People have been using mind-altering substances recreationally for thousands and thousands of years. One of the first substances to be used recreationally was alcohol, which was being created as much as 9,000 years ago. Of course, alcohol is far from the only substance that’s currently available.
There are dozens — if not hundreds — of other addictive intoxicants that are in widespread use, most of which are divided into one of three categories: stimulants, hallucinogens, and depressants. The latter group has become particularly problematic in recent years as rates of alcohol, opioid, and benzodiazepine addiction have skyrocketed. With regard to the benzodiazepines, there’s one particular drug that’s become extremely popular among recreational drug users; that drug is called Xanax.
While stimulant drugs “stimulate” the central nervous system, depressants “depress” the central nervous system. In other words, depressants cause an individual to experience a major decrease in his or her energy level. Over the course of human history, there have been a number of depressant substances to become popular with the first being alcohol.
While some would say that alcohol is the most dangerous depressant due to its legal status, the many prescription depressants that have been developed were spread liberally throughout the U.S. and abroad, resulting in a number of pharmaceutical drugs reaching epidemic-like levels of abuse. Xanax, in particular, is one of those pharmaceutical drugs that became and remains a major issue to this day.
By the mid-twentieth century, people were realizing the dangers of the class of drugs known as barbiturates, which could be considered a predecessor to benzodiazepines. Among their many other drawbacks, barbiturates had a much stronger potential for dependency. Therefore, a number of chemists and pharmaceutical researchers were attempting to develop substances that could be used to treat similar things as barbiturates while minimizing the amount of danger that they’d put patients in. As well, the psychological community was noticing a great need for medications that were relatively mild but could assist with symptoms of mental disorders.
Alprazolam — most familiar by its trade name Xanax — was created in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1981 that it was actually make available to the public. Initially, the purpose of Xanax was to treat insomnia and depression as well as to have similar properties as muscle relaxants; however, we’d come to realize that the drug has a number of different applications: In addition to being an anxiolytic (treatment for anxiety), Xanax is also an anticonvulsant, hypnotic, sedative, and a muscular and skeletal relaxer as well as an amnestic, meaning that it has a negative impact on memory while actively in a user’s system.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Xanax had a difficult time getting approved, which is why it took over a decade for the drug to be made available. While the drug had been partly intended to be an anti-depressant, it ended up being approved as an anti-anxiety medication, which is largely how Xanax is used today. After its approval, Xanax grew rapidly in popularity over the next several decades; in fact, Xanax was the twelfth-most-prescribed pharmaceutical drug in the United States in 2010. Somewhat ironically, it has been favored by medical professionals because Xanax isn’t as harsh on the body as barbiturates and even other benzodiazepines, but it has also quickly became one of the preferred pharmaceutical drugs of substance abusers
Currently, the most common (legitimate) uses for Xanax include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and various phobias. The reason why Xanax is so effective for anxiety-related conditions is because of how it affects the brain. In fact, Xanax has a similar effect on the brain as alcohol; when a user takes Xanax, the drug acts as the neurochemical GABA in the brain, causing feelings of relaxation and calm.
Specifically, when a person takes Xanax, some of the most widely-experienced effects include drowsiness, fatigue, and lightheadedness. If the individual has taken an excessively large dose — likely for the purposes of abuse — Xanax is known to cause a sort of euphoria, dizziness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, depressions, skin rashes, dry mouth, and constipation.
As is the case with virtually any mind-altering chemical substance, anyone who takes Xanax frequently for an extended period of time becomes physiologically dependent on the drug. The reason this happens is attributed to how Xanax affects the brain. As mentioned above, Xanax increases GABA activation in the brain, which induces feelings of calm and relaxation. Basically, the continuous use of Xanax causes the brain to become reliant on the Xanax to maintain a minimum GABA level. Since the Xanax causes excess GABA activity, the brain decides that it’s getting enough GABA from the Xanax and, thusly, either stops producing or cuts back its production of GABA. This means that the brain is relying almost solely on Xanax for the GABA, which is a very dangerous situation.
The reason why alcohol is widely considered to be one of the most dangerous substances is because the continuous consumption of alcohol over a prolonged period of time causes the brain to come to rely on alcohol for GABA, which is the same situation as with the Xanax. So when a person addicted to alcohol (or Xanax) goes for a period of time without the alcohol (or Xanax), the brain experiences a major GABA deficit with potentially catastrophic consequences. At best, the individual will experience Xanax withdrawal with some of the most common symptoms being blurred vision, slurred speech, difficulty/irregular breathing, weakness, seizures, and/or coma.
Being addicted to Xanax is scary. Of course, not everyone who becomes addicted to Xanax is a substance abuse. Experts recommend that those who receive Xanax for legitimate medical conditions only receive the drug for brief periods of time until the patient and his or her doctor can decide upon a different drug that’s much less habit-forming. However, for those who have become addicted to Xanax, there are a wide variety of recovery resources available.
To overcome Xanax addiction, most experts recommend beginning with an inpatient detox program, which will ensure that the patient detoxes in a safe, supervised setting; this is crucial because it ensures the individual’s safety during the process. After detoxing, the individual is often encouraged to enroll in an actual treatment program, which consists of psychotherapy, group sessions, life skills training, and many other components. The idea is to help individuals accumulate the tools and strategies they need to overcome Xanax addiction and remain sober indefinitely.
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