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January 21, 2019

How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Xanax?


It’s probably safe to say that no one starts taking the prescription benzodiazepine medication Xanax with the intention of becoming addicted. On the contrary, there are legitimate reasons why someone begins using prescription Xanax. There are also a few reasons people misuse Xanax, whether or not they initially had a prescription for the medication. And Xanax is a highly-addictive medication with a high abuse potential. A study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found a roughly two- to-fivefold increased risk of long-term benzodiazepine use soon after starting a prescription from. With benzos addiction a definite risk, you may wonder how long it takes to get addicted to Xanax.


Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (brand name Xanax) when they deem it necessary to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax does work quickly and effectively to both reduce anxiety and to help with insomnia, and may be used for its sedative effects prior to surgery. Used as prescribed, Xanax can help calm those experiencing severe anxiety and allow them to sleep better. However, Xanax should only be used for a short period of time, never on a continuing basis.

Alprazolam is a short-acting tranquilizer, and Xanax is one of the most widely prescribed and abused psychotropic drugs in this category. Research published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found a 40 percent increase in mortality among those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who were taking benzodiazepines to treat anxiety, agitation and insomnia.

Why Xanax is Misused

Knowing that Xanax can produce feelings of calm and combat insomnia tends to foster both a sense of complacency and legitimacy to continued use of the medication. The common perception is that it’s a prescription drug, used by millions, so it must be safe, and “I can keep on using it.” Yet this is mistaken. The risk of addiction increases after misuse, taking the drug without a prescription, for recreational purposes (to party and get high), and taking it in greater quantities or more often than prescribed.

High-Risk Factors for Xanax Misuse

A 2018 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research listed various high-risk factors for long-term benzodiazepine use (including Xanax). These included:

  • Being elderly (over the age of 65)
  • High dosage (more than 5 mg of diazepam, another benzodiazepine, per day)
  • Users with polytherapy
  • Psychiatrist providers

A study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found a roughly two- to-fivefold increased risk of long-term benzodiazepine use soon after starting a prescription from:

  • Having received benzodiazepine prescriptions in multiple pharmacological agents
  • Short-acting or mixed-type agents
  • Hypnotic indication


The speed at which Xanax use progresses from misuse to dependence and then addiction should be cause for concern. Taking a pill daily—even for legitimate reasons—when continued past the recommended short-term use can quickly escalate into long-term consequences such as misuse and addiction. According to research, about 40 percent of those taking Xanax daily for extreme anxiety for at least six weeks (the recommended length is only 2-4 weeks) will become addicted. Without being diagnosed with clinical anxiety and taking Xanax, the body experiences a type of high that includes euphoria and relaxation. Some equate how they feel to a sense of calm and overall well-being. That’s due to the drug’s ability to increase GABA in the brain. Yet, seeking to recreate that high by taking more Xanax or taking it more often can quickly lead to addiction. The brain starts to produce less GABA on its own, leading to the user needing to use more and more Xanax to achieve the same euphoric, relaxing and calming effects.

A 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that one in four older adults initially prescribed benzodiazepines may go on to long-term use. The researchers noted that older adults whose original prescriptions were for the largest amounts were more likely to become long-term benzodiazepine users. Risk of long-term benzodiazepine use nearly doubled over the next year for every 10 additional days of medication prescribed.

American Family Physician notes other major risks associated with long-term benzodiazepine use that include:

  • Cognitive impairment – Benzodiazepine use causes adverse effects such as drowsiness, increased reaction time, lack of motor coordination, anterograde amnesia, and ataxia. Long-term use can lead to substantial cognitive decline that may not resolve within three months after stopping use of the drug.
  • Motor vehicle crashes – Driving while taking benzodiazepines in the system is about the same risk as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.050 percent to 0.079 percent.
  • Hip fractures – In older persons, using benzodiazepines increases their risk of hip fractures by at least 40 percent.

