As a powerful tranquiliser, Xanax is regularly abused by those who enjoy its sedative effects. When prescribed for the treatment of conditions such as anxiety disorder, Xanax should be taken for a short period of time only as there is a risk of tolerance developing.
This could lead to abuse and addiction. Xanax addiction can have devastating consequences for your life as well as for the lives of those you love. If you develop this illness, you will require professional help to break the cycle of abuse.
How much do you know about the prescription drug Xanax? We are learning more about it every day, and a lot of what we’re learning is not good. According to a February 2018 report published by the Guardian, the UK accounts for 22% of all Xanax sales on the dark web. The UK also represents the second largest market for untraceable Xanax sales made online. And we are not just talking about Europe. This is global.
Doctors are now beginning to sound the alarm over the misuse and abuse of this dangerous drug. If you are using Xanax according to a doctor’s prescription, please adhere to that prescription exactly as it is written. If you are using Xanax in any other way, your use constitutes misuse. Please get in touch with us so we can talk about Xanax abuse and addiction. We are here to help.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is a brand name for a drug known as alprazolam. It is a short-acting benzodiazepine normally prescribed as a tranquilliser. Doctors frequently use Xanax to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorder, and a variety of social anxiety disorders.
Although the drug is only supposed to be available in the UK by prescription, there are other ways of getting it. People can buy it on the street, through the dark web, or by way of online pharmacies. Some obtain it from family members or friends with legitimate prescriptions.
Exacerbating the abuse of Xanax is the fact that it can be purchased for so little. It is not abnormal to buy pills for as little £1 apiece through the dark web or an online pharmacy. Xanax is one of the most affordable addictions in the world.
Understand that the Xanax problem in the UK is growing. What started out as abuse-related mostly to prescriptions has become a much larger problem involving people taking the drug both recreationally and for the purposes of coping. More individuals are talking about the drug, which translates to increasingly more people using it.
How Does Xanax Work?
Xanax is similar to other benzodiazepines in its mechanism. It essentially does two things. First, it increases the availability of a brain neurotransmitter known as GABA. This neurotransmitter is the most common and powerful inhibitory neurotransmitter in human brains.
An inhibitory neurotransmitter is a brain chemical that produces a sedating effect. In the case of GABA, it has the power to calm the nerves, relax the muscles, and relieve stress and anxiety. Perhaps that’s why so many people are taking it.
Second, Xanax modulates the functioning of the GABA receptor further inducing the calming effect. It is this combination of more available GABA and a modified receptor that allows the drug to induce a heightened level of relaxation and calmness.
The best way to understand how Xanax works is to think of it as a super tranquilliser. Taking this drug even in small doses can do wonders for reducing anxiety, feelings of panic, and so forth. But know this: the effects of Xanax are short-lived. The drug is a short-acting drug because its half-life is also short.
Xanax Abuse Causes
Science has been unable to positively identify a single cause of Xanax abuse and addiction. All the research to date points to four possible causes, each of which could contribute to a certain degree. Those causes are:
Studies have shown that benzodiazepine abuse tends to run in families. To the extent that benzodiazepine use disorder seems to be more consistent among people with a family history, it could be that something in the family's genetic makeup that makes some members more predisposed to abusing Xanax in order to enjoy the pleasurable effects it produces.
Scientists say that brain chemistry cannot be ignored as a possible cause either. GABA has a naturally tranquillising effect on both the mind and body. It is speculated that in some people, levels of naturally occurring in GABA never return to normal after taking the drug. So once a single prescription is completed, another prescription is necessary to avoid feeling worse again.
Xanax abuse and addiction do have a psychological component to them. It could be that in some individuals, psychological dependence develops more quickly than physical dependence. This could initiate an abuse or addiction scenario more readily.
It has been observed in the addiction recovery community that environmental factors can contribute to misuse and abuse of all sorts of substances. This is not exclusive to Xanax. Nonetheless, people who live in unstable environments (psychologically, emotionally, financially, etc.) may be more vulnerable to the euphoric feelings Xanax is capable of producing.
