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Article Summary

Xanax Overdose

Xanax is a benzodiazepine drug commonly prescribed to induce sleep, decrease muscle spasticity, reduce seizure activity, and relieve anxiety. Since it comes with so many medical uses, most people believe that this medication is harmless. However, this is far from the case. If you take too much of it, in fact, you may find yourself facing a variety of serious health complications - chief of which is an overdose.

Xanax, like any other benzodiazepine, achieves its wonderful calming effects by changing the neurotransmission of GABA. Therefore, if you use it as prescribed by your doctor - which mostly happens after intensive testing and thorough assessments, it can help in the management of anxiety-related disorders. However, if you do not take it as prescribed or for its pleasurable effects, it can quickly prove addictive.

Read on to learn more about Xanax and its potential for an overdose:

About Xanax

As mentioned above, Xanax is a prescription benzodiazepine medication often used in relieving a variety of symptoms - such as anxiety. Although using it can prove useful and effective for different conditions, it has also been stirring up public health concerns - among which is an overdose on the drug.

Classified as a Schedule IV drug by the federal government, Xanax can only be accessed through a doctor's prescription because it comes with a high potential for misuse and abuse. However, people are still using it illicitly - particularly young adults and teens. In fact, deaths from benzodiazepines like Xanax got as high up as 9000 in 2005, which was an increase of close to 5% since 2002.

As a popular prescription drug, it was first released into the market in 1981 for the treatment of panic disorders. Today, it is more commonly known as alprazolam, its generic name.

The drug works by depressing the CNS (central nervous system) and effectively reducing anxiety. However, it is also commonly abused because of its fast acting and calming effects.

When used in excess, it can lead to a variety of overall personality changes, compulsive actions, dulled emotions, and memory loss. In some extreme cases, the drug also causes overdose that could prove fatal if the victim does not receive immediate medical attention.

According to recent studies, those who are the highest risk of an overdose from this drug include people with an impaired or weak immune system as well as the elderly. Additionally, if you take different prescription drugs, you need to talk to your doctor before they prescribe Xanax.

Although the drug comes with the risk of an overdose, however, you should not stop using it if you have been following your prescription for a long time. This is because withdrawing from it can prove just as fatal as an overdose. Instead, it is highly recommended that you try kick your dependence on it through a medically instructed, monitored, and observed tapering method at a certified medical detoxification facility.

That said, Xanax is quite effective as an anti-anxiety drug. This is why it is so commonly prescribed. Due to this prevalence as well as its highly addictive nature, however, some people tend to misuse it - hence the high rates of addiction and abuse. Research now shows that benzodiazepines are second only to the class of opioid analgesics where unintentional overdoses are concerned.

The Illicit Use Of Xanax

In many cases, the use of illicit drugs starts with prescribed use - which means that you can find yourself abusing your drugs even if they were initially recommended by a doctor.

Since Xanax comes with such a high potential for physical and psychological dependence, you might start developing tolerance to it. This means that you will find that the amount your doctor prescribed does not work anymore in alleviating your medical condition.

When you start experiencing the positive effects of the drug, therefore, you might start using more of it - over and beyond your doctor's recommendation. You will do so hoping that you can fully suppress the negative symptoms that you are trying to quash. However, even as you try to reduce your symptoms, you may increase the potential for damage and chemical burden on your body.

To better understand the addictive nature of Xanax, you need to learn something about how it works and why it is commonly prescribed. This will also help you understand the reasons why taking it in excess can exert effects leading to an overdose.

If you use it properly, Xanax can prove valuable in fighting a variety of extreme panic disorders and generalized anxiety. As such the drug can prove useful in helping you maintain mental and emotional stability and combat the stress in your life.

It works by depressing the CNS, thereby creating a calming state as well as the classic signs of sedation. The drug will alter the production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and increase this neurotransmitter's amount in the brain. By so doing, Xanax will effectively enhance the natural effects of this neurotransmitter. As a result of this heightened capacity in your brain, certain nerve transmissions will be hindered, leading to a decrease in the level of excitability in your brain.

Additionally, this drug has a short half-life, and this is why it works so effectively and fast. However, it is also because of this reason that it comes with such a high potential for tolerance, dependence, addiction, and eventual overdose. In fact, as the influence of the drug starts waning, you may up your dose - by taking more of the drug more frequently - to avoid its withdrawal symptoms and heighten its positive effects.

Xanax Addiction

To understand just how addictive Xanax is, it is important to look at some statistics. In 2014, for instance, there were 14,851 admissions to treatment facilities within the US for addiction to benzodiazepines like Xanax. Today, 4 in every 10 patients become psychologically and physically addicted to it in as little as 1 and ' months of daily use.

