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I spent most of my life struggling with addictions to various substances until finally getting sober in 2009. I abused opiates and before that, alcohol and cocaine, and while I’d have periods abstaining from those drugs—I always took Xanax to manage my anxiety. Xanax was my one constant. I never felt I was abusing it, and I never considered it a problem; where all other drugs made me crave more of that drug, I never went beyond the prescribed amount with Xanax and I often took less than prescribed. Also, I was taking Xanax for a legitimate reason: to manage my anxiety—something I’d struggled with since childhood. What I didn’t realize was that I had become what’s called “therapeutic dose dependent” and it would ultimately become the hardest and last drug I gave up. Before I go any further into my addiction let’s talk about what the drug is.


Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam which belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. They are used to treat generalized anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, panic disorders, and anxiety due to depression. They work really well, and that’s part of the problem. It’s very easy to become dependent on these pills. Xanax bars refer to the 2 milligram pills which are two to four times the average dose used to treat anxiety. They are long rectangular pills that are scored so they can be broken into halves or quarters, thus making them more cost effective than pills prescribed at a specific dose. As the street name implies, “Xanax Bars” look like bars and are sometimes called zanibars or planks on the street. But Xanax doesn’t only come in bar-shaped 2 milligram tablets, it also comes in 1 milligram, 0.5 milligram, or 0.25 milligram pills. There is also a time-released 3 milligram triangular pill and a liquid form as well. Xanax and the generic alprazolam also come as football shaped pills and round pills.


The following descriptions are for the brand name Xanax only:

  • White rectangular: 2 mg.
  • Blue elliptical/football shaped: 1.0 mg.
  • Orange elliptical/football shaped: 0.5 mg.
  • White elliptical/football shaped: 0,25 mg.

The generic versions come in round, oval, and rectangular pills as well and vary in color. The generic 2 mg “bars” come in white, yellow, blue, and green.

My Xanax Addiction

            Xanax is prescribed twice as much as any other benzodiazepine, such as Valium or Klonapin. All benzo’s has a profound effect on your brain chemistry—which is why it should only be used under medical supervision. When I was first prescribed benzodiazepines I was very young. I didn’t know why they worked and, honestly, I didn’t care. I just knew that these pills calmed my anxiety. But later on I found it helpful to understand a bit about how benzodiazepines work on the brain.

            Benzodiazepines work by influencing and strengthening an important brain chemical called GABA (gamma-amino-butyric-acid). GABA is a neurotransmitter—it sends messages from one brain cell to another—but the message it sends works like the brakes in your car. It tells the neurons in your brain to slow down and remain calm. Because of this calming effect, the neurotransmitters that are more excitable: epinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are quieted and there is an overall sense of relaxation and euphoria. Benzodiazepines enhance GABA’s natural properties. But the excitatory neurons it calms are necessary to normal functions such as alertness, memory, heart rate and many other necessary functions.

            Because I’d taken Xanax for so many years, I became completely dependent on it—even at my small prescribed dose for anxiety and sleep. I couldn’t leave home without what I called a “911 Xanax” in my pocket.   I was experiencing a rebound effect: without a dose in my system, I felt even greater anxiety and panic than I normally would have. The thought of running out of Xanax would send me into a tailspin and I didn’t see myself as ever being able to live without this drug. I also functioned at a high level while taking it. I was a successful television executive and my career rose and rose though all the while taking Xanax. I never saw it as a problem, until my world blew up.                   

            I eventually became addicted to opiates along with the Xanax and I was sinking under the weight of the cravings and withdrawal that accompany opiates. I’d considered my Xanax use a footnote to my addiction and had no intention of ever stopping Xanax, until my doctor told me that he’d treated thousands of patients and none could stay off opiates if they didn’t also get off the benzodiazepines. I was determined to at least try to get off the benzos (along with everything else). I admitted myself to a drug treatment facility and braced myself for the benzo withdrawal.

            Coming off benzodiazepines should never be done without medical supervision as the withdrawal can lead you to have a seizure. You must be given anti-seizure meds and monitored. There are different ways to come of benzos as well. I preferred the quick, let’s be down with this, path. I stopped taking them at once, but was given other medications to calm me. While I like the fast approach—I’d rather slice the knot in half than unravel it slowly—some people may need a longer taper. There’s well-known system for getting off benzodiazapines called The Ashton Manual created by renowned British scientist, Heather Ashton. This method subscribes to a long, slow taper. You must find what’s best for you.

            The withdrawal wasn’t easy. I had a host of symptoms from jitters to muscle pain to blurred vision. I had to retrain my brain to react to stress and anxiety naturally without a sedative, and I made a few really bad decisions in the early days of Xanax withdrawal. What’s important to know: the withdrawal probably won’t be nearly as bad as you think and you will get through it. The worst symptoms I had during withdrawal were actually those brought on by my fear of withdrawal. If you want to get off benzos the most important thing you’ll need is determination and support and there are treatment programs that can help you.   I haven’t taken a benzo in ten years and my mind, body, and soul, is profoundly better.

            If you’re struggling with this addiction Laguna View Detox treatment center can give you the crucial support you need while medically overseeing the process so that you are kept as safe and comfortable as possible. Getting off benzodiazepines was the best decision I made. Help is out there.

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