The most important thing we can say about the cause of Xanax abuse is this: research indicates that there are some people who are more predisposed to developing an addiction than others. As a Xanax user, where you would fall on the predisposition scale would be hard to say without a thorough physical and psychological examination.
Due to the way in which Xanax binds to the GABA receptors in the brain, over time it can make it less responsive to stimulation. When this happens, you are likely to find you are not getting the same relief from your medication.
The natural response might be to increase your consumption of Xanax, and while this might work temporarily, after a while your tolerance levels will rise again. Continued abuse of Xanax can cause your brain and body to become dependent on it. It is likely that you will get to a stage where it is impossible to function without your medication and when you try to quit, you will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms.
You should know that dependence can be both physical and psychological and can occur in both those who abuse the drug or in those who take it in therapeutic doses if they use it for a prolonged period.
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- drowsiness and fatigue
- dizziness and light-headedness
- loss of concentration and motor skills
- shortness of breath
- mood swings.
These are all effects that can range from mild to severe in their intensity. In the most severe cases, Xanax can produce seizures, trouble urinating, weight changes, and additional symptoms.
Long-Term Effects of Xanax
The long-term effects of Xanax are more significant and worrisome. Long-term use is known to contribute to:
- substantial cognitive loss
- delirium (episodes of acute confusion)
- chronic depression
- psychotic episodes
- aggression and impulsive behaviour.
Please note that the long-term effects of Xanax abuse are not always reversible. Some people develop one or more of these long-term issues only to have to deal with them for the rest of their lives.
Doctors prescribing Xanax to patients may follow a single prescription with a substitute medication. The most common substitutes are other benzodiazepines including Ativan, clonazepam, and diazepam. Note that Ativan is a brand name for a generic drug known as lorazepam.
The only important distinction between the different kinds of benzodiazepines is how long they last. Ativan and Xanax are both short-acting benzodiazepines were clonazepam and diazepam are long-lasting. From a functional point of view, however, all benzodiazepines produce the same sorts of effects.
As benzodiazepine use is becoming a greater concern, doctors are looking for other alternatives to treat conditions like anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia. One class of drugs that seems to work well for insomnia are benzodiazepine receptor agonists (BRAs). These are drugs like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.
Finally, doctors may be able to substitute SSRI antidepressants for patients suffering from panic attacks and anxiety. One of the most well-known in this class of drugs is Zoloft.
It should be noted that most of the substitute drugs are potentially addictive as well. This implies that moving from Xanax to another medication is not the same thing as beating an addiction. Switching drugs does not change the underlying problem.
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The Dangers of Xanax
Xanax is such a commonly used drug that is difficult for a lot of people to believe it’s dangerous. The thing that makes it so dangerous is its comparatively short half-life. Here’s what you need to know about half-life: the half-life of a drug is the amount of time it takes for the effects produced by the drug to peak. The shorter the half-life, the more quickly a person feels the effects.
As Xanax has such a short half-life, you can take the drug and start feeling good relatively quickly – usually in under an hour. But therein lies the danger. The effects of Xanax wear off almost as quickly as they come on. This increases the potential for both abuse and addiction due to the simple fact that users do not want the pleasant effects to wear off. As soon as they start coming down, they are ready to take another dose.
With Xanax in particular, it moves quickly to the brain and increases the availability of GABA. Almost instantly the user starts feeling more calm and relaxed. Most users also experience feelings of euphoria at the same time. As the effects of the drug start to wear off, they wear off quickly and rather noticeably.
Unfortunately, one of the other negatives about Xanax is that its relatively short half-life creates a greater risk of dependence. In other words, people become dependent on the drug more quickly than they would with other drugs. It is the combination of a short half-life and easy dependence that makes Xanax so dangerous.
The Cost of Xanax Addiction
The Cost of Xanax Addiction
We cannot look at the dangers of Xanax without discussing the cost of becoming addicted to this drug. Like any other addiction, the cost of Xanax addiction touches a lot of different areas:
- Physical Health – Long-term Xanax use can harm your physical health. Over time you can lose a significant amount of motor function. You can end up with vision problems, breathing problems, hypertension, and more.
