We all experience some sort of anxiety at some point, but for some people, it interferes with life. Naturally, they seek out the quickest, easiest solution.
One of the most commonly prescribed drugs for dealing with stress and anxiety is Alprazolam.
It’s caused quite a bit of controversy due to the fact that it has both:
- Legitimate medical uses
- Serious abuse potential
You may have heard of it (generic name for Xanax), but do you really know what it is? How it works? What the potential risks are?
In this article we’ll go over everything you need to know about this powerful drug, including whether or not it can benefit you.
Let’s get right to it!
What Is Alprazolam?
Alprazolam is an anti-anxiety drug which was first introduced by Upjohn–a division of Pfizer–in the early 1980’s.
It belongs to a class of molecules known as benzodiazepines which are known to:
- reduce stress and anxiety
- have sedative properties
- relax muscles
So although it’s primarily marketed as an anti-anxiety drug, Alprazolam is also prescribed for sleep and muscle related issues.
It was originally sold exclusively under the brand name Xanax, but since the expiration of the original patent in 1993, generic forms of Alprazolam have been sold by numerous different pharmaceutical companies.
Some of the brand names include:
As well as many others. Just about every major pharmaceutical company offers some kind of Alprazolam. It seems everyone wants in on the action when it comes to this blockbuster drug.
In fact, out of the thousands of commercially available prescription drugs, Alprazolam is among the most popular.
In the US, around 50 million prescriptions for Xanax are written each year and due to it being more potent and fast-acting than similar drugs, it has become widely sought after as a street drug as well.
How Does Alprazolam Work?
Alprazolam binds to specific sites on GABA receptors, called benzodiazepine receptors.
GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s job is to slow down communication between neurons (brain cells), as opposed to neurotransmitters like Glutamate, Dopamine, and Noradrenaline, which speed up brain activity
By binding with the benziodiazepine section of GABA receptors, Alprazolam effectively blocks the speedy neurotransmitters and slows down brain activity, for better or for worse.
On a chemical level, anxiety is the result of too much excitation in the brain and the inability to cope.
GABA is believed to play a critical role in reducing it, so drugs which act on GABA receptors are generally used to treat anxiety.
Alprazolam is considered a highly potent, quickly absorbed benzodiazepines, with 90% being absorbed upon oral consumption.
That’s why it only takes a small amount to work, relative to other benzos like Diazepam (Valium).
Alprazolam is active at very low doses. Most manufacturers produce it in doses of:
Making it the most potent benzodiazepine on a mg for mg basis.
Unfortunately, continuous use of Alprazolam–or any benzo for that matter–may result in tolerance build-up.
It’s not uncommon for people to require higher and higher doses to achieve the same impact.
Perhaps that’s why it’s such a blockbuster drug!
Alprazolam Side Effects And Safety
Like all drugs that actually work, Alprazolam is not without side effects.
Some of the most common include:
- Loss Of Memory
- Increased Appetite
- Impaired Motor Function
Unfortunately, due to the fact that Alprazolam is highly potent at low doses, it’s not that hard to take too much. Fortunately, for most people, taking too much just results in falling asleep, possibly for a longer-than-normal period time.
As of 2014, there were over 400 deaths involving consumption of Alprazolam, but about 95% of them involved mixing Alprazolam with other substances such as:
- Other Benzos
By itself, it’s pretty tough to die from Alprazolam.
The LD50–that is, the amount of a substance that it takes to kill half a study population–of Alprazolam in rodents is anywhere from 331-2171 mg/kg of bodyweight.
That would be the equivalent of a human taking WAY MORE than the prescribed dose.
However, that’s not the main concern with Alprazolam…
How Addictive Is Alprazolam?
Alprazolam is VERY addictive–as are all benzodiazepines–and is known to cause severe withdrawal symptoms with repeated long-term use.
Among the most common symptoms of withdrawal are:
- Intense anxiety
- Loss of appetite
- Cold sweats
- Muscle Pain
But what makes Alprazolam addiction so scary is really the fact that benzodiazepines–of which Alprazolam is the strongest and hardest to withdraw from–can result in death if you abruptly stop taking them.
