Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription drugs with sedating properties that stem from their ability to increase the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter known as GABA.
One of the most popular of these medications is Xanax, or alprazolam in its generic form, as CBS Newsreports that in 2011, it was the 11th most prescribed drug in the United States.Xanax is used in the management of panic and anxiety disorders. Xanax is commonly abused because, in addition to its sedative effects, its use is associated with increased dopamine release in the reward pathways of our brains. In 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that close to 10 percent of all emergency department visits related to the abuse of pharmaceuticals involved the benzodiazepine, or benzo, alprazolam.
Xanax is also considered to be very addictive. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prescribing information for Xanax indicates that taking the drug can lead to dependence, especially when taking high doses for longer than a month. GABA acts as a kind of natural sedative in the brain, slowing down certain functions and muting reactions to stress. Over time, Xanax may actually influence the production of GABA, and the brain may stop making it without the presence of the drug. The brain may then become dependent on Xanax, and when it leaves the bloodstream, withdrawal can start as the brain struggles to regain its natural sense of order and balance. Xanax withdrawal should not be attempted without medical assistance, as it can be dangerous and even potentially life-threatening.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzodiazepines such as Xanax act on the reward, mood regulation, and motivation regions of the brain, and when a dependency is formed, these parts of the brain will be affected as well. When an individual dependent on Xanax then attempts to stop taking the drug, the brain needs some time to return to previous levels of functioning. The emotional symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can be powerful, as anxiety, panic, and paranoia may increase with the drug’s removal from the body. Depression and thoughts of suicide should also be closely watched for during benzodiazepine withdrawal.Xanax withdrawal can leave people feeling generally “out of sorts,” unable to control their emotions, irritable, and jumpy. Mood swings, nightmares, trouble concentrating, short-term memory loss, and hallucinations are also potential side effects of Xanax withdrawal. Support from mental health professionals can be very beneficial, and therapy and counseling may help an individual control and manage the emotional symptoms of benzo withdrawal.