In most cases, when a patient takes regular doses of this drug, they will be doing so to deal with their anxiety disorder. However, shortly after taking Xanax, you may feel calmer and more relaxed after the benzodiazepine depresses your CNS - which tends to get activated whenever you feel anxious.

Since this drug comes with fast acting calming effects, you may feel compelled to start taking more of it than your doctor prescribed. Eventually, this will result in mental and physical dependence - which could end up exacerbating the disorder or illness you were originally attempting to bring under control.

However, what you might not know is that being addicted to Xanax can be dangerous and fatal. Although it is quite difficult to overdose on this drug alone, when you combine it with another intoxicating substance - particularly alcohol - its effects will be intensified. This could lead to severe injury or other fatal results like death.

In the same way, developing psychological and physical dependence on this substance can prove to be extremely detrimental to your quality of life and general health and wellbeing.

You can also develop physical dependence on Xanax in a short period of time. Once this happens and you decide to stop abusing it, you will experience uncomfortable withdrawal, which is symptomatized by insomnia, nervousness, and seizures.

On the other hand, psychological addiction to Xanax means that you may find yourself preoccupied with using the drug. Eventually, you might start believing that you cannot function in your normal daily life without it. This line of thought could potentially result in severe isolation, financial hardships, and social withdrawal.

The signs and symptoms of addiction to this drug will span over various facets of life. They will, however, vary on whether you are psychologically or physically addicted. Consider the following:

a) Physical Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Fatigue
  • Increased tolerance to Xanax, meaning you need to take more of it to achieve the desired effects
  • Lethargy
  • Light-headedness
  • Memory problems
  • Persistent headaches
  • Prolonged sleep

b) Psychological Symptoms

  • Apathy
  • Inability to cope or deal with stress when you are off the drug
  • Lack of interest or excitement in social activities
  • Marital problems
  • Missed work
  • Preoccupation with abusing Xanax
  • Unsuccessful attempts to quit using the drug
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

Understanding Xanax Overdose

A doctor would never recommend that you take more than 2mg of this drug at any given point in time - unless you have developed tolerance to it. It is for this reason that the starting doses are usually set at 0.75mg daily.

However, some people report that they have taken more than 2000 mg of the drug but with minor toxicity. As you can see, this dose is over 1000 times the maximum recommended dose - which means that Xanax can be quite safe if you take it alone.

Still, if you decide to combine it with another CNS depressants - such as alcohol or opiates - the results might be catastrophic. As mentioned above, Xanax is relatively safe. However, getting to a certain point of use could heighten your risk of suffering an overdose.

Although you can overdose on this drug, the amount that is required is usually quite high. This amount will, of course, vary from one person to the other based on such factors as metabolism, previous exposure to it, and body weight, among others.

On the other hand, if you intentionally or accidentally mix Xanax with alcohol or other medications, the risk of suffering an overdose and other serious health complications will increase.

Additionally, if you abuse Xanax - by taking it intentionally for reasons other than the medical - may increase your risk of suffering an overdose. This includes those who snort the drug instead of swallowing it as a whole pill and in the dose your doctor recommended.

As we mentioned above, benzodiazepines work by altering the brain's chemical pathways and suppressing the CNS. The central nervous system is responsible for temperature regulation, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Therefore, overdosing on one of these drugs - Xanax included - will suppress some if not all of these functions. Ultimately, the overdose might prove fatal because these functions are necessary for life.

When you abuse Xanax by crushing before snorting it - instead of swallowing it in pill form - the drug will be sent rapidly across the barrier between your brain and blood and straight into the bloodstream - further increasing the potential for an overdose.

What is more, it is possible to overdose on Xanax when you try it the first time, particularly if you decide to mix it with other intoxicating substances. Doing so will heighten its effects.

However, overdose might be more common in chronic users, particularly those who first stopped taking it before relapsing. Relapsing will increase the risk for an overdose because your body will no longer be tolerant to the amounts you used to take before quitting.

That said, using Xanax in large amounts will impair your judgement and cause drowsiness. This can put you in grave danger. Additionally, its other side effects include excessive tiredness and dizziness - effects that might lead you to cause an accident. On the other hand, if you mix Xanax with other drugs and substance or take it at high doses, you may suffer breathing problems and a slowed heartbeat.

However, the most dangerous complications that arises from such an overdose is shallow or slowed breathing. In fact, abusing this drug can lead to your breathing stopping almost immediately and completely.

Mixing it with other intoxicating substance can also lead to an overdose - particularly because it might make these negative side effects even more pronounced than they originally were.

