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Xanax (zan-axe) is the brand name of a drug called alprazolam (al-pra-so-lam). It is a benzodiazepine (ben-zo-die-a-ze-peen) and one of a group of drugs that share similar depressant characteristics.
It isn’t prescribed in the UK but is used in other countries for a number of illnesses including sleep problems and anxiety. It is also used in the recreational drug scene, sometimes to gain a sedative effect or sometimes to help with the comedown from other drugs.
Xanax is a depressant (downer) drug which can cause drowsiness and long periods of sleep. It can also slow down heart rate and breathing. People using it can experience a ‘floating’ sensation as well as a warm, calm and relaxed feeling. Negative experiences can include difficulty breathing, short term memory loss, blackouts and reduced mental alertness and coordination. It can also reduce anxiety to dangerously low levels. This makes people care less and can result in risk taking behaviour.
‘Paradoxical’ effects can occur with benzodiazepines, where people taking it (particularly at higher doses) can experience an increase in anxiety, seizures, aggression and other negative symptoms.
Xanax is short lasting (the effects take hold and wear off quickly). Onset of effects can occur around 20-40mins and last anywhere from 2-6 hours, depending on dose and other factors. This can encourage people to take it frequently or take more than they need. Be aware that although you may not feel the effects, the drug is still present in your body so avoid re-dosing too frequently to avoid overdose and death.
They come as tablets in various sizes, shapes and colours and are usually swallowed. They can come in pill form of different strengths - 0.25mg (white), 0.5mg (peach) and 1mg (blue) or as 2mg (white) bars. If taking 1mg pill, break it in half. If taking 2mg bar, break it into quarters and wait 2 hours between doses. These doses should not be taken as recommendations.
Some people report feeling addicted to it after only a few weeks of use. Withdrawal symptoms can include seizures, sickness and diarrhoea, headaches, pains and hallucinations. The severity of the symptoms will vary depending on the amount of drug used but symptoms will ease with time. During this time, to help the body recover, we would recommend a healthy diet, fresh air, light exercise and lots of rest. Try to resist taking more of the drug, or other drugs (including alcohol) to deal with the withdrawal symptoms.
If symptoms become too much seek medical help and in an emergency call 999.
Stopping after longer term use requires a steady reduction of dose (tapering) and support: immediate cessation can be dangerous. Your GP or local drug service can help with this.
What you Need to Know
If you choose to take benzos:
- Sleep on your side to avoid choking in your sleep if you throw up.
- Avoid taking alone / stay with friends in case you experience negative effects.
- The strength can vary, even between pills in the same batch or pills that look the same. Start with a small test dose and wait at least 2 hours before re-dosing.
- Avoid mixing Xanax with alcohol and other drugs, especially other downers such as diazepam and gabapentin and opioids such as heroin and methadone. This can cause respiratory depression.
- Withdrawal symptoms can happen even after short periods of use. Avoid taking every day and take regular breaks from use.
- Benzos impair reaction times. Avoid driving whilst under the influence.
Xanax is controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as a Class C drug. Penalties for possession are up to 2 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Supply holds penalties of up to 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
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