Xanax is a sedative prescribed by doctors for anxiety or muscle spasms and it is also bought illegally as a party drug. It is particularly strong and highly addictive, which means it can be easy to overdose on it.
Here we explain the danger of taking too much Xanax, what to look out for if you think you or a loved one is at risk of overdosing, the risks of mixing Xanax with alcohol or other drugs, how to avoid accidental overdose, what to do if you think an overdose is in progress and how Xanax overdose is treated.
Xanax Overdose Summary
- Xanax – also known as alprazolam – is a fast-acting drug which means its effects on the body and mind are almost instant.
- It is stronger than other drugs from the same family of benzodiazepines, including diazepam (Valium), and Xanax addiction can develop after just three or four weeks.
- As it is prescribed it is often considered to be safe, which means people might ‘pop another pill’ without thinking it will cause harm and this can lead to the risk of overdosing.
- Taking Xanax alongside alcohol or another drug can increase the risk of overdosing.
- Overdosing on Xanax is on the rise.
- Symptoms to look out for if you or a loved one is overdosing on Xanax include excessive sleepiness and poor motor coordination.
- If you do think you or a loved one is overdosing on Xanax you need to dial 999.
- It is possible to overdose on Xanax even if you are undergoing detox and attempting to get off the drug.
- Treatments for Xanax overdose include pumping the stomach and other medications. However, the best way to avoid an overdose is addiction treatment.
Am I at Risk of Overdosing on Xanax?
Xanax works by slowing down the central nervous system and its functions, including brain activity, so you feel relaxed, calm and stress-free. For this reason, it’s great for anxiety or insomnia and it’s used as a party drug to help people feel chilled and happy. It works quickly, giving you an almost instant hit.
You may assume it is a relatively safe drug as it is prescribed by doctors. Even when used recreationally it is Class C, which is considered ‘soft’. This means you may not believe it to be particularly harmful but Xanax is significantly more toxic than other benzodiazepines, which means you are at greater risk of developing a Xanax addiction and this can result in overdose.
It takes six to eight hours for the effects of Xanax to wear off but about two days for it to be expelled from the body. This means if you feel your anxiety is returning, you’re starting to come down at a party or you’re beginning to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, you may well reach for another pill. By doing this, it’s very easy for your system to become overwhelmed and this can lead to overdosing.
It is easy to build up a tolerance to the calming effects of Xanax which means you need more and more to have the same relaxed, chilled-out effect. By taking more you are at greater risk of an overdose. If you feel you are taking larger doses to achieve the same feeling, you need addiction treatment.
Overdosing is also common during Xanax detox. When you stop taking the drug the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and the fact they can last for weeks, months or even years, means if people do relapse just a small amount can lead to an overdose as their body can no longer tolerate it.
Xanax can be particularly dangerous for someone who is known to have suicidal thoughts or has talked about – or previously attempted – taking their own life as people have been known to use it to overdose intentionally. If you think someone is in danger, explain your concerns to them or to other friends and reach out for help.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Xanax Overdose?
If you are worried that you or someone you know with a benzodiazepine prescription has an alprazolam addiction, or you or someone you know is swallowing pill after pill at a party or club, you need to be aware of the signs of an overdose. They are often similar to Xanax withdrawal symptoms and include:
- Blurred vision
- Poor coordination and reflexes
- Difficulty peeing
- Joint pain
- Talking excessively
- Difficulty breathing
- Yellowing skin (jaundice)
- Huge confusion
- Loss of consciousness
What Happens During a Xanax Overdose?
Don’t expect dramatics – a Xanax overdose can feel like nodding off which means that when someone does realise you have had an overdose it can be too late. Your central nervous system has slowed down to such an extent that you stop breathing.
If you don’t fall unconscious you can find yourself unable to walk, unable to speak and unable to think straight. Hopefully, if you are in company, that will alert someone to the fact you need emergency treatment.
A young man with a history of substance abuse overdosed after buying 100 Xanax pills on the street and taking them alongside cocaine and an opioid called fentanyl. He said ‘the combination of drugs hit me like never before’ before waking up to paramedics and realising his friends had administered CPR to keep him alive.
Without their presence and the fact, they knew what he had been taking he would be dead. This was the kickstart he needed to begin his addiction treatment. Knowing how close you came to death can have damaging psychological side effects.
It is possible to have delayed symptoms with a Xanax overdose. A woman with a history of substance abuse who was in the midst of the Xanax withdrawal process overdosed after relapsing. Twenty-four hours later she experienced side effects often associated with withdrawal symptoms including faintness, agitation, nausea, profuse sweating and severe myoclonic jerks (seizures) lasting for several hours.
What Should You Do if You Think You Are Having (Or Witnessing) a Xanax Overdose?
If it is you, dial emergency services or ask a friend to do it for you. Be honest with the medics about what you’ve taken and in what quantities. If it is a friend you are concerned about, ask for all the information and pass this on to the emergency services.
If someone is struggling to breathe, stay with them. If you can, remove anything that may be around the neck (such as a scarf or tie), monitor their breathing and put them in the recovery position. If an ambulance can’t get there in time, you may need to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
This isn’t the time to reprimand someone for their substance abuse. However, if you or someone you know survives this overdose, it’s likely it will happen again. Next time you or they might not be so lucky which is why addiction treatment is needed urgently.
