Updated July 18, 2023
Popular culture in America has made "popping a Xanax" for anxiety or stress a commonly used phrase. Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is a benzodiazepine — a class of tranquilizers that cause sedating and calm effects. Xanax was specifically formulated to clinically treat various anxiety disorders, depression-induced anxiety and panic disorder. However, the rise in Xanax's popularity as America's "chill pill" has had some unintended effects.
We'll explore why the pill is so popular and what Xanax does below.
Xanax is available by prescription, and like opioids, doctors readily prescribe the drug. Xanax is also popular as a street drug because it makes people feel relaxed and good rather quickly, and the high tends to peak in about an hour. Like the antidepressant Prozac in the 1990s, Xanax has had its popular culture moment, praised by talking heads and hip-hop artists in songs.
While Xanax has grown in popularity, Americans have become more anxious, according to a 2018 poll by the American Psychiatric Association. In that poll, respondents stated they were concerned about COVID-19, current events, keeping their families safe and their health in general.
As Americans try to find ways to relax and be less anxious, turning to Xanax for solace can leave people out in the cold.
Xanax can make people feel more like themselves, but problems arise after large, prolonged use. Combining this sedative with a depressant such as alcohol or an opioid can amplify Xanax's sedative effects, which can cause memory loss, insomnia, depression, confusion and increased anxiety. Sometimes, people use Xanax recreationally to deal with other substances' withdrawal symptoms, such as opioids or alcohol.
When you take Xanax just to feel good, you cause an imbalance in your brain as the drug acts on certain neuron receptors. When this happens, the receptors turn on GABA, which helps calm everything and is also connected to memory. With excess GABA, the brain will dump adrenaline and you can become irritable and agitated. Additionally, with illegal and black-market versions of Xanax, you may encounter other chemicals inside the pill, such as Fentanyl.
With continued use of Xanax, your brain will change. You may find you have a higher tolerance for the drug, which means you need more of it. Xanax works quickly and also takes a long time for it to leave the body. You can become dependent on the drug as quickly as just a few days. And, if you choose to stop using Xanax after long-term use, you could experience major withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.
If you find yourself taking larger doses of Xanax, looking for more when your prescription is empty or focusing on getting your next dose, you may need some help to break your benzodiazepine addiction. The staff at Diamond House Detox are ready to help you safely heal, so contact us today to learn more.
Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on April 26, 2021.