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Looking at How Xanax Hits the Brain and Hurts the Body

Looking at How Xanax Hits the Brain and Hurts the Body

By now, most people are familiar with the prescription drug Xanax to some extent or another. It has been one of the most popular anti-anxiety medications for many years now, and it has also garnered some infamy throughout our current culture through music and media. Hip-hop artists, like Future in the mainstream or… wait for it… Lil Xan in the underground, have promoted the use of the prescription drug for recreational purposes. Even television shows have made seemingly flippant comments about using the now-notorious medication to take the edge off.

Xanny bars are commonly characterized today as chill-pills, just like amphetamines were promoted in the 60s as “uppers” for the guy or gal on the go. The same can be said about other name brand benzodiazepine medications, such as:

But do people really understand how hard Xanax hits the brain and hurts the body?

Xanax on the Brain and Body

To get caught up to speed, Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam. This is one medication included in a group of drugs known as benzodiazepines, or benzos. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for anxiety.

Like all drugs taken orally, it’s absorbed into the body through the stomach. The drug passes through the mucous membrane and enters the liver. Finally, in the bloodstream, it makes its way to the brain. Now for those who don’t know, the blood-brain barrier is a membrane that filters out dangerous substances. It is built in to protect us. However, drugs like benzodiazepines are able to pass through this barrier. That is how they are meant to work.

Benzodiazepines work on parts of the brain known as GABA-A receptors. GABA-A receptors are responsible for producing sedative effects. They are naturally switched on by chemicals used to carry messages around the brain. Those chemicals are called neurotransmitters.

GABA-A receptors are switched on by the GABA neurotransmitter. This is a chemical that creates a calming effect.

Benzodiazepines are agonists, meaning they amplify the GABA-A receptors’ effects. They attach themselves to the GABA-A receptors and increasing the effectiveness of the GABA neurotransmitter. Taking Xanax activates that GABA-A receptor and kicks it into overdrive.

Now none of this is inherently wrong. In fact, doctors typically prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety, which can be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. In those cases, the effects created by Xanax in the brain actually correct an imbalance. Dr. Cathy Montgomery, reader in psychopharmacology at Liverpool John Moores University, says:

“If somebody’s experiencing high levels of anxiety, they have an increase in chemicals like adrenaline, which would normally make you feel more alert and awake, and a deficiency in GABA. High levels of adrenaline and low levels of GABA have a double impact of increased excitation in the brain, which people experience as anxiety. When they take Xanax, they won’t necessarily get the same type of heavy sedative effect.”

So in essence, Xanax does have a job to do. The issue is, so many people found out what a thorough job it does and decided it could be taken advantage of. Use of Xanax without the imbalance in the brain to cause that heavy sedative effect is what recreational users are looking for. Actually, using Xanax for recreation creates a self-inflicted imbalance in the brain. This creates a lot of issues because the body will try to preserve the balance, which only sets things up to get worse in the long run. Montgomery states:

“Whatever you take, your brain will try to regulate it. It may release adrenaline to try and combat this,”

So while your brain might fight back by releasing adrenaline, you won’t feel it until the effects of the drug wear off. The body takes several days to completely release the drug, even if noticeable effects will wear off after a few hours. The drug first detaches itself from the GABA-A receptors in your brain. Liver enzymes break it down, and eventually, the body gets rid of it.

How It Hurts

The issues can start to take shape once the drug detaches from your brain’s receptors. Like we said before, the effects will start to wear off, and the brain will still be trying to maintain its equilibrium. That self-inflicted imbalance we talked about then suddenly becomes a devastating crash. A sudden increase in brain activity finally breaks through the fog when the Xanax is gone, which can cause feelings of anxiety, agitation, insomnia, even terror.

Xanax use can actually create a cycle of dependency very quickly because while they may not have experienced anxiety before taking the drug, they have created it through the imbalance in the brain that may cause them to seek more of the drug. Before you know it, you are self-medicating to treat these symptoms, which are actually withdrawals created by the drug.

