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Can Kids Take Xanax?

Physician giving young boy xanax medicine in bed  

Xanax is the brand name for the drug alprazolam that belongs to the benzodiazepine family of drugs. Xanax is used for the treatment of anxiety disorders and insomnia in adults. Although there is only limited evidence regarding the efficacy of Xanax in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia in children, the medication is often prescribed to children for these symptoms.

Xanax may be taken by teenagers if prescribed by a doctor in the case of a lack of response to other drugs or behavioral therapy. Xanax may be abused among kids and teens because of its euphoric effects, and long-term use or abuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction. It is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before administering a Xanax prescription to your child, and with proper education, the dangerous consequences of Xanax use such as overdose and dependence can be avoided.

Anxiety Disorders in Children

Anxiety disorders are common in children and approximately 7.1% of children between the ages of 3-17 years had anxiety problems according to a 2016 survey. Although everyone, including children, experiences anxiety in a variety of situations, anxiety disorders are characterized by persistent and excessive anxiety in unthreatening situations and impaired functioning in social life or at school due to anxiety. There are different forms of anxiety disorders, with each disorder having some unique defining symptoms.

Excessive anxiety can sometimes be difficult to recognize in children because the symptoms may not be obvious and may manifest themselves only in certain situations. Some of the signs of anxiety in children include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Sweating
  • Tremors and twitches

Pediatric Xanax Prescriptions

Xanax and other benzodiazepines are generally not the preferred medication for the treatment of anxiety disorders. This is because long-term use of benzodiazepines like Xanax can lead to the development of physical dependence and addiction. Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are preferred over Xanax for the treatment of anxiety disorders. However, benzodiazepines like Xanax may be prescribed due to their rapid therapeutic effects. There is very limited evidence to suggest the efficacy of benzodiazepines in the treatment of anxiety in children. Xanax, if prescribed to children, is generally used at lower doses (0.5-3.5 mg/day) than those prescribed to adults.

Dangers of Kids Taking Xanax

Prescription drugs like Xanax are often wrongly perceived by children as being safer than other illicit drugs. This, in combination with the euphoric effects produced by Xanax, may lead to the misuse of Xanax. Xanax is a central nervous system depressant that acts by reducing brain activity and has a sedative and calming effect. However, being a central nervous system depressant, it can also lead to side effects such as:

  • Reduced heart rate and blood pressure
  • Shallow breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty concentrating

Abuse of benzodiazepines can also result in an overdose that may be fatal. A decline in the breathing rate caused by benzodiazepines is often the cause of death due to overdose. The use of Xanax in combination with other CNS depressants like alcohol or opioids can increase the likelihood of an overdose.

Long Term Effects of Xanax Use

Long term use of Xanax can lead to the development of physical dependence on the drug. Discontinuation of Xanax use after prolonged use can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Depressed mood

In certain cases, the physical dependence on Xanax may be severe enough to lead to an addiction. Addiction to Xanax is characterized by an inability to control drug use despite negative consequences on social life and physical and mental health. Besides causing dependence and addiction, long-term use of Xanax can also have lasting effects on cognitive (intellectual) abilities, including memory problems. The brain continues to develop during childhood and the use of Xanax during this period can negatively impact brain development.

Alternatives for Anxiety-Prone Children

Medications and behavioral therapy are considered to be the most effective treatment options for anxiety disorders in children. Treatment for anxiety disorders may involve the use of medications, behavioral therapy or a combination of both. Behavioral therapy may especially be more suitable for children due to the potential effects on the developing brain, but medications like SSRIs may be necessary depending upon the severity of the anxiety disorder. Behavioral therapy generally involves cognitive-behavioral therapy that includes teaching children skills and techniques to cope with their anxiety.

Acceptance and communication therapy is another form of behavioral therapy used for the treatment of anxiety disorders. This involves teaching strategies of mindfulness (living in the moment) and acceptance to help individuals cope with thoughts and feelings that provoke anxiety. Besides behavioral therapy, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression. This includes maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet including fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and lean protein sources. Regular physical exercise and adequate sleep can also help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

If your child suffers from an addiction to benzodiazepines like Xanax, Next Generation Village can help. The staff at Next Generation Village consists of accredited and experienced doctors, nurses and mental health professionals who specialize in the treatment of substance use disorders in teens. Contact Next Generation Village to learn more about the treatment options available for your child.

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