Unfortunately, some of the early stages of such an overdose is quite similar to the high. This means that you might have a difficult time telling if you are suffering an overdose. This situation is quite dangerous because it might lead to sudden death unless you get medical attention immediately.

Consider the following signs and symptoms of a Xanax overdose:

a) Early Stages

In the early stages of your overdose episode, you may display or feel the following symptoms:

  • A severe headache
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Nausea

b) Severe Warning Signs

On the other hand, you might suffer more severe and intense signs and symptoms of an overdose. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking or communicating
  • Hallucinations
  • Jaundice, where your skin or eyes yellow
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory Lapses
  • Seizures
  • Severe inability to keep awake
  • Suicidal actions or thoughts
  • Suppressed breathing
  • Unresponsiveness

c) Others

You may also suffer the following benzodiazepine overdose symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

Paradoxically, the symptoms of agitation and anxiety might also occur when you overdose on Xanax.

  • Ataxia and reduced muscle strength in your muscles, which may cause you to fall
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Hypotension
  • Respiratory depression
  • Respiratory unresponsiveness.
  • Slurred speech

In the most severe of cases, overdosing on Xanax can induce hallucinations and even coma or sudden death. However, as we've already established above, this is more likely to happen when you combine Xanax with alcohol and other drugs - which could additionally increase your risk of suffering withdrawal symptoms when you leave your overdose treatment facility.

According to Injury Epidemiology, overdosing on drugs like can turn into one of the leading causes of injury morbidity and mortality in the US - leading to more than 1.2 million visits to emergency departments and 34000 deaths. The same report showed that collectively, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and analgesics all accounted for most of the increase in morbidity and mortality from overdosing/

Xanax Overdose Risk Factors

But what could be risks of a Xanax overdose? If you use this drug in any other way than was prescribed or if you are already addicted to it, then your actions might come with the potential for deadly consequences.

Although overdosing on Xanax may range from severe to mild and the potential for death and acute toxicity is not as high as for other drugs, these instances of the substance can cause death or coma.

According to findings published by The Journal of Pharmacy Practice, there are differences in the dangers that come about as a result of abusing benzodiazepines in comparison to using opioids.

The results echo the same cautionary mentions that such drug classes can present a greater risk of overdose if combined. In the same way, they note that the deaths related to benzodiazepines went up by 5 times from 1999 to 2009.

The research present starling news, showing that from 2003 to 2009, Xanax (alprazolam) was only second to Oxycodone with regards to an increase in death rates - at 233.8% and 264.6% respectively.

Another study on how Xanax is more toxic than the other benzos in terms of overdose also focused on the toxicity of alprazolam. Even though the study was focused on intentional overdose (or self-poisoning), the results may improve your understanding of overdosing as a result of using drugs illicitly.

Although the amount of this drug might be significantly more for an overdose, if you compare it to that which would lead to an unintentional overdose, it is still clear how Xanax can potentially be more destructive compared to other benzodiazepines.

Researchers have noted that the greater toxicity of Xanax is as a result of the alprazolam's intrinsic toxicity. Such an overdose should, therefore, be regarded as highly significant.

That said, anyone who takes Xanax faces the risk of overdosing, although abusing or misusing it increases this risk. The highest risk, in fact, comes from using the drug without a doctor's prescription or combining it with another substance.

The other risk factors for an overdose include, but are not limited to:

  • A history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • A history of suicidal ideation or depression
  • Lack of experience with prescriptions (sedatives, in particular)
  • Polydrug abuse, or taking more than one drug at the same time

Therefore, you need to understand Xanax abuse, addiction, dependence, and overdose as well as your risk factors. You should also take the steps required to reduce all of these.

As far as possible, only use the drug as prescribed and after a doctor recommends it. You should also ensure that you do not mix it with pain relievers, sleeping pills, other medications, or alcohol since they might amplify the effects of the drug.

In case you have started taking a new drug when you are still on Xanax, you should ask your doctor if the two drugs will interact.

With the increase in the opioid epidemic - particularly in the United States - research suggests that the number of deaths related to opioids correlates to the similarly rising number of overdose rates related to Xanax.

In a number of cases, people use benzodiazepines and opioids to increase and enhance the effects of both drugs. However, using these drugs together - particularly in high doses - is quite dangerous. Recent news now suggest that many people who use Xanax illicitly need to be wary of other substances like carfentanil and fentanyl finding their way into their batch of pills. This is because Xanax is sometimes laced with fentanyl.

However, it can be difficult to tell if the illicit drugs you bought are pressed or real. This is a major factor contributing to the rising number of deaths related to a Xanax overdose - especially because most users do not have ready access to testing kits and most of them do not even care.