- Mental Health – The cost of Xanax addiction also includes long-term mental health problems. If you take this drug long enough, you could develop permanent cognitive impairment – including memory loss and an inability to concentrate. You could also develop long-term depression or anxiety.
- Relationships – People addicted to Xanax often struggle in their personal relationships. Not only does the addiction make them unreliable, but Xanax users are prone to pronounced mood swings. One minute they can be calm and relaxed, the next minute impulsive or aggressive. This is never good for family relationships.
- Financial – An addiction to Xanax could lead to financial ruin. Every addiction requires money to fund, so Xanax abusers may have trouble paying their bills. Their unreliability as workers often leads to loss of employment as well. This only compounds financial problems.
It should be clear that the cost of Xanax addiction goes well beyond the actual money you spend on the drug. Addiction could cost you everything that is important to you; from your health to your family and the home you worked so tirelessly to afford.
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Xanax Brand & Street Names
You already know that Xanax is a brand name of the generic drug alprazolam. As for street names, Xanax is a little bit different in that there are some very specific names people use to refer to it. Some of the other benzodiazepines do not have any specific street names.
Here are the most common street names for Xanax:
- Handlebars, bars, or Z-bars
- Blue footballs
- Bicycle parts
- Yellow boys
- White girls, white boys
The street names refer to some sort of characteristic of the Xanax pills themselves. For example, some Xanax pills have a shape similar to an American football. If they have that shape and are blue in colour, they are known as blue footballs.
The handlebars and Z-bars names are derived from the fact that two of the pills placed end-to-end, at a slight angle, are said to resemble bicycle handlebars. It is interesting to note what users will come up with when given enough time.
Management of Xanax Misuse and Dependence
Since Xanax and other benzodiazepines are so dangerous, experts do not recommend stopping use quickly. Anyone misusing or abusing Xanax would be far better off going through a management and maintenance programme that gradually reduces use of the drug. Doctors have a lot of tools at their disposal for this sort of thing.
Management of Xanax misuse is usually handled by way of a maintenance dose that gives the user time to come to the conclusion that he or she needs to stop using. Once that decision is made, a gradual tapering off is the recommended way to go. Doctors gradually prescribe lower doses of Xanax until the user can stop using completely.
In cases where patients are reluctant to taper off, doctors have to decide whether to continue with a maintenance dose or transition the patient to a substitute medication. Doctors have to consider why the patient is using Xanax, how transitioning to another medication will affect that patient physically and psychologically, and additional factors that may influence the patient’s overall health.
The underlying truth of Xanax management is this: the longer the drug is used, the greater the risk of developing the long-term side effects mentioned earlier in this guide. Experts recommend not using this drug for more than four weeks to treat insomnia or panic attacks. Several months is acceptable for treating anxiety – as long as the drug is taken in low doses.
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Xanax and Other Substances
It is recommended that Xanax never is taken in concert with other substances – especially other substances that have a sedative effect. Unfortunately, mixing Xanax with other substances is rather common when the drug is used for recreational purposes. People are known to mix it with opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin, and morphine. It is sometimes combined with heroin and methadone. Perhaps the most dangerous situation of all is mixing Xanax with alcohol.
Alcohol is very similar to Xanax in its ability to induce sedation. More importantly, the same liver enzymes that break down alcohol also break down Xanax. When you combine the two substances, the liver has to work extra hard to do its job. That means both substances remain in the system longer. The chances of accidental overdose go up as well.
Please understand that drinking alcohol and taking Xanax at the same time is extremely dangerous. Not only do you increase your chances of becoming addicted to both substances, you also create a potentially life-threatening circumstance due to the double sedation. Combining alcohol with Xanax can reduce your heart rate and respiration, induce coma, and even kill you.
One more thing to know in this regard is that combining Xanax and other substances almost always causes more severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from Xanax is bad enough but withdrawing from both Xanax and alcohol is worse. Users experience significant anxiety and agitation, seizures, and even delirium.
Individuals are often misled by the prevalence of Xanax into thinking that overdose is rare. It’s not. Xanax overdose is common and growing more so by the day. An overdose situation occurs when someone takes more Xanax than prescribed. Overdose can also be caused by taking the drug for too long a time.
