Nationwide Teen Xanax Misuse Trending Upward
Question: What’s a palindrome that starts with “X” and often ends with addiction?
Xanax has been available by prescription in the U.S. for more than 35 years. Although the misuse of this potent drug has always been a possibility, some health care professionals are concerned that it may be enjoying an upsurge in popularity among teenagers.
What Does Xanax Do?
Xanax, which is the brand name for the prescription drug alprazolam, is part of a class of tranquilizer medications known as benzodiazepines (or benzos for short). Generally packaged in strips that are split into blocks (or bars), Xanax suppresses the neurotransmitters that cause fear while enhancing the release of dopamine, which helps regulate the brain’s “reward and pleasure” center. The drug targets a person’s central nervous system to produce a calming, slightly euphoric effect.
Only about 3.6 percent of eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders admitted to misusing tranquilizers in the previous year, and just 1.4 percent claimed to have done so in the previous month. Xanax is one of the most commonly-misused tranquilizers because it is frequently prescribed for anxiety or panic disorders.
However, some teen addiction practitioners say they have been seeing a rise in Xanax misuse among adolescents recently. Sharon Levy, who works at Boston Children’s Hospital as the director of adolescent addiction treatment, told The Huffington Post:
“Adolescent benzo use has skyrocketed and more kids are being admitted to hospitals for benzo withdrawal because the seizures are so dangerous. We see things first. So I’m not surprised that the spike in Xanax use isn’t reflected in national data yet.”
While some teens misuse the Xanax that they are prescribed for various conditions, others obtain the drug from their parents’ medicine cabinets or from black market sources. It is also common to find adolescents mixing Xanax with alcohol, heroin, or other substances to enhance their euphoria.
An Illusion of Safety
Many perceive Xanax to be “safe” to consume, especially compared to other substances like opioid medications or illicit drugs. Some teenagers take Xanax not necessarily to “get high,” but to calm themselves down and “feel normal.”
The problem is, Xanax use can lead to dependence in teens just like opioids and other drugs can. Moreover, while opioid withdrawal can be treated with methadone or some other medications, there are no corresponding drugs that can address Xanax withdrawal symptoms. And if the user is weaned off Xanax too rapidly or tries to stop “cold turkey,” he or she can suffer violent seizures that are sometimes fatal.
Symptoms and Responses
Parents who are worried about their teenagers misusing Xanax should be watchful for the following symptoms:
- Drowsiness or dizziness
- Slurred speech or blurred vision
- Muscle weakness or poor coordination
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Confusion or poor judgment
- Trouble breathing or gastrointestinal challenges
As with other drugs, Xanax dependence is also characterized by sudden changes in mood, gradual withdrawal from friends or social activities and more risk-taking behavior. Withdrawal signs may include insomnia, increased heart rate, tremors, excessive sweating and even hallucinations or seizures.
If you see these signs, you should confront your teen and consider seeking professional help immediately. With a treatment plan made up of individual therapy, group support sessions, family counseling and/or mental health care, teens can steadily wean themselves off of Xanax and remain sober as they grow into adulthood.
While Xanax misuse is not at epidemic levels among adolescents, there are signs that teenagers may be turning to benzodiazepines more this school year than in the past. So it is essential for parents to monitor their teens (and their own supply of Xanax if applicable) to ensure that their children do not become dependent on this powerful tranquilizer.
If your teenager is misusing Xanax, contact us for help today.
Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation 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.