Xanax and other benzodiazepines are increasingly involved in overdoses across the country. What makes it so addictive and dangerous?

Xanax is one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States. It treats anxiety and panic disorders but has a recognized potential for abuse. A Xanax high is described as calming, tranquil and addictive.

If you or someone you know is addicted to Xanax, seek help before the addiction worsens. The Recovery Village has trained teams of medical experts who understand the difficulties of living with Xanax addiction. Enrolling in a rehabilitation program has helped many people recover from Xanax addiction.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam. Xanax is classified as a benzodiazepine, which is a class of medication that produces a calming effect on the brain and central nervous system. Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical signal that tells brain cells to “slow” or “relax.”

Xanax comes as an oral tablet. The dosage is based on a patient’s medical condition, age and response to treatment. A course of Xanax should not last longer than one or two weeks, but sometimes it is prescribed on an “as-needed” basis for panic attacks.

If someone takes Xanax regularly, it can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms; especially if taken for a long time or in high doses. Xanax can cause physical and psychological dependence or addiction even in people who take it as prescribed. Therefore, a course of Xanax should be as short as possible with treatment response closely monitored by the doctor.

For those who have used Xanax for longer than a few weeks, their doctor may create a taper schedule. During a taper, a person gradually reduces their daily dose. Tapers are an effective way to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Because of Xanax’s abuse potential, it is often sold and used illegally. According to the 2015–2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 12.5% of adults in the U.S have used benzodiazepines, whether legally or not. About 2.1% of adults abused benzodiazepines during that same period.

Many people take Xanax with a doctor’s prescription, but the most common way to take the drug recreationally is by obtaining the drug from someone who has a prescription. Possessing or using a controlled medication without a prescription is a federal crime; it is also illegal to resell the medication, but many people, especially teens and young adults, do not realize the dangers of abusing prescription drugs.

Alternative Names for Xanax

Because Xanax is commonly used recreationally, the drug has quite a few popular street names.
Common street names for Xanax include:

  • Bars
  • Benzos
  • Bicycle Parts
  • Blue Footballs
  • Bricks
  • Handlebars
  • Planks
  • School Bus
  • Upjohn
  • White Boys
  • White Girls
  • Xannies
  • Yellow Boys
  • Z-Bars
  • Zanbars or Xanbars

Related Topic: Street Names for Drugs

Xanax Dosage Amounts

Xanax dosage forms are 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1 mg, and 2 mg. Doctors usually start someone on the smallest effective dose to avoid the potential for addiction and withdrawal symptoms. The dose may be increased depending on the response to treatment.

The maximum recommended dose is 4 mg daily.

Is Xanax Addictive?

Yes, Xanax is addictive and is classified as a Schedule IV medication by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Schedule IV medications have a recognized medical use, but the potential for addiction and abuse.

Xanax produces its main effects by mimicking GABA, a neurotransmitter used by brain cells. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit messages in the brain. In addition to mimicking GABA, Xanax also increases levels of another neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Dopamine is responsible for reinforcing the feelings of reward in the brain. For example, when we eat a sugary snack, a small amount of dopamine is released and we may get the urge to have another. Xanax and other substances encourage addiction through this mechanism.

What Is Xanax Addiction?

Addiction, or substance use disorder, is when a person continues to use a pleasurable substance or perform a pleasurable action despite negative consequences the substance or action causes. Consequences can be financial, occupational or interpersonal.

Substance use disorder (SUD) develops over months and years, and may not be easy to identify at first.

Xanax dependence can be a trigger that encourages addiction. When a person is dependent, they cannot stop using a drug without experiencing withdrawal. They also cannot function normally without the substance. Therefore, the urge to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay reinforces substance use.

Addiction does not discriminate, especially when it comes to prescription drugs like Xanax. People from all walks of life can become addicted to Xanax. While addiction is different for everyone, the progression from the first use to a substance use disorder may look something like this:

Xanax Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Progression Cycle


Many people who abuse Xanax are introduced to the medication through a doctor’s prescription. Others may try it at a party or nightclub by acquiring it from a friend or acquaintance.


Having abused Xanax a few times, some people might attempt to take the drug under different circumstances or at different times. They also might increase the dosage to experience new effects.

Regular Abuse

A person might not take the drug daily, but a pattern starts to develop during this stage. People either take the drug at a certain time of the day, a specific day of the week or as a reaction to a negative feeling.


This stage begins with tolerance, which involves an increase in frequency or dosage of the drug that the person’s body is able to readily process without experiencing strong effects. Once tolerance is high enough, people may develop dependence. Some people will need a shorter amount of time and a lower dosage to become dependent. The process of becoming addicted to Xanax is different for each person.

Substance Use Disorder

During this stage, attempting to stop taking the drug seems like an unbearable challenge. People often recognize they are dependent on Xanax but cannot stop taking the drug due to the severe withdrawal symptoms, which they can experience if they don’t take the drug. The time varies for each person and withdrawal symptoms vary depending on numerous factors. At this point, drug rehabilitation or medical intervention is the safest method for someone attempting to overcome their addiction.

Xanax Addiction Symptoms & Signs

Recognizing Xanax addiction signs and symptoms can help you know when to seek treatment for yourself or a loved one. Xanax addiction can be serious and affect a person’s mood, behavior and physical characteristics.

Common signs of Xanax addiction may include
    • Agitation
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Diarrhea
    • Dizziness
    • Dry mouth
    • Heart palpitations
    • Hyperactivity
    • Mania
    • Seizures
    • Slurred speech
    • Tremors

While Xanax addiction cannot be completely cured — nor can any dependency on drugs or alcohol — treatment can help affected individuals address their behavior and return to a healthy lifestyle.

Deadly Xanax Drug Interactions

Every day, more than 115 Americans die of an opioid overdose. In a study from 2001–2013, about 17% of people who received an opioid prescription also received a benzodiazepine like Xanax. When opioids are combined with benzodiazepines, the risk of overdose, emergency department visits and death increases dramatically.

One of the most common and dangerous interactions for Xanax occurs with alcohol. Both substances are central nervous system depressants, slowing down the body’s processes like movement and breathing.

Xanax should never be combined with other benzodiazepines like Valium, Klonopin or Ativan. The effects of each drug can “stack” and increase the chance of overdose.

Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.

If you are taking Xanax as prescribed, check with your doctor before taking another drug or drinking alcohol. Checking with a medical expert can reveal any potentially dangerous effects from mixing substances, and this could protect you against severe injury and dependence on Xanax.

Is Xanax addictive? Absolutely, but help with addiction treatment is available. Many people who became addicted to the drug live in recovery after completing a rehabilitation or teletherapy program and now live a healthier life, free from Xanax abuse. The Recovery Village can help you find a solution for your substance use disorder and treat any co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression, that may contribute to Xanax addiction.

a woman with long brown hair smiling at the camera.
Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Research Suggests Benzodiazepine Use […]er Rates Are Low.” Oct. 2018. Accessed September 27, 2019.

‌National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Benzodiazepines and Opioids.” March 2018. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Stanford Children’s Health. “Stages of Substance Abuse.” 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

United States Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” 2020. Accessed December 18, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.