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.
Xanax and Dopamine
The main reason a person becomes addicted to Xanax is because of the euphoria it causes. At first, someone with anxiety or panic attacks will use the drug and notice immediate relief. Their problems will melt away, and they’ll become numb to the issues affecting them. Imagine feeling this bad for so many years and finally receiving some relief for it.
For that reason, a person will continue using it to avoid their reality. However, when they build up a tolerance to Xanax and need more to reach that same effect, they’ll begin taking more, which can lead to euphoria from the drug. You might wonder, why does that happen? Well, Xanax and dopamine work with each other to produce this effect.
Benzodiazepines increase the firing of dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area. They do this through positive modulation of GABA, which are nearby receptors known as interneurons. Dopamine is directly responsible for feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, and motivation. It’s the feel-good chemical that’s released when you’ve achieved something. When you take a drug like Xanax, it will increase this pleasure and wreak havoc on your body when you try to stop because your body cannot produce the natural chemical without Xanax.
Does Xanax Cause Drowsiness
Xanax affects everyone differently, but you might wonder, “Does Xanax cause drowsiness?” Xanax is a depressant drug, unlike drugs like cocaine, Adderall, or methamphetamine, which all cause stimulating highs and euphoria. Xanax users describe the drug as making them feel more quiet, relaxed, and tiring. These feelings are intense enough to cause the user to fall asleep or pass out for several hours. For this reason, driving while under the influence of Xanax is dangerous and should be avoided. Some people also report not remembering what happened while taking Xanax or blacking out for several hours. Higher doses of the drug will produce more intense effects.
Even if you’re using the drug as intended, which is to treat common mental health disorders like anxiety or panic disorders, you’re likely to feel normal after your first dose. This is similar to a person with ADHD who uses Adderall and doesn’t feel any stimulant effects. It happens because you have a legitimate condition the medication treats. You’re likely so wound up that the sedating effect eases your anxiety and calms you down. Although this is the designated purpose of the Xanax mechanism of action, it doesn’t mean you can’t become addicted to the medication.
Alcohol and Xanax
Those who use Xanax legitimately should avoid other depressants like opioids or alcohol because they produce similar effects. When your body is depressed by a drug like Xanax, adding to it can be dangerous. Many people start abusing Xanax and alcohol to potentiate the effects because they’ve become tolerant to the medication. Xanax’s effects on the brain may not be enough anymore when you’ve taken it for too long. Alcohol increases Xanax’s effects and vice versa. If you take the medication and then drink, you’ll likely experience prolonged memory loss and extreme lethargy. You should avoid this combination at all costs.
If you use Xanax sparingly and plan for a night on the town with a friend where alcohol will be present, you must speak to your doctor first. You might have to wait several days after your last Xanax dose before consuming alcohol. It’s possible the combination can lead to dangerous or sometimes deadly side effects, including the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme drowsiness
Many people believe that because you’re prescribed a drug from a doctor for legitimate use, it can’t hurt you. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Xanax, by itself, can produce some pretty intense side effects, which we’ll delve into below.
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.