For those who use this medication for sedative effects, another issue presents itself. Benzodiazepines are supposed to be prescribed for a short time. To feel the same effects, people find they have to use larger and larger doses. And taking large doses for sustained periods of time can actually cause the body to stockpile significant withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawals aren’t just painful, they are extremely dangerous.

Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Muscle aches
  • Tension in the jaw and/or teeth pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Numbness in fingers
  • Tingling in limbs
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Alteration in sense of smell
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Cramps
  • Tremors
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypertension
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Impaired respiration

Stopping the use of these drugs abruptly has been known to cause seizures, and detoxing without medical assistance can even be lethal.

You don’t have to use Xanax for an extended period to experience withdrawals. Some people with prescriptions have even reported to feeling withdrawals between doses. Repeated use can lead to withdrawal symptoms in a very short amount of time. Another issue we find is that GABA-A receptors are concentrated in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is important for memory and is believed to be the reason why these drugs can cause blackouts.

Xanax becomes even more dangerous when combined with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. Not only can combining these drugs be harmful to the body, they can actually be life-threatening. Often overdoses involved benzodiazepines like Xanax occur when the drug is used along with other substances that have a compounding effect, such as alcohol or opioids. The drugs react to one another and cause more severe reactions in the brain and the body.

While anti-anxiety medications can be useful for those who suffer due to an imbalance in the brain, everyone should be aware of the risks associated with Xanax and similar substances. Dependence to this drug can be incredibly hazardous, and discontinuing use should always be done with the utmost caution and with medical assistance. No one should try to stop abruptly without consulting a medical professional, and for those who struggle with substance abuse, there is help.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call Palm Partners Recovery Center toll-free now. You are not alone.

CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Overdose Profile: Benzos (Benzodiazepine)

Overdose Profile: Benzos (Benzodiazepine)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Benzodiazepine, which is commonly abbreviated into “Benzos” or “BZD”  is a class of psychoactive drugs whose core chemical structure is the fusion of a benzene ring and a diazepine ring. Benzos are drugs such as:

  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Temazepam (Restoril or Normison)

There is a lengthy list of medications that fall into the category of Benzos, those are just a few more common names. Drugs in the Benzo class are known for their sedative and sleep-inducing properties, which make them commonly used to treat a number of conditions including:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Muscle Spasms

Benzodiazepines are generally viewed as safe and effective for short-term use. But even then there is a chance for cognitive impairment and paradoxical effects such as aggression or behavioral disinhibition, making the drug unpredictable.

Long-term use is very controversial due to concerns about adverse psychological and physical effects, decreasing effectiveness, and physical dependence, addiction and withdrawal.

What is a Benoz Overdose?

Benzodiazepine overdose happens when someone ingests of one or more of the drugs in the benzodiazepine class in quantities greater than are recommended or generally practiced. Death as a result of taking an excessive dose of benzodiazepines is possible, and the risk of death from a Benzo overdose is highly amplified when combined with other substances such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Barbiturates
  • Opioids
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Benzodiazepines are actually one of the most highly prescribed classes of drugs, and Benzos are commonly used in self-poisoning by drug overdose. The various benzodiazepines vary in their toxicity since they produce varying levels of sedation in overdose.

Symptoms of Benzo Overdose

Following an acute overdose of a benzodiazepine the onset of symptoms is typically rapid. Most symptoms of an overdose on Benzos develop within 4 hours. Some symptoms are:

  • Impairment ofcentral nervous system
  • Intoxication
  • Dizziness
  • Double Vision
  • Impaired balance
  • Impaired motor function
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Lack of muscle coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Anxiety
  • Delirium
  • Combativeness
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression

Some of the more concerning and serious symptoms of a potentially fatal overdose include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hypoxemia- low oxygen in blood
  • Hypotension- low blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma

The elderly and those with chronic illnesses are much more vulnerable to lethal overdose with benzodiazepines.

How do you know?

