Is Xanax Bad for Your Brain?

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.

Begin the first day of the rest of your life

To find out more contact our team

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Samantha Kelly​

Director of National Business Development & Admissions Coordinator

I am a dedicated and passionate professional with extensive experience in business development Admissions and marketing. I have an incredible passion for showing others that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel if someone truly wants it.
Being in recovery myself I understand the struggles of addiction and alcoholism. I Started this Career path in 2009. With multiple years of experience, I bring a multi-faceted approach and am always seeking new ways to make a difference in the lives of those I work with.

Kim L. Buckner

Facilitator

As a Substance Abuse Motivational Speaker, Pastor, Peer Advocate, and Facilitator. Kim helps clients avoid relapse by understanding their triggers. Those people, places and things that can cause craving, as well as internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. Kim also clients with identifying and building healthy relationships now that they’re clean and sober.

Kim’s background includes extensive experience as a motivational speaker and work in faith-based organizations helping youth and adults alike. He says he is motivated by giving back to the community, understanding, and not judging who she comes into contact with. Kim’s favorite quote is by Dr. Raymond Johnson: “The respect given to others rebounds to the giver to deny the scared in the Other is to deny it in oneself.”

Caty Burns

Clinician

Caty graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Counseling and History. Throughout her undergrad, she worked at the local CASA program, supporting volunteers advocating for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Caty worked for seven years at a community mental health center (CMHC), partnering with children, adults, and families.

During those seven years, she taught life and coping skills as well as behavior management, provided case management and peer recovery services, and facilitated treatment teams that included the client, family, providers, and community members. I have also worked at an IOP providing group therapy services. She is currently working towards my Master of Social Work.

In her free time, Caty enjoys reading, especially historical fiction, spending time outdoors and having movie nights with her family. Disney World is her happy place, and she dreams of living among the elephants.

Madison Knowles

Mental Health Therapist

My name is Madison Knowles, I am a Mental health therapist at NPAC. I am a single-mother of two and I have a daughter who is globally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism. I have been in this industry since I was 16 years old, as I was fascinated with human behavior. I obtained my masters in applied behavioral analysis and started off working with people with disabilities. I then found my love for counseling when I worked with juveniles who had mental health and substance use issues. I then decided to go back for my mental health therapy license after that and working in a forensic treatment center. I went on to obtain my therapy credentials and since 2017, I have also been working on my PhD in forensic psychology in which I am currently working on my dissertation. I am inspired by change and how resilient people can be. My favorite inspirational quote is “Some will, Some won’t, So what, NEXT!!!” This quote has inspired me to try, try, and try again no matter how hard life gets, someone will give you a chance eventually. As a therapist at NPAC, I have been given the opportunity to work with diverse populations such as in substance use and mental health and I am known for my work with people on the schizophrenic spectrum as well as with other clients with other severe conditions including personality disorders.

Megan Carmona, LMHC

Lead Therapist

Our Lead Therapist, Megan, is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with adults who struggle with addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. As Lead Therapist, she provides individual, family, and group therapy sessions to our clients.  Megan says “I am very passionate about therapy, especially about supporting my clients in exploring their strengths and identity. My goal is to provide individuals with the tools that can help them achieve independence in coping with their challenges and facilitating personal development.” In her free time, Megan enjoys watching docu-series and playing video games with her family. Her dream is to own acres of land so she can care for vulnerable animals, especially old dogs, cats, and horses. 

Kristen Bensley

Primary Clinician

As Primary Clinician, Kristen works with all aspects of our clinical team, from case management to primary therapy.  She has broad experience working in the mental health field. Prior to joining our team at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic, Kristen was part of the team awarded the Evernorth Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Designation by Cigna. She says her motivation is to help people rediscover who they are and become excited about the future and all the possibilities life offers. Kristen’s favorite quote is: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Ronn Daigle, MSW

Therapist, Utilization Review Clinician

Ronn Daigle services as a Therapist and Utilization Review Clinician at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment since 2011, with experience in all facility-based levels of care. Ronn earned, both an Associate of Arts in Psychology (2013) and Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with an Addiction Studies Concentration (2015) from Indian River State College. 

Ronn additionally earned a Master of Social Work degree in 2021 and is a current Registered Clinical Social Work Intern working toward licensure (LCSW). He describes himself as detail oriented, and solution focused.

