It is sometimes easy to spot danger headed in your direction. When you drive, you can watch the speedometer. When you cook, you can watch the oven temperature dial. When you pet your cat, you can watch for a swishing tail. All of these signs show you that something you are doing could lead to serious consequences.
Drug use comes with no moving parts you can watch. Instead, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to determine if something you are doing could put you in danger.
Consider Xanax. If you are using this drug recreationally, you might wonder if your use is considered “normal” or if there is something you are doing that indicates addiction is on the way.
This guide will help you understand what to watch for and what to do if your use is considered problematic.
Prescription Drug Abuse: A Technical Definition
Xanax is a controlled substance, meaning that people cannot take this medication without a prescription from a doctor.
To Get a Prescription, People Must:
- Visit their doctor.
- Demonstrate symptoms that would benefit from treatment.
- Get a prescription.
- Fill that prescription.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the prescription drug abuse label applies when people take medications like Xanax in a way that is not intended by the prescribing doctor.
Xanax and other benzodiazepines are meant to treat mental health issues, including anxiety. If you take Xanax for recreational purposes rather than therapeutic purposes, you already meet the criteria for prescription drug abuse. You are not taking the medication as intended.
You may think of your Xanax use as a personal choice. You might even consider your use to be private and of no interest to anyone else. However, the use of Xanax in this manner is considered illegal. State laws tend to determine criminal penalties for drug offenses, and they can vary widely from state to state. If you live in a state with a reputation for being “tough on crime,” you could face law enforcement action for even possessing Xanax for which you have no prescription.
In this technical sense, there is no safe recreational use of Xanax. Anytime you use this drug recreationally, you could be breaking the law. The consequences of that decision could be severe.
Why Experimentation Seems Reasonable
People who get a prescription for Xanax tend to take the medication as prescribed, according to an article published in The Mental Health Clinician. Less than 2 percent of people with prescriptions for benzodiazepines escalate to high doses of the drug or meet the definition for drug abuse or dependence, per research cited here.
Recreational use is different. As an article in the Huffington Post points out, people abuse Xanax because it provides a dreamy, relaxed high associated with prescription painkillers or heroin, but it is not associated with stigma or danger. You may have no idea how much to take, and you may not have someone who can tell you when you are taking too much.
When you’re taking Xanax under the direction of a doctor, you have rules and regulations to follow. Those rules are designed to keep you safe.
For example, Xanax that comes from a doctor is wrapped in a pill bottle that has explicit instructions about how much of the drug to take and how often to take it. Those instructions are based on the severity and type of your symptoms as well as your size and age. If you take Xanax recreationally, you may buy it from dealers who have no idea how much you should take. Or, you might swipe a pill from a friend that has a different chemistry than you do, which could affect the size of the dose you should take.
Doctors are also privy to research about dosage safety that you may not be aware of. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests that taking doses of Xanax that add up to more than 4 mg per day can lead to addiction-type symptoms, including difficulty with discontinuing the drug.
You may grow tolerant to the effects of Xanax, and that can lead you to take bigger doses each time you want to get high. In time, you could take doses larger than 4 mg, and without the guidance of a doctor, you may not be aware that this is dangerous.
Xanax and Your Brain
While your Xanax use might make you feel good in the moment, the substance can cause chemical damage deep within your brain. That damage can lead you from using the drug recreationally into using the drug compulsively. That could put you at risk for addiction.
According to research cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, benzodiazepines like Xanax work on a pathway the brain uses to regulate dopamine. This chemical is used by the brain to indicate pleasure or joy, and it is a chemical that is often in abundant supply when the body is exposed to addictive drugs like heroin. If benzodiazepines cause the same boost of chemicals, it is easy to see why both could cause addiction.
Medical News Today reports that addictions come with predictable symptoms, including the following:
- An inability to stop taking the substance
- Prioritizing drug use over social outings, work, and other activities
- A sense of obsession with keeping up a supply of the drug
- Using the drug to excess
- The need to use the substance to deal with problems
These are clear signals, but an addiction to Xanax can also be subtle. In an article written for Vogue, a former benzodiazepine addict reports that her problem only became clear to her when her doctor pointed out her too-frequent requests for refills. Only then did she realize she had a dependence on the drug.
Compounding a Problem
Combining Xanax with another substance is another symptom of troublesome use, and it is common for people to mix Xanax and alcohol. Both substances tend to work on the same part of the brain, bringing about the same type of symptoms and the same sense of relief and
Since alcohol and Xanax do work on the same part of the brain, they tend to reinforce each other. That can make their joined use incredibly dangerous. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21.4 percent of benzodiazepine-related deaths also involve alcohol. Using these two substances together can slow breathing to such a degree that brain tissues begin to fail. Death can follow if treatment is not provided quickly.
Alternatives to Xanax
Clearly, no amount of recreational use can be considered safe. Your use could put you at risk for legal action, and it could put you at risk for addiction. Mixing Xanax with alcohol could even cost you your life.
Getting sober is the best way to ensure these consequences do not take hold, but you may need help to get sober. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can include paranoia, anxiety, and in severe cases, seizures. SA Health reports that severe withdrawal symptoms are most common in people who stop abruptly or who take very high doses. Even so, getting help might be the wisest way to ensure you get sober safely.
Rehabilitation centers can provide you with a safe way to get sober. You’ll have access to medications, therapy, and monitoring. This can help you ensure your sobriety happens in a controlled manner without risk of additional problems.
When you are sober, a center can help you learn how to preserve your sobriety in the future through therapy, group meetings, and more. With the help of a program like this, your recreational use of Xanax will be a thing of the past, and you will be on your way to a safer, happier future.