Is Xanax Bad for Your Brain?

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Author: NP Addiction Clinic
Published: April 5, 2022

Xanax is a prescription medication that works by affecting the availability of chemical messengers in your brain. Even short-term use can disrupt this balance and prevent your brain from working normally. More sustained use can lead to memory problems and a decline in other cognitive functions.

While this may sound scary, there is help available. Most brain changes are reversible with proper treatment and support. Therapies, medication, and expert care can help you leave Xanax behind and regain a healthy mind and body.

What Is Xanax?

Xanax is the name for alprazolam, a prescription drug physicians usually prescribe to treat seizure disorders, anxiety, and panic disorders. Xanax is a type of benzodiazepine, a group of drugs that calm the central nervous system and slow down brain activity.

Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, with data suggesting that about 12.5% of adults use them. Despite their widespread use, benzo dependence can develop extremely quickly, and benzo withdrawal symptoms can be among the most dangerous of any drug.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 5.5 million people may have misused benzodiazepine drugs in 2019.

What Does Xanax Do to the Brain?

The brain comprises different areas of cells involved in various functions. These areas of cells communicate with each other (and the rest of the body) by sending out chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters.

When you take Xanax, it affects the levels of some of these chemical messengers. In particular, Xanax increases the level of a brain chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that inhibits brain activity. This slows the brain down, helping you feel calmer and more relaxed.

Xanax Dependence

Taking Xanax offers immediate relief from anxiety and produces calming effects on the brain and body. However, if you repeatedly take Xanax, your brain adjusts to the presence of the substance and modifies its own functions in response, decreasing the availability of GABA.

If you suddenly stop taking Xanax, you experience withdrawal symptoms until your body readjusts. Xanax withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, and seizures which, if unsupervised, can be fatal.

Does Xanax Cause Memory Loss?

In the short term, Xanax can inhibit certain brain cognitive functions, including explicit memory. Research shows that a single dose of Xanax can cause memory loss, which may persist for months after a person stops taking Xanax.

However, research also suggests that these changes no longer persist after three and a half years, implying that memory loss represents brain changes in response to the drug rather than long-term brain damage.

Can Xanax Damage Your Brain?

Sustained Xanax abuse can affect your cognitive functions and mental health. These include:

  • Visual-spatial problems
  • Lowered intelligence quotient (IQ)
  • Problems processing information quickly
  • Trouble learning new verbal skills
  • Problems concentrating
  • Delay in response time

However, most of the effects are observed when a client takes Xanax or shortly afterward. Whether these effects represent permanent damage or are part of the brain and body's response to the substance is unclear.

How Long Does Xanax Affect the Brain?

The amount of time Xanax stays in your bloodstream and directly alters your brain functions and chemical balance is dependent on its half-life. The drug's half-life is the amount of time it takes for a substance to reduce to half its original quantity.

Xanax has a relatively short half-life compared to other benzodiazepines. The average half-life of Xanax is 11.2 hours - this is how long it takes your body to metabolize half of the substance and eliminate it in your urine. It takes about five half-lives for 98% of the substance to be cleared - around four and a half days.

However, some adverse effects of Xanax abuse persist after the substance has left your body. These include Xanax dependence, Xanax addiction, and other problems, including learning difficulties, concentration issues, and memory problems.

Can Xanax Cause a Stroke?

A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland found that benzodiazepine use is associated with a 20% increased risk of stroke among people with Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have recommended careful consideration in prescribing Xanax and other benzodiazepines to people with Alzheimer's, as stroke is already one of the leading causes of death for people in this group.

On the other hand, research has found that Xanax use decreases the risk of major cardiovascular events and hemorrhagic stroke in clients with acute high blood pressure. One study observed up to a 22% reduced risk of hemorrhagic stroke in Xanax users over the age of 65.

What Is Xanax Addiction?

Xanax addiction is when you compulsively seek and use the drug despite its negative consequences. It is characterized by physical changes in the brain that can persist long after you stop taking it. These changes produce strong urges to use Xanax, especially in response to certain triggers.

While Xanax dependence and Xanax addiction both involve changes in brain function, they are distinct concepts. Xanax dependence involves your brain adjusting its natural production of chemicals in response to the consistent presence of the substance. Xanax addiction, on the other hand, involves long-term changes to the reward system of your brain (particularly the mesolimbic dopamine pathway).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-7) classifies Xanax addiction as a severe form of a substance use disorder, a type of mental health disorder.

Recovery From Xanax Addiction and Abuse

Xanax dependence can develop quickly. Research suggests that you can become dependent as little as three weeks after taking the substance, even if you take it according to your prescription.

Xanax dependence and abuse are also very dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms include panic attacks, insomnia, and potentially fatal seizures. Persistent abuse can inhibit your memory and other cognitive functions.

The good news is that addiction treatment programs can support you in overcoming substance abuse and help you live a productive, sober life.

Addiction treatment programs usually offer a variety of different options tailored to each person's needs. Treatment options that may help you overcome your addiction to Xanax and other prescription drugs include:

  • Talk therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Group programming
  • Support groups
  • Complementary options such as yoga and mindfulness
  • Experiential therapies such as creative art therapy

Addiction recovery requires commitment and dedication. However, with the right support, anyone can overcome addiction and return to their best selves.

Medical Detox for Xanax Withdrawal

Severe symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can be fatal without proper medical supervision. For this reason, it is essential that you withdraw from Xanax under the guidance of medical professionals. They will design a detox plan (usually involving tapering or substitution), offer regular check-ups, and remain on hand in the case of any medical complications.

Contact Us at NP Addiction Clinic Today

NP Addiction Clinic is one of the nation's leading addiction treatment centers for recovery from substance addiction and abuse. We offer comprehensive and compassionate care through evidence-based and holistic treatment approaches.

If you are struggling with Xanax addiction or abuse, recovery can seem a long way away. However, you can safely overcome Xanax addiction and live a fulfilling, sober life with our support and individualized care. Contact us today if you are ready to take the first step in your recovery journey.

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