Can I Get Addicted to Xanax?

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Xanax is a prescription medication that is sometimes prescribed to people who have been through upsetting experiences, such as the death of a loved one, to help calm them down and help them sleep. Even though it is addictive, people still often ask the question, "Will I get addicted to Xanax when it has been prescribed by my physician?"

Why Would My Doctor Prescribe a Potentially Addictive Drug?

For people who have been through a shocking and distressing experience, the feelings of anxiety they are experiencing are normal under the circumstances.

Insomnia is also common. Although incidents such as the unexpected death of a loved one are very upsetting, grief is a natural human process that takes time to overcome. The distressing feelings do get better, but it is often difficult to predict how long it will take someone to deal with a stressor, such as an unexpected loss, emotionally.

In these circumstances, it is understandable that your physician would prescribe you Xanax.  Xanax is a benzodiazepine medication which works very quickly and effectively to reduce anxiety and help with sleep. Physicians often prescribe these medications to help patients feel better when they are very distressed, and generally, patients find them helpful in the short term.

The Risk of Benzodiazepine Addiction

However, benzodiazepines do carry a significant risk of addiction. Although not everyone who takes them becomes addicted, most people who take them do, at the very least, experience a rebound effect when they stop taking them.

A rebound effect is a more pronounced version of the symptoms you were taking the mediation for, so in your case you are likely to feel an increase in anxiety and sleeplessness.

Some people develop a more severe addiction to benzodiazepines, especially if they take a higher dose than was originally prescribed.

If you ask your physician for a higher dose, he or she may feel it is supportive to prescribe it, even though the risk that you will become addicted increases. Under the circumstances, your physician may believe the most important thing right now is to help you get through the difficult time.

Not everyone who takes benzodiazepines gets addicted to the same extent.  Some people sail through benzodiazepine withdrawal relatively well, while others experience some of the most severe symptoms of psychosis, seizures, and aggression. Although many clinicians believe that addiction is unpredictable, research has shown that there are psychological and situational factors that can affect it.

In general, there is a personality profile associated with the tendency to become addicted to benzodiazepies. Those who become addicted tend to cope in more emotional ways than those who take benzodiazepines but don't become addicted. These people cope in task based ways instead. Those who become addicted tend to withdraw more from social situations, and they tend to have had more adverse life events.

How to Avoid Addiction to Benzodiazepines

If you decide to take prescribed benzodiazepines for your anxiety or sleep problems, it is very important not to take more of the medication than prescribed. It might also be worth talking to your doctor about alternative medications or non-medication approaches to treatment, or contacting a psychologist to find our what they recommend. For example, there are effective psychotherapies for treating anxiety, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle changes that will promote improved sleep in the long term.

Although it is important to recognize the risk of addiction, it is also important to take care of yourself emotionally. Whatever you and your doctor decide is the right treatment for you, it would help to spend time with a trusted, caring person who will understand and support you during difficult times. If you feel unable to cope with your feelings and feel that there is no-one to turn to, go to your nearest emergency room or call 911.

Sources:

Konopka, A, Pelka-Wysiecka, J., Grzywacz, A., and Samochowiec, J. "Psychosocial characteristics of benzodiazepine addicts compared to not addicted benzodiazepine users." Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 40: 229-235. 2013.

Wick, J.Y. "The history of benzodiazepines." Journal of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, 28 (9), 538-548. 2013.

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