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Xanax Abuse Among Teens

Xanax is a highly addictive anti-anxiety medication approved for treating panic attacks. However, it has become one of the many trendy prescription drugs middle school and high school students take for non-medical reasons. If you've seen your teen take Xanax without a prescription, it's time to address this problem.

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9 min read

Is Xanax Dangerous?

Alprazolam, better known by its brand name Xanax, is an anti-anxiety medication often abused for its relaxing effect. It’s in the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, along with Valium and the notorious date rape drug Rohypnol. More than one prescription for Xanax goes out every second in the U.S. — nearly 50 million bottles each year — making it the most prevalent psychiatric drug in the country.

It became massively popular upon being released in 1981, but since the 2000s, it’s taken on a new life as a drug of abuse. ER visits related to improper use of alprazolam more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, and nearly 124,000 American visits were reported in 2011. Statistics show that girls are particularly at risk for Xanax problems.

Teens and Xanax Abuse

teen thinking with hands to face

Around one in five U.S. high school students has abused prescription drugs in their lifetime — abuse of the prescription medication Xanax is on the rise. Teen drug abuse varies from state to state, and this is especially true regarding Xanax abuse. In Texas, for example, 3.1% of 7th to 12th grade students say they’ve used Xanax for non-medical reasons in their lifetime, and 1.6% have abused it in the past month.

Many experts believe that our country is in the “era of Xanax,” as more and more people seek the medication to help manage their stress and cope with their problems. If your teen hasn’t heard of the drug yet, odds are they will soon enough, and may be offered a pill by a friend or classmate. And as the exploding number of emergency room visits tells you, these pills must not be taken lightly.

Street Names

Xanax pills have earned the street name “bars,” due to their 2 mg form as a long, white tab with flat ends. Teens may also call these “Z-Bars” or “Zany Bars.” Besides the 2 mg white bars, Xanax also comes in .25 mg white ovals, .5 mg orange ovals and 1 mg blue ovals.

Other slang terms for Xanax include the following:

    • Xannies or xanies
    • Zannies or zanies
    • Bricks
    • Upjohn
    • Zanbars
    • Planks
    • Blue Footballs
    • Totem poles

A typical Xanax “bar” has dividing lines that allow it to be easily split into three or four portions, so prescribed users can spread their dosage out across a day. But when teens abuse this medication, they often take the whole thing at once, drastically increasing the chance of dangerous side effects.

Where Do Teens Get Xanax?

Prescription drug abuse among teens has increased in recent years, since teens who are prescribed pills or know someone with a prescription will sell pills in school. It’s not hard to see why they’re so popular — pills are discreet, easy to carry around, and in many cases can simply be refilled at the doctor’s office once they run out. If your son or daughter seeks out Xanax, they can likely find it through word of mouth among classmates. They may even get it from a relative.

If your teen has struggled with an anxiety disorder or another co-occurring mental health problem, their doctor might prescribe Xanax or a similar medication. Many cases of addiction develop from people who begin taking medications for medical reasons.

In addition to peers and drug dealers, your teen may even be able to find alprazolam online. The internet is swarming with black market websites and other ways for teens to purchase illicit substances, and have them shipped directly to the house. It’s important to monitor your family’s web usage and keep an eye on any suspicious behavior.

What Is Xanax Prescribed For?

Xanax was the first drug approved specifically for addressing panic attacks, a problem that had long been considered a non-legitimate issue by many medical professionals. Panic attacks are often related to panic disorders, a type of anxiety disorder that around 6 million Americans currently experience. In addition to therapy, alprazolam may be the first course of action for managing panic disorder symptoms.

Other medical uses for Xanax include the following:

Alprazolam, like several other big-name medications, is likely being overprescribed to today’s patients — several million of the patients receiving a prescription likely don’t meet the actual criteria for its approved usage. This is in part due to primary-care physicians addressing psychiatric issues without having a full understanding of these disorders or drugs like Xanax.

If someone in your family asks their doctor for Xanax to treat anxiety, they may receive a prescription without getting a proper screening from a licensed therapist. And this has made these pills far too easily accessible for teens looking to experiment. It’s also extremely cheap compared to other medications, which only exacerbates the problem.

