Anxiety among American teenagers is quickly and exponentially on the rise, and with it, a rise in anxiety medication abuse.
Xanax has quickly become the #1 tranquilizer drug choice among teens in the U.S., and death rates from this category have increased by 500 percent since 2000. Xanax is easy to access, offers immediate results, and is highly addictive. It’s no wonder concern for teen health is on the rise, too.
What is Xanax?
Intended Use and Effects
Xanax, the brand name of Alprazolam, is a powerful benzodiazepine, used medically to treat chemical imbalances in individuals who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. It is a prescription tranquilizer, or depressant (similar to Valium), and is not meant for recreational use.
When used as prescribed, Xanax can mitigate symptoms of anxiety in adults by calming the central nervous system, producing sedation and the relaxing of muscles. It is one of the more widely prescribed benzodiazepines for anxiety and insomnia.
Common Street Names
Because teenagers live in a world of slang and “street names,” it is important to be aware of how your teenager may be relating to potentially dangerous prescription drugs such as Xanax. Below are some common terms used to refer to Xanax:
Xanbars, Handlebars, Bars, Z-bars
Footballs or Blue footballs (referring to the blue oval-shaped form of the pill)
Benzos (refers to the family of drugs Xanax belongs to: benzodiazepines)
Yellow boys, White boys, White girls
Where Do Teens Get Xanax?
According to a study conducted last year (2019), it is estimated that one-third of adolescents (ages 12-17) gained access to prescription drugs like Xanax from friends/relatives for free. Friends and relatives have been noted as the most common source for adolescent access to prescription drugs.
If you are concerned about your teen’s potential misuse of the prescriptions in your medicine cabinet, it may be time to reevaluate your storage and/or supervision practices.
As with any prescription drug addiction, it is also possible that your teen is abusing their own anxiety medication. If you suspect this may be the case, stricter behavior monitoring and dosage tracking may be necessary.
Signs, Symptoms and Dangers of Abuse
More than 10 percent of adolescents aged 18 to 25 abuse Alprazolam. Addiction to this drug results in both physical and psychological dependency. Once tolerance is built, higher doses are required to create the same anxiety-reducing effect, thus putting the user at risk for overdose and even death.
Side effects of Xanax abuse include:
Muscle weakness and slowed reaction time
Impaired memory and judgment
Sadly, chronic misuse of benzos may result in the very thing it was prescribed for initially: anxiety, insomnia, depression, suicidal ideation, headaches, etc.
Signs Your Teen May Be Addicted to Xanax
Extreme tiredness and lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
Behavior and mood changes
If it is their personal prescription: fear or worry about how much they have
Avoiding family functions or social events
Exponential increase in life stress and expressed need for relief
Unusual risk-taking behaviors
Depressive behaviors such as cutting, self-harm, self-hatred
Reported concerns from school staff, other parents and peers, etc.
Increasing frequency or dosage of personal prescription
Inability to control intake of the drug
Dangers of Xanax Abuse
Loss of friendships
Poor performance in school and extracurricular activities
Loss of interest in hobbies and family relationships
Increased risk of injury or death
Increased potential for abuse of other drugs
Negative effects on mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation
Withdrawal Effects from Xanax
Addiction to benzos like Xanax has painful, even scary, withdrawal experiences. Safely overcoming a Xanax addiction requires a team of professionals. Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:
Anxiety and paranoia
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Diarrhea and loss of appetite
Hallucinations and panic
How to Help Your Teen Overcome Xanax Abuse
Teen Addiction Treatment Options
Teen drug addiction is an overwhelming diagnosis to navigate. Thankfully, there are a myriad of treatment options and no parent has to do it alone. For those feeling helpless and unsure of where to start, there are national helplines such as SAMHSA, where concerned family members and friends will receive confidential referrals and information for their situation.
Residential treatment centers are viable options for teens who can’t seem to overcome drug misuse. In-home care, 12-Step meetings, and professional therapy/counseling can all be considered when creating a treatment plan for addicted teens. No matter the treatment plan chosen, it should be holistic in nature.
If you have discovered that your teen is addicted to drugs (be it Xanax or another harmful substance), you are no doubt experiencing confusion and loss. Below are some practical steps to take as the parent or guardian of a drug-abusing teen:
Nurture and care for your teen (they are scared, too)
Seek professional help
If your teen is resisting treatment, listen to their fears/concerns
Pursue a vibrant, trusting relationship with your teen
Remain hopeful and positive; you are not alone
Don’t neglect caring for yourself
Gather a team of people to support you in the process
Courtesy of Fire Mountain