You need to know that overdosing on Xanax is dangerous. The sedating effects of the drug reduce brain activity which, in turn, can suppress both heart rate and respiration. More on the risks of an overdose in just a minute. Before we get to them, however, here are the most common warning signs of Xanax overdose:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Blurred vision
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
- Breathing difficulties.
If you were to notice at least a few of the symptoms in someone using Xanax, they would be cause for concern. The presence of all seven symptoms is pretty much a guarantee that the person has overdosed. Medical help is imperative in such cases as, without it, the patient could die.
The risks of Xanax overdose are very real. In the short term, symptoms like dizziness and light-headedness could lead to acute injuries as a result of falling, having an accident, etc. More than one Xanax abuser has ended up in A & E as a result of an overdose-related injury.
There are other risks that are much more serious. For example, Xanax overdose causes a drop in both respiration and heart rate. Respiratory distress (difficulty breathing) can become respiratory arrest in short order. This means you stop breathing. Likewise, reduced heart rate could mean your heart stops beating as well. This is known as cardiac arrest. Both respiratory and cardiac arrest can be deadly.
Even in cases where Xanax overdose does not lead to death, it can cause seizures or induce a coma. It can lead to long-term cognitive and psychological issues that are never overcome. Overdose can even make quitting the drug more difficult. The more times you overdose and survive, the more difficult it gets to quit.
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Co-Occurring Disorders of Xanax Abuse
Xanax is one of the most prescribed tranquillisers in the world. Doctors most often utilise it to treat anxiety or panic disorder. As such, it should be no surprise to you to know that some people dealing with Xanax addiction are also dealing with a co-occurring disorder.
Co-occurring disorders are defined as psychological disorders that occur simultaneously with another disorder. In the case of the Xanax, a person could be suffering from both addiction and panic syndrome at the same time. This is known as a dual diagnosis scenario. Doctors have to be very careful about dual diagnoses so that they don’t make one condition worse while treating the other.
Here are examples of treatable co-occurring disorders:
- bipolar disorder
- antisocial personality disorder.
How co-occurring disorders are treated depends on the individual patient’s circumstances. Doctors first attempt to determine if one disorder was a precursor to the other because, if that’s the case, treating the first condition may bring automatic relief of the second condition.
In the absence of determining a precursor, doctors must treat both conditions simultaneously. This may be done with additional medications combined with interventional therapies common to drug rehab. The interventional therapies are mainly talking therapies offered both one-on-one and in a group setting.
If you believe you or someone you love is suffering from co-occurring disorders, it is more important than ever for you to get professional help. Note that not all private treatment centres are equipped to handle co-occurring disorders.
Xanax Abuse Treatment Self-Care at Home
Experts generally recommend not attempting to self-treat for Xanax abuse at home. All benzodiazepines are dangerous drugs that need to be taken seriously. Xanax is particularly troublesome because of its short half-life. Trying to stop using it too quickly could have serious ramifications.
We feel it is much better if you sought professional treatment for Xanax abuse. If you do want to attempt a self-care treatment at home, please be extremely cautious. Here are some tips:
- Gradually taper – Do not try to stop using completely all in one fell swoop. Gradually reduce what you take by either reducing your dosage or extending the time between pills. A gradual taper will lessen withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.
- Ask for help – Withdrawing from Xanax can go from under control to an emergency very quickly. You would be wise to ask a family member or friend to stay with you during your withdrawal – just in case emergency services need to be called. Along those same lines, keep all relevant emergency numbers handy.
- Stay hydrated – Withdrawing from Xanax can induce diarrhoea and vomiting. As such, you could become hydrated if you don’t drink enough fluids. Be sure to stay hydrated until your withdrawal is complete.
- Occupy yourself – One of the hardest parts of Xanax withdrawal is the temptation to take another pill to relieve withdrawal symptoms. The best way to combat those temptations is to occupy your mind with other things. Do not sit around and dwell on withdrawal; get up and go do something that requires you to think.
If you want to attempt a self-care withdrawal at home, be sure to employ the following measures:
Withdrawal from Xanax can take anywhere from five days to a couple of weeks depending on how your body responds. So if you’re going to attempt self-care at home, be prepared to face a long withdrawal. If you are among the fortunate ones who make it through the toughest part of withdrawal in four or five days, that’s a bonus.
