Xanax is in the benzodiazepine class of prescription drugs, which are usually used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, and other mental health issues. The medications work by interacting with neural circuits that are part of our reward and memory response.
Because Xanax interacts with neural reward circuits, it is commonly associated with elevated feelings of euphoria and lessened stress. This is why it is used to treat anxiety and other conditions that involve a great deal of stress.
However, the continued artificial stimulation of neural reward circuits can have adverse effects and leave one physiologically and psychologically dependent on the drug. Specifically, taking Xanax can stimulate the production of dopamine.
If abused, the brain’s natural dopamine levels can become offset, leaving people craving and reliant on the jolt of euphoria the Xanax can give them. Additionally, abusing Xanax combined with other drugs (alcohol for example) can be extremely dangerous and potentially fatal.
What is Xanax?
As mentioned before, Xanax is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which are characterized by their core chemical structure that consists of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring. Strictly speaking, “Xanax” is the trade name for the chemical alprazolam. Alprazolam was first patented in 1971 and approved for medical use in 1981.
Since its patent, Xanax has become a common go-to medication for mild-to-moderate anxiety and panic disorders. As of 2016, it is the 19th most prescribed medication in the U.S with over 27 million prescriptions. It is currently classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Xanax also has found popularity among recreational drug users who ingest the drug for its euphoric and relaxing effects.
How Does Xanax Work in the Body?
Xanax interacts with modulating the firing of certain clusters of neurons in the brain. Although the molecular specifics of its mechanism of action are not precisely known, it is known that Xanax works by binding to inhibitory receptors in the brain. Specifically, Xanax binds to GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) receptors in neurons. This makes the neuron more resistant to depolarization, meaning there is less chance of an action potential event.
In other words, Xanax basically works by dampening neuron responsiveness to electrical stimulation making them less likely to initiate an action potential event. This is why benzodiazepines are called depressants; they depress and slow certain physiological processes.
Overall, this dampening of neurons slows the body’s responses to stimuli and lowers heart rate, breathing, relaxes muscles, and lessens racing thoughts and emotions. This is why Xanax is effective in treating anxiety-related disorders.
Does Xanax Cause Euphoria?
Yes, Xanax can cause elevated feelings of euphoria because it results in increased levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is commonly characterized in popular culture as the “pleasure chemical.”
In actuality, dopamine has more to do with motivational salience—that is, dopamine release signals how motivationally prominent a specific outcome is, which, in turn, guides the organism’s behavior toward or away from that outcome.
Xanax does not directly stimulate the production of dopamine because it does not bind directly to GABA receptors that affect dopamine production. Instead, the neuroinhibitory properties of Xanax circumvent feedback mechanisms meant to delay the production of dopamine, which ultimately results in increased levels of dopamine.
This is a different mechanism of action than other dopaminergic drugs such as cocaine, which act by directly binding to dopamine receptors and preventing neurotransmitter reuptake.
Additionally, the lessening of stress can stimulate the natural production of dopamine and make one more likely to appreciate the euphoric feeling.
This is why Xanax can cause elevated feelings of euphoria. Taking Xanax indirectly increases dopamine levels in the brain, which causes a heightened sense of pleasure.
Side Effects of Xanax
Sedatives and depressants like Xanax are associated with side effects. Specifically, Xanax use can cause drowsiness, memory or concentration problems, disinhibition, ataxia (involuntary muscle movement), and constipation. In extreme cases, Xanax can cause heightened levels of aggression, mania, hostility, suicidal ideation, and hallucinations.
Their main mechanism of action can explain the bulk of side effects from Xanax. Inhibiting neurons makes the brain communicate slower with itself which can make general cognition slower and less responsive. In many cases, this is a desirable effect because it slows an overactive brain which is heavily associated with anxiety.
On the other hand, these effects can become so great that they negatively impede normal functioning. There is a significant amount of evidence that long-term benzodiazepine use can cause long-term cognitive impairment. There is also a growing body of evidence that shows benzodiazepine use in older patients is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Heavy Xanax use can also make you addicted and physiologically dependent on the drug. Addiction occurs when your body is used to the presence and has become dependent on Xanax for certain things, such as dopamine release and feelings of calmness.
Over time, the brain’s GABA receptors become accustomed to Xanax and tolerance increases, meaning that you have to take more of the drug to achieve the desired psychological effects. This dependence can cause severe withdrawal symptoms and increased anxiety and aggression. Withdrawal symptoms from Xanax addiction include:
- Muscle weakness
- Feeling faint
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and vomiting
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Seizures (rare cases)
It is also possible to overdose on Xanax. Too much Xanax excessively depresses the central nervous system (CNS), which can lead to fainting, low blood pressure, impaired motor function, and interrupted breathing. The severity of these effects can be compounded by combining Xanax with other drugs.
Alcohol is one of the most common drugs that interact with Xanax. The combination of Xanax and alcohol has a synergistic effect that causes severe sedation, and in extreme cases, coma and death. For example, the combined depressant effects of alcohol and Xanax can severely inhibit respiratory centers in the brain stem, which can cause respiratory failure. This is why overdosing on Xanax and alcohol is extremely dangerous and easily fatal.
Xanax Addiction: Treatment is Available
Are you addicted to Xanax? Have you tried to get off it, but the withdrawal symptoms were quite uncomfortable? If so, know that Xanax addiction treatment is available. It can be very helpful to be under the care of a substance abuse professional when trying to get off Xanax. A gradual reduction of the drug is necessary, known as tapering, to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
You should never stop Xanax cold turkey, as this can cause serious mental and physical symptoms. If you’re struggling with Xanax addiction, give us a call and allow us to help you determine what recovery path is best for you. We’re here to answer your questions or concerns, and get the ball rolling for your full recovery from this addiction.