Cassandra Twining | United States
Doctors in the United States write 50 million Xanax prescriptions per year. That’s over one prescription per second. You can buy 30 Xanax pills at your local pharmacy for on average $100. That amounts to five billion dollars being spent on Xanax every single year. But what exactly is Xanax and how does it work?
Xanax, also commonly known by its cheaper off-brand counterpart Alprazolam, is a Benzodiazepine. It is commonly used to treat general anxiety disorder, panic disorders, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines are a specific category of drug that works in specific receptors in your brain. The Benzodiazepines, in this instance, Xanax, attaches to the gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A) receptors in your brain and diminish sensitivity to stimulation, which in turn produces the calming effect so many people love. Xanax is listed by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a schedule 4 drug. This essentially means that it is the second least likely to lead to addiction and it is very safe to take. At least according to their classification that is… So let’s look a little more into what exactly Xanax does to your brain along with the long term effects.
Treating anxiety disorders can be very difficult for some people because of the vast amount of kinds of ways anxiety can present itself. While Xanax is not the only option for treating anxiety medically, it is certainly the most commonly prescribed and most well-known option. There are 3 fundamental problems with Xanax and its long term effects on the brain.
Treating Symptoms, not Problems
The first problem being that Xanax doesn’t stop one’s anxiety, it merely numbs it. When the medication goes into the receptors in your brain and dims the sensation in the brain it effectively reduces the release of the chemicals in your brain that causes anxiety. However, the issue arises from the fact that a reduction of the release of the chemicals does not mean they go away, it just builds up.
This is why when people try to quit taking Xanax or the dosage they took wears off the anxiety feelings not only come back but comes back more forcefully. It’s essentially like sweeping dirt under a rug; it’s still there and it’s still going to affect you eventually. The problem is just continuing to build up and get worse.
This problem is enhanced by the second problem faced with Xanax: it has an incredibly short half-life. Meaning that the amount of time it takes for the drug to completely leave your system is really quick. Which makes people want to take more of the medication even when they’re not scheduled to because of the adverse effects that come when it wears off.
Xanax Addiction and Overdose
Both problems, in turn, contribute to the third and final problem that Xanax is highly addictive. Because of the short half-life, the increase in anxiety when it wears off, and the effectiveness of the drug, people quickly become both physically and emotionally dependant on Xanax as a treatment for their anxiety.
It is also very possible to overdose on Xanax, especially taken with other opioids or alcohol. In 2015 over 30,000 drug overdose deaths were the result of opioids mixed with benzos like Xanax. It is also important to note that these numbers of Xanax use are only those prescribed by doctors; Xanax is also a very commonly used recreational drug. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars from prescribing and encouraging the consumption of a drug that is continuing to increase the amounts of anxiety and addiction in our country.
Nevertheless, anxiety is a very real and serious issue. So what can people do to change the current system for go to treatment options? A community health center in Louisville, Kentucky started to notice how the mass amounts of Xanax prescriptions for patients were not only dangerous but also a drain on their resources.
Because of the lack of education surrounding the long term effects of Xanax they were also spending an enormous amount of time just simply educating people about it. This is why they decided to switch to prescribing clonazepam a similar drug with less adverse long term effects. They are trying to completely wean their patients off of Xanax altogether. There are some people who do truly benefit from its effects. However, it is such a dangerous drug that the risk just doesn’t appear to continue to be worth it.
Finally, there are a lot of ways to try and alleviate anxiety using natural methods of treatment. Exercising can release endorphins and be a cathartic experience that can help with anxious feelings. Meditation and relaxation exercises like slowly relaxing each muscle group and breathing techniques can also help. You can also try reading, writing, natural medical treatments, or anything you may feel will help.
It’s most important to remember that anxiety isn’t the same for everyone and what might work for you might not work for someone else. It takes hard work and bravery to evaluate your options and find the best course of treatment for you. It’s okay to not want to try modern medical solutions, and it’s okay to want to! What’s not okay is not having the full story of how these solutions actually affect you. Do your research and make sure you’re not just making the problem worse while trying to solve it.
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