When to Seek Medical Care?
There are several different scenarios that would indicate you need to seek medical care for Xanax abuse. Let’s start with using the drug under a doctor’s prescription. If you find that the medication is not producing the same kinds of effects that you experienced when you first started taking it, it could be that your body is beginning to develop tolerance. This is a warning sign that you need to seek advice from your doctor.
Another sign that you need medical help is an inability to stop taking Xanax even after your prescription has run out. In other words, if you find yourself going to another doctor to get a new prescription or attempting to purchase Xanax online, you may have developed psychological dependence. Again, this is an indication you need medical help.
You definitely need medical care if you’re attempting self-care at home and you experience serious withdrawal symptoms you believe you won’t be able to withstand. If your withdrawal symptoms become life-threatening (e.g., you feel like you cannot breathe) it is time to end your self-care attempt and go to the hospital.
Xanax is not a drug to be taken lightly. From our perspective, that means seeking medical care if you are using Xanax in any way that is not explicitly spelt out by a doctor’s prescription.
Xanax Addiction and Possible Treatments
Like all benzodiazepines, Xanax is extremely addictive. People can become addicted to it even when using it under the supervision of a doctor. It only takes a few weeks, even in small doses, for a person’s body to start developing a tolerance. And once tolerance sets in, it is just a short jump to addiction.
Studies have shown that those who use benzodiazepines for more than six weeks are at a much greater risk of addiction. This should be a wakeup call to use Xanax with caution. If you have been using it for more than six weeks, we urge you to contact us so that we can talk about treatment.
The possible treatments for Xanax addiction are many and varied. The first option is to make an appointment with your GP and see what he or she says. Your GP may be able to treat you directly by prescribing a maintenance dose and then gradually reducing the amount of Xanax you take. In such a case, you would probably be advised to get additional help by way of a local support group or professional counselling.
A second possible treatment is to enrol in a programme offered by an outpatient clinic. Your doctor can refer you to such a clinic if necessary. Outpatient clinics utilise detox and a series of psychotherapeutic treatments in concert with support group participation and 12-step work.
Finally, the third possible treatment is to enter a residential treatment facility where you would undergo both detox and rehabilitative therapy. Treatment in a residential setting is medically supervised at all times. Furthermore, the distraction-free environment afforded by residential treatment will allow you to focus all your attention on getting well.
Possible therapies include:
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- motivational interviewing
- contingency management
- group support and counselling
- 12-step work
- relapse prevention strategies.
Detox is a necessary component of overcoming Xanax abuse or addiction. Detox is the mechanism that allows your body to cleanse itself of the chemicals you have been putting into it. Where Xanax detox is concerned, it is best to approach it with the mindset of gradual tapering rather than cold turkey.
The withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax detox are such that quitting cold turkey could lead to serious complications. Not only that, withdrawal symptoms are a lot more intense in a cold turkey situation. Therefore, doctors prefer a more gradual approach.
In short, Xanax detox is medically assisted in the UK. Doctors either use direct tapering or substitute tapering, depending on the needs of the patient. In both cases, the patient is gradually brought down from Xanax dependence by gradually using less and less.
Doctors, nurses, and therapists will use other means to make the patient more comfortable throughout detox. Where doctors and nurses may prescribe other drugs or suggest OTC medications, therapists will approach detox from a therapeutic standpoint. They may look to counselling to help calm a patient feeling especially anxious.
What about Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is a reality of Xanax detox. It cannot be avoided. The point of tapering Xanax use is to make withdrawal more tolerable, but even tapering will not completely eliminate withdrawal symptoms. Should you undergo Xanax detox in the future, you can expect to experience some or all of the following:
- Feelings of anxiousness or panic
- Agitation and irritability
- Confusion and memory loss
- Muscle aches and pains
- Flu-like symptoms
- Tremors and seizures.
Although rare in comparison to the number of people who undergo detox, it is possible that withdrawing from Xanax could induce what is known as benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. This is a syndrome in which withdrawal symptoms are especially severe and potentially life-threatening. The risk of developing the syndrome is the very reason we say you should not attempt to quit using Xanax at home. Only withdraw under the supervision of medical professionals.