When you believe someone may be overdosing from Benzodiazepine, a proper diagnosis of benzodiazepine overdose may be difficult. This can usually be determined based on the clinical presentation of the patient along with a history of overdose. Obtaining a laboratory test for benzodiazepine blood concentrations can be useful in patients presenting with central nervous systems depression or coma of unknown origin.

How can you help?

If you suspect someone is overdosing, you should always contact emergency services immediately! It is vital that in the event of an overdose that you seek professional medical assistance.

As with any overdose, the first step is an assessment of the patient’s airway, breathing, and circulation. If necessary these issues should be addressed as immediately as possible.

A benzo overdose is different to treat for a lot of reasons. Medical observation and supportive care are the backbone of treating a benzodiazepine overdose because although benzodiazepines can be absorbed by activated charcoal like most other toxic narcotics, the gastric decontamination that happens with using activated charcoal is not beneficial in pure benzodiazepine overdose. If someone is overdosing off of Benzos and nothing else then the risk of adverse effects would outweigh any potential benefit from the procedure.

Supportive care is your primary source of helping someone overdosing from Benzos, so certain actions such as:

  • Observing vital signs
  • Providing fluids
  • Maintaining airway in case of respiratory depress

For anyone who is not a medical professional, observation is key. Health care professionals and emergency services should always handle the direct care of someone suffering from a benzo overdose.

Benzo overdose is a very serious situation, especially when combined with other substances which magnify the effects. Overdose itself is a very real problem, and prescription overdose is currently the number one cause of injury related death in the country! If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

Opiate Epidemic: Yes, It is Still a Thing

Opiate Epidemic: Yes, It is Still a Thing


Author: Justin Mckibben

It can be said that the major public health campaign to curb opiate use and abuse has had some success in reducing the number of people who take potentially addictive narcotic painkillers. So the efforts and accomplishments of those trying to raise awareness of the opiate epidemic have not gone unnoticed.

That being said, the opiate epidemic is still a thing. The reality is opiate use is still a big deal because even though less patients are prescribed, those who are prescribed the drugs are getting prescribed more of these medications, and are being given them for a longer period of time. This combined with the role opiates play in accidental deaths in America makes for a very real issue.

Study Statistics

In a recent study nearly half the people who took painkillers for over 30 days in the first year of the survey were still using them 3 years later, which researches say is a sign of potential abuse.

The pharmacy claims of 6.8 million Americans who filled at least one prescription for an opiate medication between 2009 and 2013 were examined for the data collected in this study. Opioids are some of the most commonly used drugs including:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone

The report that was released this past Tuesday by the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, found that:

  • Nearly 60% of patients taking the painkillers to treat long-term conditions were also being prescribed muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety drugs that could cause dangerous reactions.

The senior vice president at Express Scripts Dr. Glen Stettin stated,

“Not only are more people using these medications chronically, they are using them at higher doses than we would necessarily expect. And they are using them in combinations for which there isn’t a lot of clinical justification.”

Dangers of Opiate Abuse and Overdose

In case you did not know, I reported in a recent article that overdoses involving prescription drugs are actually the leading cause of accidental death in the United States of America! According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Opiate painkillers play a role in about 70% of accidental deaths attributed to overdoses involving prescription drugs
  • Opiate overdoses led to 16,000 deaths in 2012

So one major concern with the growing statistic of longer term use and over-prescribed amounts of these medications is the greatly increased risk of overdose, and the statistics already show that accidental death in many ways is not uncommonly linked to opiate abuse or addiction.

Dangers of Mixing Medications

With few exceptions, patients who are taking an opioid painkiller should not be prescribed other drugs with a sedative effect because of a risk that the combined drugs could slow down the respiratory system. The recent study found:

  • Nearly 1/3 of patients were prescribed an opioid and a benzodiazepine in the same month
  • Around the same percentage were prescribed a muscle relaxant and an opioid at the same time
  • 27% were taking more than one opioid at a time, another hazardous combination

Given the information by the patients saying many of them were prescribed by different doctors, and filled prescriptions at different pharmacies, the data suggests a fair amount of doctor shopping and a need for stricter regulations on medication.

