Xanax is an anti-anxiety and anti-panic medication that’s widely prescribed in the U.S., but unfortunately also commonly abused. Xanax is the brand name of the drug alprazolam, which was discovered by Upjohn Laboratories and first marketed to the public beginning in 1981.

Alprazolam was a revolutionary psychiatric drug when it was introduced because it was really the first of its kind that was marketed as a treatment for panic disorder. The developers of Xanax saw a void in the market, which is why they tailored the introduction of the drug to panic and anxiety treatment, as opposed to marketing it as an anti-depressant.

Today, Xanax is prescribed to tens of millions of people in the U.S. each year, and it’s often used by people who don’t have a prescription as well.  It can be useful not just for generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, but also for the treatment of other issues like convulsions and insomnia.

Currently, the U.S. FDA classifies Xanax as a Schedule IV Controlled Substance. This means it’s defined as having a low potential for abuse, and other drugs in this FDA classification category include Klonopin, Valium, Ativan and other similar benzos.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this classification of Xanax as a Schedule IV substance, because for decades there has been increasing research and evidence coming to light indicating there is actually a high potential for abuse and dependency.

A big component of understanding why Xanax is addictive is first having an overview of how it works.

Xanax, like other benzos, works on the brain and the central nervous system when someone takes it. It enhances the effects of a naturally-occurring chemical in the brain, GABA. It is intended to create a calming effect, but in some cases when someone first takes it, it can create a feeling of euphoria.

Xanax is intended to be used only in the short-term. It’s not like a SSRI, which is a drug that’s intended for long-term use, but unfortunately, the longer people use it, the more potential for abuse there is. It is also possible to become dependent or addicted to Xanax after only using it for a period of weeks. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also says that using benzos daily for six weeks or more results in dependency for four out of 10 users.

While Xanax can have a calming and sedative effect that users may find desirable, it can also have negative short-term side effects including slurred speech and decreased cognitive function.

Xanax is most often prescribed by physicians on an as-needed basis, for example, a patient may take it if they feel the symptoms of a panic attack.

Xanax also works quickly, which is another key thing to understand when exploring why Xanax is addictive. Typically drugs that have a fast onset period are more likely to lead to addiction and dependence than drugs such as SSRIs that have an uptake period to begin working. Xanax has a short half-life, so the maximum effects of the drug are felt relatively soon after taking it. That also tends to lead to a faster development of a tolerance for the drug, so a person may start taking larger doses or pairing it with other substances to continue seeing the desirable effects.

Because of the fact that Xanax is so widely available and accessible, it’s also often used by people who don’t have a prescription. It’s not a difficult to drug to get even without a prescription, and easy access also tends to explain not just why Xanax is addictive, but why its use has become so problematic. There are a reported six million Americans who said they took Xanax for non-medical reasons in 2016.

There are several stages of Xanax abuse and addiction that are possible. For example, the first of these stages of Xanax addiction is initiation. During this time someone will begin using the drug, and it’s often because they receive a prescription. Then, people will begin experimenting with the drug and use amounts that are more than what their doctor prescribes, and the person may then enter into regular use of the drug.

The next phase of Xanax addiction is dependence.

Dependence is one of the most critical steps to understand when exploring why Xanax is addictive. As someone develops a tolerance of Xanax, they will require larger doses to get the same effect. Then, their brain and body begin to adjust to the regular presence of Xanax. If that person were to suddenly stop using Xanax, they would experience withdrawal symptoms, which are indicative of physical dependence.

A psychological dependence to Xanax also develops, which includes drug cravings and continuing to use the drug even in the face of negative consequences and attempts to stop.

While Xanax may be classified as a Schedule IV drug, it’s important to understand why Xanax is addictive, and how it becomes something, you’re dependent on. Too many people aren’t aware of why Xanax is addictive, and that lack of information is often what contributes to a dangerous dependence or addiction.

If you or someone you know needs help stopping Xanax or another drug, The Recovery Village® can help. Our addiction professionals are experts in treating addiction to benzodiazepines, other substances and co-occurring mental health conditions. Call today to start the journey to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.