It doesn’t take that long to develop a dependence either.
Most people who take Alprazolam daily for 3-4 weeks and then suddenly stop will experience some kind of withdrawal symptoms.
That’s why it’s so important to taper off, rather than suddenly discontinue use.
Of course, the best way to avoid becoming addicted to any drug is to not use it on a daily basis. That’s why many physicians will prescribe Alprazolam on a “take as needed” basis, rather than for everyday use.
Does Alprazolam Get You High?
The prevalence of Alprazolam begs the question…
Does this stuff get you high?
Well, that depends what you mean by “high”. Alprazolam definitely causes noticeable psychoactive effects which are somewhat similar to alcohol in terms of:
- freeing your inhibitions
- making you more social
- not worrying about anything
So, while it’s not exactly a “party drug”, there’s definitely a high associated with Alprazolam use.
For that reason, it’s one of the most widely used recreational prescription drugs.
Alprazolam is certainly legal, assuming you have a valid prescription from a licensed healthcare professional.
It’s a controlled substance in pretty much every developed country. In the US, it’s consider a Schedule IV controlled substance which is the second to lowest class of schedules.
You see, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 layed out 5 schedules (I, II, III, IV, and V) for controlled substances. Schedule I substances are those that have no recognized medical use, are potentially dangerous, and addictive.
That includes drugs like Heroin, Cocaine, and Methamphetamine.
Schedule IV substances are those that have:
- an accepted medical use
- less potential for abuse than Schedule III substances
- less potential for addiction than Schedule III substances
In other words, the US government considers Alprazolam to be pretty harmless and useful enough to be used medically.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of debate over whether these types of drugs (benzos) belong in a higher Schedule, since it turns out they are actually super addictive.
Still, Alprazolam remains a Schedule IV substance, meaning you need a prescription, and possession, sale, or buying it without one can result in legal consequences.
What those consequences are depends on the state, but most states are starting to take misuse of benzodiazepines pretty seriously, so jail time isn’t out of the question if you’re caught with enough Alprazolam.
Alternatives To Alprazolam
Given the fact that you can’t legally obtain Alprazolam without a prescription, it makes sense to consider some alternatives.
Supplements that can help manage anxiety and stress include:
These supplements won’t result in a high like Alprazolam, nor are the effects as powerful. That said, they have each shown some degree of efficacy in managing stress/anxiety.
As far as drugs, there’s really only one legal alternative:
It’s almost identical to Alprazolam in terms of onset, duration, effects, and dosage, but remains unscheduled under federal law.
In other words, it’s legal (in most states).
My Personal Experience With Alprazolam
Managing a company can be stressful. Every day I wake up with about a million things I need to do, but only have time to do a handful of them.
Needless to say, this can cause a bit of anxiety.
I’ve taken Xanax plenty of times, and while it definitely does what it’s meant to do (make you not care about anything), I’m not a huge fan of it for the following reasons:
- It hits quickly and fades quickly
- It makes you forget things
- Withdrawal sucks…really bad
If you’re experiencing anxiety or some sort of ongoing stress in your life, I recommend you try to stop the source, rather than resort to drugs.
If you can’t nip it at at the source, try meditation, aromatherapy, supplements, exercise, etc.
You should only turn to drugs when nothing else works, not as a first line treatment.
It’s a shame that we live in a world where everything can be solved by popping a pill.
The truth is, Alprazolam isn’t a final fix for stress and anxiety. It’s just a band-aid.
The Bottom Line
Alprazolam is hands down the most potent, fast-acting benzodiazepine. This makes it especially useful for treating anxiety/panic attacks and managing stressful situations, but it has it’s downsides.
Aside from the fairly long list of side effects, it’s incredibly addictive and can cause some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms in those who are addicted and then suddenly stop.
Like all drugs, you need to weigh the pros and cons before deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to take it. In my opinion, it should only be used as as last line of defense.