzodiazepines include Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. These medications are anti-anxiety medications and are prescribed for people with anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks and generalized anxiety.

Many people with anxiety disorders are prescribed Xanax and safely take the medication without becoming addicted. The medication helps them live better, functional lives. One study published in a journal called Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry found that only around 12% of people who were prescribed Xanax for anxiety disorders ever began abusing it. Following a doctor’s direction to take a certain medication every day is not considered abuse, even if it means physical withdrawals occur when the medication is not taken. When people start disregarding their doctor’s instructions and taking a medication more frequently or in higher doses, they may have an addiction.

No one can know for sure why some people begin to abuse Xanax while others can take it as prescribed without any problem. Genetics is now known to play a role in addiction, so those with a family history of alcoholism or other addiction may be at greater risk. In a study of young women published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, women with alcoholic parents reported feeling more euphoric after taking Xanax than those with non-addicted parents. Likewise, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that alcoholics felt more euphoria after taking Xanax than those with no history of alcoholism. It’s impossible to tell for sure, however, who will develop an addiction to Xanax. When a patient takes Xanax, their anxiety is alleviated, but it comes back (or "rebounds") after the drug wears off. This cycle of relief and rebound may contribute to how widespread Xanax addiction has become.

Withdrawals from Xanax can be quite severe and include seizures, vomiting, panic attacks, and insomnia. Many people feel more anxiety than ever before while the drug is leaving their systems. It’s important for heavily addicted users to withdraw in a medically supervised environment. After that phase, some people can utilize an outpatient program to stay drug-free. Others need a residential rehabilitation center where they can focus fully on recovery. It’s important to find an addiction center that understands that Xanax addiction and anxiety are two separate, legitimate problems that both need attention and treatment. 

Lillian Sanders is a freelance writer from Florida. She enjoys writing article on health and wellness. Aside from writing, Lillian works closely with drug treatment programs helping people struggling with addiction.