If Xanax Is Addictive and Dangerous,
Why Are We Still Prescribing It?
Xanax, or Alprazolam, is a powerful benzodiazepine commonly used for treating anxiety and panic disorders. The question I tried to answer through my own research is “If Xanax is Addictive and Dangerous, Why Are We Still Prescribing It?” Through my experience working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, I have seen that Xanax has become an enormous problem because it is so habit forming and I believe it has become a gateway drug to harder street drugs. When I started my research, I first wanted to find data proving just how addictive and dangerous Xanax is, which seems a pretty agreed upon fact. This led me look into the reasons why it is still used so routinely when we know its use creates negative effects on society.
First of all, what makes Xanax so addictive? For starters, it is one of the most potent benzodiazepines on the market. Also, it has a short half-life, which refers to the time it takes the body to get rid of the drug. It is also fat soluble, so it does not take long for the body to metabolize it and for the drug to get to the brain. This is part of the reason people like it so much, because it creates a “quick on, quick off” effect on the brain (Miller, Hanson, & Daviss, 2011).
Another factor in what makes Xanax addictive, is the user tries to avoid the withdrawal symptoms that would start if they do not take it or try to stop taking it. These symptoms can include vomiting, seizures, and even death.
There is a chemical in the brain called Gamma Aminobutyric Acid, or GABA, the body's natural Xanax which stops the brain from over working or over firing electrical impulses to the body (Miller et al., 2011). When someone takes Xanax consistently, the brain will stop making the GABA. If that person then stops using Xanax, it takes over a week for the brain to begin producing GABA (Miller et al., 2011). This is part of what causes the withdrawal symptoms to occur and why it is so difficult to stop taking Xanax.
A person should never attempt to come off of Xanax on their own without medical supervision. Also, when mixed with other substances, such as opiates or alcohol, it can cause fatal overdoses, blackouts, and comas (Breggin. 2013).
With plenty of information depicting just how addictive and dangerous Xanax is, it is however still one of the top ten prescribed medications in the United States (Breggin. 2013). In fact, according to Oldani (2014), in 2009 there were forty-four million prescriptions of Xanax written in the US.
This is what is most interesting about Xanax; there is so much information about how addictive it is, but it is prescribed all the time, arguably excessively. Contributing greatly to Xanax abuse is the aggressive manner of marketing by pharmaceutical companies. Anyone who watches television can tell you how many different ads come on even just during an hour long program, not to mention the billboards, radio ads, magazines, newspapers, etc. Schreiner (2012) states that big pharmaceutical companies spend twice the amount of money on promotion and marketing as they do on researching and developing the drugs they are advertising and selling. With such intense marketing, patients now go to the doctor requesting specific medications by name.
We live in a society where people want instant gratification and have become unwilling to feel anything non-optimal. So when there is a pill promising to take away the minor discomforts they are experiencing, they want the easier route of a pill rather than trying to handle the situation without chemicals.
The doctor-patient relationship, as well as the prescribing practices of some physicians, has changed over the years also contributing to the number of Xanax prescriptions written. Patients used to see their physician with full disclosure and trust in them to figure out a solution to their problem. Similarly, doctors brought to the table knowledge and compassion for their patients and with a vested interest in helping those patients (Ling & Wu, 2013).
Now however there are patients who request a particular medication by name, acting as their own doctor. Impatient, overworked and/or unknowledgeable, doctors either give into these patient's demands or don't put enough time and energy into them to really come up with a different solution. This relationship has become an unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation (Ling & Wu, 2013). Schreiner (2012) says doctors are writing more prescriptions than ever which may be why the rate of prescription drug abuse has nearly doubled in the past ten years (Brown, Swiggart, Dewey, & Ghulyan. 2012).
According to Brown, Swiggart, Dewey, & Ghulyan (2012), prescription drug abuse is one of the country’s biggest health problems and now affects millions. In fact, the number of people abusing prescription medications is greater than the number of people abusing heroin, cocaine, hallucinogens, and inhalants combined (Brown, et al,. 2012). I believe research is lacking on the topic of the pharmaceutical companies and their responsibility.
My personal belief is people still use Xanax so much as it is highly addictive so if you get someone on it, they are hooked and will continue to fill scripts, so the money keeps flowing to big pharmaceutical companies. There needs to be something more done in this area as people go to doctors trusting the doctor to have their best interests in mind, not thinking for a second that what their doctor prescribed may turn them into a drug addict.
Yet this is the reality of what is happening in today’s society and I see it every day.
Breggin, P.R. (2013). Benzodiazepines, Other Sedatives, and Opiates: Reasons for Withdrawal. Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients, and Their Families (85-96). New York: Springer Publishing Company.
Brown, M.E.M.D., Swiggart, W.H.M.S., Dewey, C.M.M.D., & Ghulyan, M.V.M.A. (2012). Searching For Answers: Proper Prescribing of Controlled Prescription Drugs. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(1), 79-85. Retrieved From
Oldani, M. (2014). Deep Pharma: Psychiatry, Anthropology, and Pharmaceutical Detox. Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, 38 (2).
Schreiner, M.D. (2012). A Deadly Combination: The Legal Response to America’s Prescription Drug Epidemic. The Journal of Legal Medicine, 33.