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Do You Need to Go into Rehab?
It is not absolutely necessary to go into rehab following detox. However, it is strongly advised. Detox is a treatment that focuses on the physical addiction to Xanax. Rehab is intended to address the mental and psychological. Should you forgo rehab, you will be left dealing with the same psychological and mental issues that plagued you before detox. The only way to get over those things is to go through a comprehensive rehab programme.
Xanax Addiction Statistics
The seriousness of Xanax abuse in the UK has led to the need to compile data in order to understand the extent of what we are dealing with. Below are some statistics about Xanax addiction that may surprise you. They come from the same Guardian report mentioned at the start of this guide.
The statistics are beginning to give us a picture of just how serious the Xanax problem is. If you are misusing or abusing this powerful and dangerous drug, we urge you to get help right away. Please call our helpline and speak to one of our counsellors. We can get you connected with a treatment centre in your area.
- US consumers combine to purchase half of all the Xanax sold globally
- The UK market accounts for 22% of all Xanax sales
- More than 20% of all Xanax purchases on the dark web occur in the UK
- Many overdoses occur because people do not realise that Xanax is 10-20 times stronger than diazepam (Valium)
- 2017 conversations on the FRANK helpline included 1,525 mentions of benzodiazepines.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Xanax addictive?
Yes. Like all benzodiazepines, Xanax produces feelings of euphoria and relaxation that are highly addictive. It is possible to develop an addiction to this drug in just a few weeks’ time. As such, experts warn doctors against writing long-term prescriptions for Xanax.
How is Xanax addiction treated?
Xanax addiction is typically treated through a process of gradual withdrawal followed by psychotherapeutic treatments. Prescription medications are combined with a variety of counselling therapies to help addicts overcome their addictive behaviours.
How bad is Xanax addiction?
The answer to this question is relative. Xanax addiction is a serious problem from a medical and psychological standpoint, but how serious it in any one case depends on how long a person has been taking the drug, and in what doses. The safest thing is to just assume all Xanax abuse is bad enough to seek out medical help
How is Xanax addiction cured?
A person is considered ‘cured’ of Xanax addiction when he or she can maintain permanent abstinence. The fastest way to get there is through a comprehensive detox and rehabilitation programme. Xanax addiction requires medical intervention. It is as simple as that.
Where else can I find help?
You can get help for Xanax addiction through your GP, an outpatient drug treatment centre, or a residential treatment facility. You might also find a limited amount of assistance from local charitable organisations and drug addiction support groups. Feel free to contact UKAT if you need assistance locating accessible help in your area.
How does Xanax addiction start?
Every addiction starts with just one use. For some people, this means taking Xanax under a doctor’s prescription and supervision. For others, addiction starts when Xanax is used recreationally. They may buy it online, obtain it from friends or family members, or get it on the street.
Who gets addicted to Xanax?
Xanax does not discriminate in terms of who becomes addicted to it. Anyone who uses the drug for more than six weeks is at substantial risk for developing an addiction. You could become addicted regardless of your sex, ethnicity, education level, socio-economic status, religion, creed, etc.
What should I do about Xanax addiction?
If you are suffering from addiction, you should immediately call our helpline or go see your GP. The sooner you get treatment, the better off you are going to be. The worst thing you can do is ignore your addiction in the hopes that it will go away.
If you are not sure or you are somewhat concerned, you can reach out to us for that too. We can help you figure out if you are addicted. And if so, we can get you some help.
How do I help someone who is addicted to Xanax?
First, note that you cannot force the person in the treatment. The best thing you can do is offer your support and, in the meantime, look for treatment options so that you’re ready should the person make a decision to seek treatment. If you would like to try to encourage a treatment decision, consider conducting an intervention.
Is Xanax addictive in low doses?
Absolutely. Even in low doses, Xanax interferes with how GABA and its associated receptor work. There is significant evidence to show that the body never fully recovers from this drug in some cases. Because there is no way to know how your body would respond to Xanax, the best course of action is to just not take the chance.