Common Physical Signs of Xanax Abuse

Last Updated: May 15th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Common Physical Signs of Xanax Abuse

If you’re concerned that you’re using too much Xanax, or if you’re worried about a friend or family member, it’s essential to recognize the common physical signs of Xanax abuse. Spotting the signs is tricky because Xanax abuse symptoms are similar to the effects of alcohol or narcotics. 

What is Xanax?

Xanax is the generic name for alprazolam. It is a type of drug known as a benzodiazepine, a class of sedative medications that includes Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium, although Xanax is much stronger. Physicians frequently prescribe Xanax for anxiety, panic disorder, and insomnia, and it provides relief for most people who take the drug. In fact, it works almost too well. 

Unfortunately, Xanax is very habit-forming, and it’s easy to get hooked. Nobody sets out to be addicted, but people enjoy the feelings of peace, calm, and relaxation so much that they take more Xanax than they should, or they keep taking the drug for long periods despite the many dangers. 

Most addiction experts agree that the potential risks of long term Xanax abuse may outweigh the benefits, yet many physicians continue to prescribe the drug for unsafe lengths of time. Xanax is intended for short periods, and a treatment period of three to four weeks is safe for most people.  

Xanax addiction develops quickly, however, and is common for people who take the drug for more than six weeks. In time, many people learn that the symptoms of long-term Xanax abuse are far worse than the problems that prompted them to use the drug in the first place. 

See 1st Step Behavioral Health’s article about spotting the general warning signs of Xanax addiction. 

3 Physical Signs of Xanax Abuse

Like most substance abuse addictions, there are some common physical signs of Xanax abuse that are easy to recognize. They include:

1. Changes in Appearance

Changes in appearance usually show up after a long-term Xanax abuse. At this point, finding and using the drug becomes all-important, and personal hygiene takes a back seat. 

Xanax addiction also affects self-confidence. A person who typically takes great care with her appearance may become sloppy and unkempt. You may notice bad breath or unpleasant body odor. 

Other noticeable physical signs of Xanax abuse may include bloodshot eyes and sudden weight gain or weight loss. Failure to brush and floss regularly may cause yellowing of the teeth. 

2. Breathing Problems

Xanax slows down impulses throughout the body and can slow breathing to the point of coma or death. The risk becomes much greater when the drug is used with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol, or opiates like heroin, hydrocodone, or oxycodone. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 30 percent of opiate-related overdoses also involve Xanax or other benzodiazepines.

People who have experienced respiratory depression associated with the use of Xanax report shortness of breath and feelings of being smothered or choked. Infections of the nose, throat, and lungs are also more common among Xanax users. People with emphysema or other lung problems are at even higher risk of respiratory problems. 

3. Dizziness and Drowsiness

Sleepiness is a common side effect when people start taking Xanax, but it usually wears off in a few days when the drug is taken as recommended. However, misuse of Xanax can cause dangerous dizziness and drowsiness. A person who is hooked on Xanax will probably seem tired, lethargic, and entirely uninterested in activities at work, school, or home.

The effects of Xanax are magnified when the drug is used with alcohol or drugs that cause sedation. If you use Xanax, it’s a good idea to avoid other substances, and never drive a car; you may be drowsy without realizing it.

If you use Xanax (without or without other substances), and you feel tired, weak, lightheaded, or drowsy, contact 911 immediately. 

Dangerous Signs of Xanax Use: What are the Effects of Xanax Abuse? 

Respiratory depression and drowsiness or dizziness are two severe signs of Xanax abuse. Other dangerous physical side effects of long-term Xanax abuse may include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Speech problems
  • Painful rash
  • Heavy sweating
  • Swollen hands or feet
  • Menstrual problems
  • Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or other stomach problems
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain and increased risk of heart attack

Symptoms of Long-Term Xanax Abuse

The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Science defines long-term use as lasting for more than two weeks. 

Tolerance, which occurs when the brain and body become accustomed to the drug, is one of the most troublesome effects of long-term Xanax abuse. When Xanax no longer works as well as it did in the beginning, the natural inclination is for people to take larger doses, or to take the drug more frequently. Tolerance can quickly turn into full-fledged addiction.  

People who take the drug for long periods, generally two years or more, may experience a variety of muscle problems, often severe enough to interfere with daily activities. Troublesome symptoms may include uncontrolled muscle movements (tics), fidgeting, pacing, impaired muscle function, clumsiness, lack of coordination, stumbling or falling, or muscle weakness.

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

When you stop using, you may experience a variety of Xanax withdrawal symptoms, such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, blurred vision, impaired concentration, muscle cramps, and seizures — which are associated with most benzodiazepine withdrawals

If you’re addicted to Xanax, detoxing by stopping “cold turkey” can be dangerous, or even life-threatening. Your doctor can help you devise a plan for stopping gradually, so the discomfort and danger of Xanax withdrawal symptoms are lessened. 

With Help, You Can Detox and Stop Using Xanax

Once you’re spotted the signs of Xanax abuse, it’s time to seek help before the problem gets worse. With quality detox treatment, you or a loved one can learn healthier ways to cope with anxiety, panic disorder, and insomnia. At 1st Step, we’re ready to help. Give us a call at (866) 971-5531 or contact us here for more information.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.