Ronn says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working with someone who doesn’t believe in himself or herself, and being there in the moment with them when the belief begins. We work with individuals who come to us at a point and time in their respective lives where they do not believe that change for others is possible; let alone for themselves…throughout the process they eventually come to a point where they realize that change is not only possible, but achievable.”

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI

Assistant Clinical Director

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI is the Assistant Clinical Director at Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic who specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ, addiction, as well as mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety, to Bipolar Disorder, trauma, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. Erika utilizes a number of modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness amongst others. Erika has been in practice for close to a decade and has earned her license in Mental Health Counseling, as well as being a Master’s Certified Addiction Professional. Erika has worked with many individuals including couples counseling and family therapy, and is fluent in Spanish.
 
Throughout my years of practice, one of the things I enjoy helping people find is inner peace. Whether you are in the deepest parts of depression, overrun by your anxiety, controlled by your addiction, or there are certain issues in your life that are negatively impacting your ability to function, and have a happy, healthy life, maybe now is the time to talk about it. I am a big believer in empowerment, working hard in therapy, and utilizing different techniques to help you regain that inner peace that may have been lost along the way. I want to work with you as a team because with two people, absolutely everything is possible. I want to be there as a therapist, to help build you up, support you, but also help you be honest with yourself and accountable. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my biggest goal for you is going to be simple….for you to no longer need my services. Why? Because if you no longer need my services, it means that you have regained your peace, you have regained your strength, you have regained your confidence. It means that you now have the tools to address any issues that try to derail you, and best of all, you will have the insight to overcome and thrive. So let’s begin this journey together, and get you to the place you want to be, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and in your sobriety.

Aurelio Ayuso, MSW, LCSW, CAP, ICADC

Clinical Director

Aurelio has worked with those that suffer from the disease of addiction in adults and juveniles alike for over 10 years, beginning in the United States Navy where he proudly served for 20 years, working with those that were succumbed by addiction due to trauma and continuing his passion for helping those in need locally in Central Florida.

He specializes in both Addictions and Trauma, he has worked first as a therapist then as the clinical supervisor to both the Juvenile and Adult Drug Court programs in Brevard County. Aurelio has been instrumental in developing substance abuse treatment programs directly tailored to help those that also suffer from complex trauma due to their addiction. He has been recognized by several organizations for his forward thinking and ability to tailor treatment to individuals in the most restrictive environments.

Mr. Ayuso received his Graduate Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as Certified Addictions Professional in the State of Florida, and Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor. Aurelio specializes in the treatment of Addiction, Trauma, and Abandonment using strength based strategies deeply rooted in Solution Focused, and Mindfulness Therapies. At the Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic he passionately develops holistic curriculums that foster the belief that through addressing the mind, body, and spirit together, the Disease of Addiction can be addressed successfully.

Robert Lehmann, MHSA

Chief Operating Officer

Bob Lehmann is the Chief Operating Officer at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration with a concentration in Mental Health Administration and over twenty-five years of experience as a senior executive at addiction and mental health treatment facilities.

One of the reasons for his commitment to excellence in addiction treatment was his experience related to family members who suffered from the disease of addiction. Bob has been actively involved in community organizations throughout his career. Recently he was one of the founders of the Florida Addiction Treatment Coalition (FATC) and is its present Vice President. FATC was designed to bring together treatment executives in Florida to advocate on behalf of treatment facilities and the clients they serve adhering to a foundation of integrity and service excellence.

Jose R. Toledo, M.D.

Medical Director

A well-rounded and accomplished individual, Jose R. Toledo, M.D., is the Medical Director of Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a neurologist with 25 years of experience and has been in private practice since 1991 on the Treasure Coast of Florida. He completed his neurology training at the State University of New York and his Fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology.

He also completed 24 months of acute inpatient psychiatry at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, University of Missouri in Kansas City. In 2008, Dr. Toledo participated in and was certified in the continuing medical education activity entitled “Buprenorphine and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence” from The Medical University of South Carolina during which began his quest to found and head Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a brain specialist with particular competence in addiction medicine and out-patient detoxification treatment and integrates the fields seamlessly. He is certified to prescribe Buprenorphine (Suboxone). He incorporates his background in neurology into the addiction field. Dr. Toledo is member/fellow of The American Medical Association, The Florida Medical Association and The American Society of Addiction Medicine