Today, pill pressing is leading to more overdose deaths. In particular, fentanyl is showing up in more confiscated batches of Xanax - and not just in opioid pills. Those who use Xanax typically have low doses of opioids - unless they have been combining the two. However, even users who take a cocktail of substances are not exempt from suffering an overdose.

Causes Of Xanax Overdose

Overdosing on Xanax can happen either unintentionally or intentionally - occurring mostly when the drug overburdens your body to such an extent that its various system start behaving differently and even shutting down.

Several things, however, influence the extent of such an overdose. The first of these is your unique physiology and genetic makeup - including any disease and illnesses that might be present. It additionally includes your personal history of substance abuse, the method of administration, any other concurrent substance use, and the frequency and amount of drug use.

Today, Xanax is also sold in an extended release form. This means that you should take the pill as a whole to ensure that it releases the medication into your body gradually. However, some abusers alter the pill by breaking it apart or crushing it. This mode of use is dangerous because it will affect the absorption of the drug and allow your body to assimilate it quicker. Eventually, it will raise the risk of an overdose.

At the end of the day, an overdose will occur when you use more of a substance than your body can physically and psychologically handle. If you use Xanax illicitly and develop tolerance, you may also increase your risk of an overdose because you will get used to increasing the dosage even without medical supervision.

How And When To Get Help

If you suspect a Xanax overdose, the first thing you should do is call 911 immediately. It might help if you can provide information about how much of the drug was ingested as well as whether any other drug was taken. This way, the first responders will know what to do to reverse these adverse effects. At times, the doctors might have to pump the victim's stomach to relieve it of the excess Xanax.

Overdosing on this drug can be intentional or accidental. After the initial treatment, you might require additional professional help - especially if you have been struggling with abusing the drug or being dependent on and addicted to it.

Since abusing Xanax may lead to psychological and physical health issues - including suicidal behavior and severe depression - you might want to check into a specialized inpatient rehabilitation facility for safe and medical detox.

Most benzodiazepine medications like Xanax also come with serious withdrawal effects especially if you remove them from your system suddenly. The recommended process is tapering off slowly to ensure that you do not suffer withdrawal symptoms like psychosis, seizures, or sudden death.

At the inpatient facility, you will be provided with a variety of specialized rehab options - including alternative treatment methods, support groups, and therapies to help you recover safely and peacefully.

That said, if a loved one overdoses on Xanax, you should assess their breathing and airway. This is because such an overdose sometimes leads to respiratory depression. You should also check them for any signs of decreased blood circulation - including a bluish tinge on their nails and extremities (that tends to feel cold when you touch it). All in all, the emergency treatment for an overdose will depend on the type and amount of drugs involved. Therefore, you should never speculate if this information is not immediately available to you.

How Xanax Overdose Works

When you use Xanax, the drug will bind to the brain receptors and simultaneously increase the level of GABA, the chemical that creates calming effects. GABA works by slowing down the CNS and certain CNS functions like heart rate and breathing rate.

Therefore, when these CNS functions are slowed down to such an extent that they stop working, you may suffer an overdose. If no one recognizes the fact that these processes stopped - or if there's no one else present to administer CPR immediately, death may occur. However, a Xanax overdose can still prove to be deadly even with medical intervention.

That said, anyone can suffer an overdose - including those who take Xanax following a doctor's recommendation. Therefore, your prescription will not decrease the overdose risk commonly associated with this medication.

To this end, you should ensure that the dose your doctor prescribed is based on what your body can logically handle. Still, there are other ways you can suffer an overdose. These include:

  • Altering the pill before ingesting it
  • Ingesting a larger dose than was prescribed
  • Mixing Xanax with other drugs or alcohol
  • Taking the drug more frequently in a day than was recommended

You can overdose on Xanax the first time you ingest it, although this will depend on the particular circumstances. For instance, if your prescription recommends taking Xanax in low doses and you take it exactly as your doctor prescribed and your manufacturer recommended, it is highly unlikely that you will overdose - particularly if you also don't combine it with another substance.

However, if you use Xanax recreationally for the first time and you do not know how many pills you are supposed to take, or if you are under the influence of another substance such as alcohol, then the risk of an overdose will be heightened.

Overall, overdosing on Xanax can prove detrimental to your life and health. As far as possible, therefore, you should never abuse this drug in any way - otherwise it might cause effects that could see you lose your life. If, however, you are already addicted to it, the logical thing would be to seek medical attention and assistance through detoxification and rehabilitation as well as drug abuse treatment.

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