Xanax is a drug commonly used in treating anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Its generic name is alprazolam, and it belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. These drugs work by calming down your nerves, which is why they are known medically as central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
Xanax and other benzodiazepines act on a molecule known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This is a substance in your brain that blocks the transmission of signals through the nerves. Xanax enhances the activity of GABA, and in effect, your nerves calm down. Consequently, you will feel relaxed.
Xanax is designed to be used only for a short time. But can some doctors prescribe it for longer durations? Read on and let’s find out.
How long do Xanax prescriptions last?
Xanax is a potent benzodiazepine drug, and because of that, it is recommended to be used for a maximum of six weeks only. Often, especially if your case is not too severe, your doctor will give you a prescription with a shorter time frame.
Why is Xanax not meant to be used long-term?
Because of its powerful effects, Xanax is considered a habit-forming drug. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies this drug under Schedule IV controlled substances. Other benzodiazepines, like Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan, are also under the same classification.
In other words, Xanax has a low potential for abuse. It is addictive when not used properly.
Do some doctors prescribe Xanax for longer times?
Despite the dangers, some doctors actually keep refilling Xanax prescriptions beyond the six-week safe zone. That has led to an increase in cases of benzodiazepine addictions in the United States.
Based on data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 17,000 people in the US have sought treatment for benzodiazepine addictions in 2012.
Most people who are on Xanax prescriptions did not mean to get addicted. However, because some doctors keep letting them take the medications for long, some patients end up becoming dependent on Xanax. Later on, some of them progress into addiction.
What happens when I take Xanax for long?
If you take Xanax for more than six weeks, your body will become used to the calming effects. Soon enough, you will feel the need to take a higher dose to get the same effects as before. At this point, your body has developed a tolerance for the drug.
As your body becomes tolerant to Xanax, you will notice the drug’s effects wearing off more quickly. To get more of the relaxing feelings, you will need to take even more of the drug. If you keep taking it, eventually you will become physically dependent on the drug.
Later on, if your usage of Xanax is left unchecked, you are at a great risk of developing a substance use disorder (addiction). If you reach that point, you can no longer function normally without Xanax. Drug seeking behaviors will also take the place of more important things in life, like work, school, family, and hobbies.
You will also experience a number of long-term side effects.
What are the side effects of long-term Xanax use?
If you take Xanax for much longer than six weeks, you will likely develop a variety of psychological side effects. Xanax drug molecules can damage your brain cells over time, leading to issues like:
- Difficulty keeping your balance
- Loss of coordination
- Reckless behavior
- Suicidal tendencies
- Inability to think clearly
Aside from these, you may experience a few other side effects as well, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort or pain in your chest
- Sudden fear or panic
If you experience any of these side effects, consult your doctor right away. These can lead to more serious medical problems otherwise.
Also, one of the consequences of long-term Xanax use is withdrawal. This makes it much harder to quit using the drug.
What are these withdrawal symptoms, and why do they happen?
Withdrawal happens because your body is struggling to adjust to the sudden absence of Xanax. When you stop taking the drug abruptly, your body is “shocked” because there isn’t any more Xanax all of a sudden. Shortly after, you get withdrawal symptoms like:
- Blurry vision
- Muscle pain
- Numb fingers
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Loss of appetite
- Heart palpitations
You may experience these withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of your last dose of Xanax. In a matter of one to four days, the symptoms can get worse.
These withdrawal symptoms can get so uncomfortable that you would be compelled to take Xanax again just to make them go away. That’s one huge reason why it’s hard to quit taking the drug on your own.
What is the proper way to quit Xanax?
In any case, you should not quit Xanax “cold turkey”; otherwise, serious withdrawal symptoms can occur, like seizures. Instead, your doctor will let you “taper off” your dosage over time. In other words, you will take less and less Xanax until you’re taking none of it at all. Tapering off your dose is effective in preventing most withdrawal symptoms from happening.
If you have been dependent on Xanax for a particularly long time, the best way to quit is with medical supervision. As you work to taper off your dose, your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and temperature are monitored closely. That way, if you run into any problems, your doctor can assist you right away.
Medical supervision is quite important as there have been lots of published reports of deadly seizures occurring during benzodiazepine withdrawal. To prevent this, you need medical professionals ready to help at all times.
Once Xanax has been taken out of your system, you are well on your way to getting back on track. In some cases, behavioral therapy may be needed. But soon enough, you can live a normal life free of Xanax once again.