Symptoms of Xanax abuse among teens can include physical signs like drowsiness, dizziness, impaired coordination, and slurred speech. Psychological signs may involve mood swings, confusion, or memory problems. Behavioral changes, such as isolation, sudden academic struggles, altered friend groups, or unexplained need for money, may also indicate potential substance abuse.
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos”, are a class of sedative drugs usually prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication. The most popular benzodiazepine currently prescribed is Xanax, also known colloquially among teens as “Xan”.
While benzodiazepines are a powerful class of medication, they can also be an addictive drug, with similar euphoric effects to prescription opioids (painkillers like Percocet), but with a different kind of kick to the central nervous system. Just because these aren’t prescription painkillers does not make them any less dangerous, however – in fact, Xanax use can often become fatal in combination with a little too much alcohol.
Nevertheless, the joy-inducing side effects and widespread ubiquity of Xanax as the medication of choice for patients with panic disorders or anxiety episodes – the most common kind of mental health problem in the world – make them a dangerous recreational drug of choice for teenagers, as well as adults.
Overall, statistics say that teens are using fewer drugs – including fewer prescription drugs – than in years past. However, specialists are saying that while overall use has dropped, both fentanyl and benzodiazepine use has surged, especially during the peak years of the opioid crisis. The former is often a case of poorly mixed or haphazardly laced party drugs. The latter is often a case of raiding a relative’s medicine cabinet.
Throughout the opioid crisis, teens have learned more and more about the dangers of various opioids, from black tar heroin to the painkillers prescribed for intractable pain. But the same cannot be said for anti-anxiety medication.
In fact, some teens who find themselves in the emergency room for their Xanax use might even tell you that they “wouldn’t touch” opioids. A better understanding of how and why these drugs are so potent – and why parents and teens alike should watch out for them – can protect communities from the dangers of benzodiazepine abuse and addiction.
Understanding Xanax Abuse Among Teens
Benzodiazepine is a form of sedative. When you think of sedatives, think of compounds like tranquilizers, barbiturates, and even alcohol. Each of these acts as a central nervous system depressant, made to target specific receptors in the brain’s cells, and slow down your body’s processes.
Benzodiazepines have been around since the 1960s and are currently the “safest” class of sedative. In their early years, benzos were prescribed as a sleeping aid and a muscle relaxant. However, they are still addictive, and are still dangerous when used in combination with other types of sedatives – particularly alcohol. That is why benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax) are still strongly regulated and controlled.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t available to teens. Some teens receive Xanax as a prescription for anxiety. Others know where to look in a relative’s medicine cabinet. While some teens might not be fully aware of the addictive potential or dangers of Xanax as a powerful depressant, many teens are aware that it can be used recreationally for a high similar to a painkiller.
One unique thing about addictive sedatives like Xanax or alcohol is that the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. It’s estimated that about 40 percent of people going through a Xanax withdrawal will experience severe symptoms.
Unlike stimulant withdrawal symptoms or even an opioid withdrawal symptom, cutting off your use of Xanax or other depressants too quickly and too harshly after too much use can heavily affect the body, causing extreme nausea, hallucinations, delirium, and seizures. If you or someone you love has been using Xanax recreationally for some time, it’s important to approach a professional about undergoing controlled withdrawal.
Why Do Teens Use Xanax as a Recreational Drug?
The recreational use of Xanax can be traced to the rise in anxiety disorder diagnoses and the cultural attitude towards the pharmaceutical treatment of mental health conditions, as well as the sheer ubiquity and availability of Xanax as the nation’s new Valium in the late 1970s and 1980s, after the latter drug’s patent ran out.
Just like Valium had a regular starring role in Rolling Stones songs, so does Xanax feature heavily in today’s music, alongside Percocet and “lean” (Codeine cough syrup and Sprite). Meanwhile, teens know about the opioid crisis – but few experts have had to ring any alarms about the benzo epidemic.
Symptoms of Xanax Abuse Among Teens
Xanax’ mechanism of action relies on the GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter known for regulating hyperactivity – the kind triggered by a fight-or-flight response, or an anxiety attack. Xanax effectively mimics this neurotransmitter and tells the brain to kick things down a notch.
Using Xanax too often, or using too much Xanax can trigger physical and emotional symptoms of Xanax abuse in teens. This may include:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of coordination
- Mental confusion
- Memory loss
- Increased risky behavior
On its own, using too much Xanax can cause an adverse reaction, but typically is not fatal. That changes with too much Xanax is paired with a different sedative like alcohol. The consequence can be a sedative overdose. The symptoms of high Xanax and alcohol use are both pronounced, the liver has to work twice as hard to process both compounds, and the stress on the heart may be too much.
Long-term Xanax use may lead to behavioral changes, including low mood or depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, loss of sex drive, and a change in personality.
Addressing Xanax Abuse in Teens
Like heavy alcohol use, a Xanax dependence needs to be treated with care. If you or a loved one are struggling with a Xanax habit, then it’s important to seek professional help. An outpatient or inpatient addiction clinic can kickstart the detoxification and withdrawal process and guide a person through the first steps of recovery, including addressing a person’s physical and mental needs through an in-house therapeutic and medical staff.
Long-term Xanax abuse often coincides with other health conditions, including polydrug use disorder, or mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Fixing one without addressing the others is a recipe for disaster. In these cases, a concurrent treatment plan with a multimodal approach – combining different therapies – is needed.