Addiction develops in stages. The first stage is tolerance. Tolerance is a state in which an organism no longer responds to a drug, and a higher dose is required to achieve the same effect.
The summer of 2016 was the summer I fell in love with Xanax. By this time, I was having daily panic attacks and could not sleep at all. Xanax was my saving grace. My psychiatrist prescribed me Xanax after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Xanax is used to treat anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias. PTSD combined with active amphetamine addiction can create a very tumultuous and bizarre reality. I was getting triggered rapidly and was instructed to pop a pill every time I felt a panic attack coming on. The medicine worked. I would pop a “bar,” and instantly my panic attacks went away. Fifteen minutes later, I would begin to feel the effects. My heart rate would rapidly slow down, I would feel an overwhelming and comforting sense of calm, and all the racing thoughts vanished. I was peaceful and at ease.
What does Xanax do?
Xanax (alprazolam) boosts levels of GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid) which is a neurotransmitter that produces a calming effect on the brain and central nervous system by stopping or slowing down activity in certain neurons. One of the many reasons Xanax is highly addictive is because its effects are rapid and strong. It works by decreasing the brains “excitability.” In large doses, the drug can cause euphoric effects. Many people will also take the drug for its sedative effect, some employing the medication as a sleep aid.
Xanax did not fix my anxiety. I became physically dependent on Xanax to quell my anxiety. But when I stopped taking the Xanax, the anxiety was still there and worse. Once the cycle of dependence begins, it is almost impossible to break. My PTSD was not being treated nor was my anxiety. The symptoms were, but the underlying causes were not. I became dependent on Xanax to function and because tolerance is so easy to develop I had to take more and more to feel the effects. Daily drug use for six weeks or more has been shown to lead to dependence in 4 out of 10 users.
Xanax & Physical Dependence
Physical dependence is a physical condition caused by chronic use of a tolerance forming drug, in which abrupt or gradual drug withdrawal causes unpleasant physical symptoms. I began taking more than prescribed. As a result, I would run out of my prescriptions early. The effects of withdrawing from Xanax terrified me. I had no tools in my toolbox to cope with the overwhelming anxiety I felt; I relied on Xanax to put me to sleep at night, even the thought of not having my pills would cause me to break down.
When I woke up the first thing I did was reach for my pills. I remember the feeling of comfort I had just by holding the bottle in my hand. I became obsessed with counting my pills. I had to make sure I had enough to get me through the day. I would then shower and scrub every inch of my body. I would take at least two showers because I had an obsession with being clean. I thought if I could scrub layers of my skin off, I would be able to cleanse the dirt from my soul. By abusing Xanax in combination with other pills, I began to experience auditory hallucinations. I started hearing music then voices speaking to me through my shower head. I believed there was an alternate realm of existence and perhaps I was accessing it. I had no idea I was experiencing mania, a sign of pill addiction. By my second shower the pills would have kicked in, and I would feel like I was able to manage my way through the day.
Psychological Effects of Xanax
By now I had hit the third stage of addiction: psychological dependence. After my second shower, I would spend two to three hours staring at myself in the mirror trying to make myself look perfect, blasting Spotify music, chain-smoking cigarettes and conversing with my reflection while I waited for my drug dealers call. I was now dependent on her for refilling my Xanax stash when I would run out of my prescribed pills. I would pull my underweight body into a gown, stumble into high heels, stagger down the stairs and hope to find my car parked outside. Best case scenario my car had a parking ticket on it; usually, it was banged up and worst case scenario it had been towed.
By this point in my use, I was blacking out every time I took Xanax. I would have seizures if I stopped taking my pills, I had massive weight loss, suicidal thoughts, blurred vision, anxiety, aggressive behavior, and tingling in my hands and feet. I was a disaster, and yet I would do anything to get my fix.
When Xanax use reaches the problem or risky use stage, it has become a regular fixture of a user’s life. It is also beginning to produce negative consequences. A user’s performance in work or school, as well as their relationships, may be adversely affected. Their behavior is likely to have changed.
Mine certainly did. I remember calling my mother who works in healthcare and screaming at her on the phone, “I need my Xanax! I need you to get me Xanax!” My parents were terrified. They thought I was insane.
Xanax abuse can cause Xanax addiction. There is hope for Xanax addiction, and for me, it required a hospitalized detoxification program followed by a residential rehabilitation program with an aftercare plan for partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient treatment. Xanax abuse when combined with other drugs and alcohol can produce a deadly outcome. It is essential if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction that they seek professional help.