Teens and Xanax
Teens and Xanax: The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drug
Xanax dependence among teenagers is a growing concern in the United States and abroad. Abuse of this anti-anxiety drug threatens teen mental and physical health. In addition, it can even be deadly. Moreover, these dangers exist not only when Xanax is misused, but also when it is taken according to a prescription. Teens and Xanax is detailed below.
Since 2000, the overdose death rate in the United States from Xanax and similar drugs has increased by 500 percent. And teens are at the greatest risk.
Teen Xanax Use
Currently, Xanax is the tranquilizer drug most commonly used by 12th graders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Additionally, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that young adults were the most likely to have used Xanax or the related drug lorazepam for non-medical purposes. In fact, more than 10 percent of adolescents ages 18 to 25 abuse Xanax. This is nearly double the rate of people ages 26 and over.
Furthermore, Xanax abuse is on the rise in other countries. The United Kingdom is now the world’s second-largest black market for Xanax, after the United States. Authorities there recently raised alarms about the increasing use of Xanax among teens, who typically buy the drug on the “dark web” or “darknet.”
In fact, the British Parliament had its first debate about Xanax misuse in January after eight adolescents were hospitalized in Sussex, England, after taking the drug. Also last month, Police in Scotland issued a warning after 27 Xanax-related deaths were recorded in the country in 2017.
Still, this number represents only a fraction of the Xanax overdoses and abuse occurring in the United States.
Xanax, the trade name of the prescription medication alprazolam, went on sale in the United States in 1981. It belongs to a category of drugs known as benzodiazepines, or “benzos.” Specifically, Xanax is a tranquilizer or depressant, like Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan.
The drug is usually sold in the form of bars—strips split into four blocks. Xannies or zannies, handlebars, bars, and blue footballs are all commonly used street names for Xanax.
Typically, doctors prescribe Xanax and other benzos to treat patients suffering from anxiety and panic disorders. In addition, people may take Xanax for stressful situations, such as plane trips or the first day of school. Moreover, Xanax is sometimes prescribed for the anxiety and nausea caused by depression, chemotherapy, and other health issues.
Xanax is categorized as a Schedule IV controlled substance. It is considered to have a low potential for abuse. However, Xanax and related benzos are in fact the most commonly abused drugs (other than alcohol and marijuana) among people over the age of 14, according to NIDA.
More Alarming Facts About Xanax and Benzos
- Xanax abuse can be deadly. In 2015, 9,000 people died as a result of benzo-related deaths. Moreover, overdose deaths involving drugs like Valium and Xanax increased more than four times between 1996 and 2013.
- The number of Americans filling prescriptions for benzos has increased by 67 percent since 1996.
A 2016 study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reported that males, females, and all racial groups were equally represented among young adults who abuse benzos in nightclubs.
- An estimated 10 to 25 percent of longtime users are dependent on benzos.
- Prescriptions for benzodiazepines have risen 17 percent since 2006, to nearly 94 million a year.
- Benzos are particularly lethal when combined with opioids, accounting for 8,000 of the 9,000 benzo-related deaths in 2015.
- One-third of all fatal drug overdoses involve some form of benzo.
How Xanax Works
Specifically, Xanax and other members of the benzodiazepine family suppress the release of neurotransmitters that signal fear. In other words, benzos directly impact the central nervous system, producing a calming effect.
Moreover, benzodiazepenes enhance the naturally occurring chemical known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which plays a role in regulating the nervous system.
As a result, Xanax eliminates anxiety- and panic-related symptoms, such as racing heart, disorientation, and hyperventilation. Therefore, signs of teen anxiety disappear almost instantly. Subsequently, the effects of a Xanax dose can last for more than six hours.
However, when the central nervous system is depressed, respiration and heart rate go down as well. Thus, those who use Xanax are exposed to the threat of a benzo-related death.
The Addictive Qualities of Xanax
Xanax is especially addictive when misused—in other words, taken recreationally or other than as prescribed. According to the US National Library of Medicine, Xanax use can result in addiction and dependence when taken in large quantities or over a long period of time. As many as 44 percent of chronic benzodiazepine users ultimately become dependent on their drug of choice, notes a study published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors
Xanax causes addiction through a process similar to that of opioids like oxycodone. Specifically, the drug produces changes in the brain that decrease fear neurotransmitters while increasing dopamine release. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical associated with feelings of pleasure and relaxation.
Consequently, these unusually high levels of dopamine trigger pleasurable emotions and sensations. Users sometimes refer to this feeling as the “Xanax high.” People who abuse Xanax are typically seeking this sedative effect. As a result, this Xanax high reinforces the desire for repeated use.
Signs of Teen Xanax Abuse
The signs of teen Xanax abuse are similar to the signs of other types of teen substance abuse. These red flags include the following:
- Behavior changes and mood shifts
- Increasing the dose or frequency of usage
- Avoiding family functions or social activities in favor of time spent using the drug
- Worrying about how much Xanax they have
- Thinking obsessively about the next time they can use it
- Continued use despite negative impacts on one’s body, mental health, and/or relationships
- Legal problems as a result of using Xanax
- Teen risk-taking behaviors, such as driving while under the influence of Xanax
- Inability to control how much or how often they use the drug.