The popularity of anti-anxiety medication is widely known, both by those with legitimate diagnoses and those without. These kinds of drugs, like Xanax, Ativan and Valium, are known for providing calming effects, helping settle anxiety, panic, worry, depression and nervousness in those with a clinically diagnosed condition. However, for those who seek the pleasure these kinds of drugs can deliver, it’s easy to slide into a cycle of abuse.
While most prescribed users take anti-anxiety medications as directed by a doctor, recreational users may deviate. With several alternate means of ingestion available, including injecting, snorting and smoking, some substance users find these kinds of methods to be more effective in reaching end goals. However, using any medication outside of a physician’s directions can result in the potential for abuse, leading to side effects like dependence, increased overdose risk and negative physical symptoms. Smoking Xanax, for example, can be very dangerous and is not an approved form of use.
The Current State of Xanax Use
Xanax, the trade name for alprazolam, is a form of benzodiazepine. In the United States, it is a Schedule IV controlled substance and is only legally available with a doctor’s prescription due to the high possibility for addiction and abuse. Xanax is considered a short-acting benzodiazepine, which means that it kicks in quickly and lasts for several hours within the body, unlike long-acting benzos, which can be in effect for 12 to 24 hours.
Benzodiazepines can be prescribed for numerous different medical conditions but are most popular for anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder. However, some doctors recommend medications like Xanax for anxiety related to other mood disorders, like depression, as well as to temper nausea caused by the use of chemotherapy in cancer treatment.
Benzodiazepines in general experienced a surge in popularity nationwide over the last several years, with rappers and pop culture glorifying the benefits of recreational use. Xanax in particular has experienced a bit of a heyday; one rapper, Lil Xan, is even named after the product. The term “xanny bars” has been used as a colloquial phrase in pop culture for many years, making the drug sound more fun than serious.
Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults with benzo prescriptions grew 67% on a national basis while the total dispensed quantity of pills tripled. The FDA considers it one of the top prescription drugs available on the illicit drug market — and for good reason. While those who truly need benzos like Xanax are now able to get the help they need, the ramifications of increased use are overall far less positive. Overdoses are on the rise as well, increasing by a factor of eight since the mid-1990s. This issue hasn’t been swept under the rug, either; rapper Lil Peep died due to a benzo overdose in November of 2017.
Despite the controlled nature of Xanax, the war on drugs is focused on a much larger and more dangerous player: opiates. As such, many doctors are willing to write a prescription for Xanax without much thought.
Xanax is used daily by millions of people across the United States, both responsibly and irresponsibly. While most users, particularly those who use a legal prescription, take the drug orally, this is not the only options available. These are the most common methods used to ingest Xanax.
- Oral: Oral ingestion is the most common method of use for Xanax users. This is how Xanax is intended to be used and is how this medication is prescribed by a professional. Xanax is highly effective when taken orally, but for recreational users, this option can lead to a delay time between when the drug is consumed and when effects are felt. While this delay is often only 20 to 30 minutes, this can feel inadequate for those who want to get high as soon as possible.
- Snorting: Snorting is a common way to use recreational drugs of all kinds. Due to the anatomy of the nose, drugs can be easily absorbed into the mucous membrane for an immediate effect. Unlike taking a pill normally, the effects of Xanax kick in after around 2 minutes — much faster than conventional use. However, long-term effects are no different; snorting provides a faster high but not a stronger high overall. It is important to note that Xanax is not designed to be snorted, so the ways in which the medication is intended to work are altered when absorbed through the nasal passages.
- Smoking: In addition to snorting and oral consumption, Xanax can also be smoked. Users crush up pills, wrap them in a rolling paper of some kind and smoke the substance. In general, more than one pill will be included to utilize an adequate amount for inhalation. Like snorting, effects generally set in far faster than oral ingestion, but long-term sensations are no different. Smoking is not the recommended form of use for Xanax, leading to improper metabolization in a manner similar to snorting.
- Injection: Injection is arguably the least safe way to use any drug, Xanax included. Those who inject Xanax mix crushed pills with a base liquid, draw it into a syringe and inject it into the bloodstream for a faster high. In addition to also serving as a method doctors do not recommend, injecting drugs opens the door to other issues related to injection, including diseases transmitted from needles, vein damage, abscesses and infections, scarring, needle tracks and endocarditis.
Is Smoking Xanax Dangerous?
Xanax is a safe medication when used as directed, but smoking Xanax is outside the bounds of doctor recommendations. Smoking Xanax is never encouraged, as this practice can be extremely dangerous, particularly for those new to taking benzos.
Xanax is popular for a number of reasons, primarily due to the benefits to conditions like anxiety and depression as well as the relaxed high that can come with using the drug for those without mental health conditions. Unfortunately, this leads to a propensity for abuse. Taking prescription drugs without a prescription is always dangerous, but things like smoking or snorting these drugs rather than taking them orally can add even more risk to this process. This is not the way this kind of prescription substance was intended to be ingested or metabolized within the body.
First, smoking Xanax can lead to an uncertain dose. It’s not easy to determine how much you are consuming and at what frequency, leading to potentially higher rates of ingestion than is safe. When a few different pills are crushed up together and smoked, users can no longer control how much they are taking, increasing the likelihood of consuming a potentially fatal dose. In addition, using higher quantities of Xanax in a way that affects the brain faster can lead to a quicker path to addiction. Using more benzodiazepines at higher rates increases dependence, leading to greater amounts required to produce a similar high sensation in the future.
Further, Xanax purchased on the street isn’t always a known entity. While legitimate Xanax pills can be found from street dealers, so can illegitimate Xanax bars known as presses. These bars aren’t developed by a pharmaceutical company or distributed by a pharmacist; instead, they are amalgamations of various substances that may or may not contain any actual benzos. These pressed bars are frequently cut with more dangerous substances, like fentanyl, increasing the overdose risk significantly. Smoking a pressed Xanax bar that includes opiates can lead to serious injury or death — something many users may not realize until it’s too late.
Getting Help for Xanax Abuse
Benzodiazepines like Xanax can be beneficial when properly prescribed by a medical doctor, but recreational use can be very dangerous. Methods like smoking or snorting Xanax can increase risks, putting users in a precarious situation.
If you are using Xanax recreationally without a doctor’s prescription and are demonstrating other signs of substance abuse, getting help can be the best possible way forward. Seeking treatment in an addiction rehabilitation facility can help you overcome your addiction to Xanax in a safe, healthy manner. Behaviors like smoking, snorting or injecting Xanax are far more indicative of abusive behavior than simply taking pills; this demonstrates a strong desire to get high beyond what proper use of a drug can offer.
At FHE Health, we are dedicated to helping those with a substance use disorder to achieve long-lasting sobriety. Please contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive approach to addiction treatment.