Long Term Problems

The drop in prescriptions of opiate medications is a great sign of change. However it is disturbing that doctors are continuing to give opioids to many patients for long time frames of treatment. Most experts now believe that while helpful in treating pain from injuries and surgery, opioids should be discontinued as quickly as possible.

The Express Scripts study found that a large percentage of patients who took an opiate medication for 30 days or more continued to use the drug long term. While some doctors insist medications should be provided that work around the clock, the data determined that about half of those patients were taking short-acting opioids.

While many experts say it is a relief to know that less people are actually being handed out prescriptions for these kinds of medications, it is still fearful to know that many people who are prescribed them are still being given larger quantities for longer extensions of time. Several doctors insist that opiates should not be considered a long-term solution for those in pain, and that there is still plenty to be done to raise awareness about the dangers of prolonged opiate dependence.

Opiate addiction, be it prescription medication or illicit narcotics such as heroin, is one disease that has had a pretty intense impact on the world. The past few years have been especially eye-opening for many as to the realities of this addiction. Hopefully as regulations change and studies continue to monitor the changes in the circumstances, we will find few people suffering and dying from this terrible illness. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Florida’s Overdose Death Rate Declines

Florida's Overdose Death Rate Declines

In the past years there has been so much concern in regards to the growing drug problems this country has been facing, especially in areas like Florida where the prescription drug market was a serious concern, and the fatality rate due to overdose was rising across the board. However it has been recently documented that along with a new wave of reform in the regulation of pain clinics and prescription narcotics, there has also been a steady slope of decline in the number of deaths credited to overdose in Florida. Much of this is a result of the investigations, restrictions, and enforcement efforts put forth to resolve these issues and give new hope.

Declining Death Rates

Between the year 2003 and 2009, the number of deaths attributed to drug overdose in Florida had increased by 61%. The number of drug overdoses in the region shot up from 1,804 to 2,905 in that 6 year time span, with especially notable increases in these overdoses caused by the opioid pain reliever known as OxyCodone and the Benzodiazepine known as Alprazolam. In response to this drastic surge of fatal drug use Florida implemented various laws and added efforts to take action for enforcement of legislation as part of a all-inclusive effort to reverse the developing drug problem.

Between the year 2010 and 2012, the number of drug overdose deaths decreased by an exceptional 16.7%. Lowering the number of fatal overdoses from 3,201 to 2,666, and the deaths per 100,000 persons decreased 17.7%, from 17.0 to 14.0. There were many notable changes in the trend of overdose for Florida, especially in regards to prescription drugs:

  • Death rates for prescription drugs overall decreased 23.2%, from 14.5 to 11.1 per 100,000 persons.
  • The decline in the overdose deaths from oxycodone (52.1%) exceeded the decline for other opioid pain relievers,
  • The decline in deaths for alprazolam (35.6%) exceeded the decline for other benzodiazepines.

These averages were determined based on estimates of resident populations made by Florida Department of Health.  Many of these overdose deaths may have had more than one of the dangerous prescription drugs contributing to the death, so in some cases there was no way to directly credit the overdoses to one in particular.

Florida Taking Action

There is a definite relation to the declines which occurred regarding overdoses and the decline in the rate of these drugs being prescribed during this period. The connection between the new legislation with progressive enforcement and the considerable declines in written prescriptions and overdose deaths, especially for the more dangerous narcotic drugs favored by pain clinics, suggests that these proactive initiatives in Florida had a deep impact on reducing prescription drug overdose fatalities.

There is a time-line of events that took place between January of 2010 and July of 2012 that shows how the state of Florida, along with the United States Drug Enforcement Agency became actively involved in combatting the rise in fatal prescription drug overdoses. This movement had taken its toll on the ‘pill mill’ empire that had sprung up in the area.