Symptoms of Xanax Abuse

high teen leaning against wall

If your teen is abusing Xanax, it’s likely that you’ll notice obvious signs in their behavior, mood and overall health, along with consequences in school performance and social situations. Your child may experiment with Xanax as a way to unwind — many users even crush up and snort the medication to feel the effects more quickly, and may be offered one at a party or other social gathering. Unfortunately, it does not take long for one pill to spiral into an abusive habit.

There are signs of Xanax abuse to watch out for:

    • Low energy
    • Strange sleeping patterns
    • Loss of inhibition
    • Change in appetite
    • Irritability or hostility
    • Emotional distance
    • Decline in school attendance
    • Unwillingness to spend time with family or friends
    • Using other substances

Effects of Xanax Abuse

Alprazolam is considered a sedative and a tranquilizer, among other things. It affects the user in a number of notable ways. These side effects grow more dangerous as the dosage and length of use increase, and any combining of alcohol or other drug enhances these side effects to potentially fatal levels.

Effects on the Brain

Like other benzodiazepines, Xanax reduces activity in the parts of the brain that induce anxiety or fear. It can provide immediate relief and calmness for patients with overactive anxiety (i.e. anxiety disorders), but for those who abuse the medication, it can numb the brain and make them feel muddy, disconnected or hazy. This can even happen in those using the drug with doctor’s orders. It can impair coordination, slow reaction time, and distort perception to an extreme degree. In 2011, alprazolam caused 29% of DUIs, surpassing marijuana as the second-leading cause of impaired driving. Other side effects on the brain include difficulty speaking, memory loss and mood swings.

Effects on the Body

teen passed out on floor

Physical side effects of Xanax can include the following:

    • Drowsiness
    • Lightheadedness
    • Fainting
    • Low blood pressure
    • Trouble breathing
    • Hearing loss
    • Swelling of the face or mouth
    • Hives
    • Vomiting of blood
    • Hallucinations
    • Shaking
    • Chest pain

Some of these physical side effects may be harder to spot than others, and may go away in a matter of hours. But if you observe these serious side effects in your child, seek immediate medical attention.

Addiction and Withdrawal

A teen can get addicted to Xanax quickly, and the addiction can last longer than an addiction to many hard drugs. Weaning off of a Xanax addiction, especially if your teen takes large doses to get a bigger Xanax high, can take several months or upwards of a year. This is partially a psychological dependency (feeling the general need to keep taking) and a physical dependency, which is marked by a withdrawal when the drug is not taken. Xanax withdrawal can be an excruciating and perilous period of time, and many addicts will seek out more pills just to minimize or prevent these symptoms. This is why we at TeenRehabCenter.org highly recommend that your child undergo a supervised Xanax detox if they are addicted to the drug.

Symptoms of alprazolam withdrawal can include the following:

    • Sweating
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Vision problems
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Aggression
    • Confusion
    • Loss of appetite
    • Suicidal thoughts
    • Twitching
    • Seizures

The drug’s short half-life means it leaves the body very quickly, causing users to crave another pill just hours after they take one. Symptoms of withdrawal can kick in between doses, making it a particularly troublesome medication in terms of rapidly-developing addiction.

What Treatment Options Are Available For Xanax Addiction?

There are a few crucial steps you can take to prevent your teen from abusing Xanax. First and foremost, talk to your kids about drugs at an early age. Educate them about the dangers of substance use, including prescription drugs like Xanax, and how to handle high-risk social situations. Safeguard medications in your home — both prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. Finally, stay as involved in their life as you can, and be a positive influence every step of the way.

Does My Child Need Rehab for Xanax Addiction?

If you believe your child has an issue with Xanax, take action right away. Speak with an addiction specialist, who can help you wade through the noise of your family’s pain and devise a plan back to wellness for your teen. If an addiction is present, teen drug treatment may help your child on the road to recovery.

If your child has a legitimate prescription for Xanax, then they likely also have a co-occurring anxiety disorder. This makes it even more crucial that you get help immediately — mental health issues do not go away on their own, and addiction tends to exacerbate them. Be sure that you choose a treatment center that specializes in treatment for co-occurring disorders. We at TeenRehabCenter.org can help you find facilities that meet that criterion.

We know that the stigma of addiction can hurt, making it difficult to reach out. You deserve to talk to someone who offers zero judgment — just understanding and care. There are no costs or obligations associated with calling, and your information will be kept in strict confidence. We want to help your family heal — take the first step by calling us.

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