How is a Xanax Overdose Treated?
It is important that whoever is having a Xanax overdose receives urgent medical attention. Medics can monitor the vital organs and blood pressure and deal with those accordingly. Doctors may decide to pump the stomach to remove any undigested Xanax in the gut or flush the body with an IV fluid to rid the body of Xanax swimming around the system.
Flumazenil is a benzodiazepine antagonist that is given to reverse the sedative effects of Xanax and stop you from losing consciousness or falling into a coma. However, it is only recommended if the overdose is a result of Xanax alone and not a combination of Xanax and alcohol or other drugs.
This is why you must be honest with medical staff about what has been taken and how much. They are not there to judge or report you to the police, but this information could save a life.
If someone reaches the stage of overdose it is imperative that they are told of the treatment centres that can help them with their alprazolam addiction as they have a serious problem and they need to start detox.
What Happens if You Mix Xanax With Other Drugs?
Mixing Xanax with other drugs can enhance its overall effect on you, intensifying the symptoms of both drugs and raising the risk of overdosing and death.
Combining Xanax with opioids – which can be prescription-only painkillers such as codeine or morphine, or street drugs such as heroin – raises the risk of overdosing by 20% as the sedative effect of both is doubled. This means that if you overdose you are more likely to fall asleep to the point of unconsciousness or coma.
Taking Xanax alongside drugs from the same family (benzodiazepines) such as diazepam (Valium) can also be risky as the sedative effect of both is doubled. Once again this can lead to sleepiness to the extent of coma.
Just because both drugs are prescribed by your doctor doesn’t make them safe to take together.
Neither Xanax nor alcohol is illegal so you might think this combination is a safe way of winding down after a stressful day, calming your muscle spasms or chilling you out at the weekend. This is not the case. Like Xanax, alcohol is also a sedative and taking these together can make you more likely to overdose accidentally, and this can be fatal.
Xanax is a quick hit and an instant relaxant. So if you take Xanax and wash it down with a drink, another relaxant, and then carry on drinking, the effects can be life-threatening. Your central nervous system slows down to the point your brain forgets to tell your body to breathe and your heart rate decreases to the point of stopping.
Even in small amounts, Xanax and alcohol can be a lethal cocktail and should be avoided. If you feel you can’t do this, you need to seek help for Xanax addiction and check into one of the country’s many treatment centres where you can undergo the withdrawal process safely and your withdrawal symptoms can be monitored and treated.
How Many People Overdose from Xanax?
The UK has seen a rise in the number of people overdosing and dying from Xanax. If you buy it illegally, either on the street or the hidden part of the internet known as the ‘dark web’, it will almost certainly be cut with other unknown substances. This can be dangerous and even fatal, and this can result in overdose.
There are also more incidences of overdose as more people are having Xanax prescribed. In Scotland, deaths from benzodiazepine abuse rose from 192 to 2015 to 555 in 2017. That’s almost tripled in three years.
In America, the number of deaths from overdose involving benzodiazepines for women aged 30 to 64 rose from 0.54 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.02 per 100,000 in 2017. There were 10,684 deaths from benzodiazepine overdose in the US in 2016, up from 1,135 in 1999. That’s 10 times more deaths in just 17 years.
It’s the same story Stateside as in the UK with more benzodiazepines being prescribed. In the US, 8.1 million people had a prescription in 1996 and by 2013 that was 13.5 million – a massive jump of 67%.
What is Xanax Abuse and Addiction?
It is extremely easy to develop a Xanax addiction even if you have it prescribed to you by a doctor. A study in the US showed that almost 20% of people who take Xanax misuse it, with many doing so unintentionally. Reaching for a pill to get you through every stressful period life throws at you can mean you build up a tolerance, require more to get the same results and find that when you do try to stop you can’t.
If you or someone you love does have a dependency, they need Xanax addiction treatment. Detoxing from Xanax is not easy and the withdrawal process can be particularly difficult with serious, prolonged, and even life-threatening physical and psychological symptoms.
The safest and most successful way to kick a Xanax addiction, manage your withdrawal symptoms and receive ongoing support is with professional help. You can move into a rehab centre for 24/7 care or receive outpatient treatment when you receive help while remaining at work and in the home. Whatever your relationship with Xanax addiction and substance abuse, there is a lot of help out there so don’t suffer in silence.
Xanax Overdose FAQ
How can I overdose on Xanax if it has been prescribed to me?
Unfortunately Xanax is so strong, addiction can happen in just a few weeks.
How do I know if I’m overdosing on Xanax? Are there warning signs?
If you feel unusually sleepy, can’t think straight and are slurring your words, get help as you may have overdoses.
How much Xanax do I need to take to overdose?
That depends on many factors including your gender, weight, size and tolerance to Xanax.
Will I suffer side effects if I overdose on Xanax?
If you seek addiction treatment urgently any side effects or withdrawal symptoms can be managed.
Will I die if I overdose on Xanax?
Not if you get help immediately. With expert help your life can be saved.
I’m so embarrassed. Will everyone know I’ve overdosed on Xanax?
No, but you need urgent help. With the right support you can put your Xanax addiction behind you for good.