  • January 4, 2010- Pain clinics must by registered and recognized
  • February, 2010- Operation Pill Nation- U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and state and local law enforcement officials began investigations into Florida pain clinics.
  • October 1, 2010- Regulation of Florida pain clinic policies was expanded.
  • February 23, 2011- Operation Pill Nation- Joint law enforcement raids began taking down larger illegal drug operations.
  • July 1, 2011- Physicians regulated for dispensing controlled substances and statewide regional strike forces activated.
  • September 1, 2011- Program for mandatory reporting to prescription drug monitoring program was initiated and enforced.
  • July 1, 2012- Wholesale prescription narcotics distributor regulations were expanded.

Given all the recent reforms and head-line worthy arrests that have taken place in the last few months alone, it is hopefully safe to assume that this new diminishing percentage will continue to drop, and the more action that Florida authorities take toward rooting out those responsible for the past plague of illegal pill distribution in the area the more we will see survivors of the war on addiction.

With so many changes in legislation and in the community Florida is quickly facing the issue with substance abuse and addiction head on, and there are so many people who are taking the opportunity to escape those harmful habits by seeking out reliable and effective treatment programs. If you or someone you love are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

Long Term Effects of Benzo Abuse

Long Term Effects of Benzo AbuseThere are significant risks associated with the long-term effects of Benzo abuse. Benzo (Benzodiazepine) abuse can create serious health issues including drug dependence, as well as the possibility of adverse effects on cognitive function, physical health, and mental health. There are a number of harmful long term effects of Benzo abuse such as depression and flu-like symptoms especially during withdrawal. Due to these increasing physical and mental issues that are long-term effects benzo abuse, slowly weaning off the medication is recommended for long term users.

Common Symptoms of Physical Dependence

Some of the more common symptoms that could occur as long-term effects of Benzo abuse include:

  • Emotional clouding
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Sleep problems
  • Memory impairment
  • Personality changes
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Social deterioration
  • Employment difficulties

Long term effects of Benzo abuse also create an increased risk of impulsive, aggressive, and violent behavior patterns. According to a few recent studies:

  • 53% of long-term Benzo users showed violent and aggressive characteristics.
  • Daily users of benzodiazepines are also at a higher risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.
  • Out of 42 patients treated with Xanax– up to 1/3 of long-term users develop depression.

An even more frightening factor in long-term effects of Benzo abuse is the increasing risk of death. Some speculate there is even a link between some forms of brain damage and immune system deficiencies as a result of long term effects of Benzo abuse.

Long Term Effects of Benzo Abuse: Withdrawal and Recovery

The long term effects of Benzo abuse frequently create a severe physical dependency. So like any other chemical or medicine, one should never abruptly stop using this medication and probably seek out a medical detox facility, to lower dose under doctor supervision until they are completely off the chemical, or to receive alternative treatment while being removed from that medication. Other long-term effects of Benzo abuse can include overdoses when combined with other drugs. In addition, Benzo’s have reinforcing properties which make them a very addictive drug, and physical dependency can be developed in a matter of weeks of continued use.

The withdrawal process in regards to long term effects of Benzo abuse creates a wide range of psychological and physiological disorders. It was found that, after several years of chronic benzodiazepine use, a large portion of patients developed problems through withdrawal that were not pre-existing conditions such as:

  • Agoraphobia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Increasing anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Approximately half of patients attending mental health services for conditions including anxiety disorders are estimated to be the result of alcohol or benzodiazepine dependence. Sometimes anxiety disorders pre-date the alcohol or benzodiazepine dependence but these often act to keep the anxiety disorders going and even cause them to get progressively worse.

A person who is suffering the long term effects of Benzo abuse must treat the root issue of their drug dependency or they will not benefit from other therapies or medications. Recovery from long term effects of Benzo abuse tends to take a lot longer than recovery from alcohol abuse, but people can regain a healthy life-style. There are many great facilities and treatment programs with recovery plans specifically designed around the long term effects of Benzo abuse to help ease the weaning off the drugs and combating health issues.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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