Combining Xanax with alcohol and other prescription or illicit drugs can be life-threatening. Overdose risk is increased, particularly when Xanax is combined with sedative drugs such as opiates and alcohol. The risks are real, and coming back from Xanax addiction, polydrug use and dual-diagnosis is only possible with professional detox and treatment.

In addition, when prescription Xanax is no longer available, attempting to score it on the street may result in taking counterfeit Xanax, or Xanax that’s been laced with deadly fentanyl— that could prove fatal.

Tranquilizer Misuse

There are several prescription medications in the tranquilizer category, including benzodiazepines (alprazolam, lorazepam, clonazepam, or diazepam), as well as muscle relaxants. Data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed an estimated 1.7 million people aged 12 or older were current tranquilizer misusers. This includes an estimated 128,000 adolescents, 552,000 young adults (aged 18-25), and 1.0 million adults aged 26 or older.

Sedative, Hypnotic or Anxiolytic Use Disorder

Xanax addiction falls under the sedative, hypnotic or anxiolytic use disorder classification, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Tranquilizer use disorder occurs after the user experiences significant impairment from using tranquilizers such as Xanax, including chronic use, problems with health, inability or failure to meet responsibilities at work, home or school. According to the 2017 NSDUH, an estimated 739,000 people over the age of 12 had tranquilizer use disorder. This included an estimated 80,000 adolescents, 278,000 young adults (aged 18-25), and 380,000 adults aged 26 and older.

Diagnostic Criteria for Xanax Addiction

Specific diagnostic criteria designating an addiction or use disorder to a sedative such as Xanax includes clinically significant impairment or distress in at least two of the following areas over a 12-month period:

  • Taking the tranquilizer in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control Xanax use.
  • Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using or recovering from using Xanax.
  • Recurring use of the drug that causes problems at work, school or home (such as getting suspended, fired, or expelled due to repeated absences, tardiness, poor performance, neglecting children or household responsibilities).
  • Continued use of Xanax despite the presence of recurrent or persistent social or relationship problems cause by the drug use (such as arguments, physical confrontation).
  • Giving up or drastically cutting back on important social, recreational or work activities in order to continue drug use.
  • Continuing to use Xanax and then driving or operating machinery or doing other physically hazardous activities.
  • Continuing Xanax use despite having a physical or psychological problem that is caused by or made worse by the drug.
  • Tolerance – a need for increased amounts of the drug to achieve the level of intoxication or desired effect, or a markedly diminished effect after continued use of the same amount of Xanax.
  • Withdrawal – experiencing withdrawal syndrome, taking Xanax or other substances (such as alcohol) to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms.


Slipping into Xanax addiction can happen so quickly that it isn’t noticed until serious consequences of escalating Xanax use begin to mount. It may take loved ones or family members to see the worrying changes and bring it to your attention, not that you’ll readily admit you’ve gone past misuse to tolerance, dependence and then full-blown Xanax addiction. But don’t try to stop taking Xanax cold turkey, as the withdrawal symptoms can be more than you can handle without professional medical assistance. These withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, very painful, even life-threatening. Common Xanax withdrawal symptoms include nightmares, heightened anxiety, rage, insomnia, seizures, and suicidal thoughts.

Safe and effective medical where you’re monitored 24 hours a day will provide as comfortable a withdrawal process as possible, protecting you from risky symptoms and complications to your health. At the same time, treatment for any other co-occurring mental health conditions or other SUD can be provided so your Xanax addiction detox and treatment includes maximum and appropriate professional care for all underlying concerns.

With at an accredited drug and alcohol detox and treatment facility, you can get your life back, and be on the road to recovery.

For more about Xanax, addiction, detox, withdrawal and rehab, check out these articles:

  1. Benzo Withdrawal Timeline
  2. How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
  3. Dangers of Drug Detox at Home and Quitting Cold Turkey
  4. Top 10 Signs of Addiction