The chances of dying from the use of Xanax alone are slim. Technically, yes, an overdose of Xanax can kill you, but it is improbable. However, using Xanax combined with other depressants, such as alcohol or opioids, is much more likely to be lethal.
According to research, the single dose of Xanax that will kill one-half of test animals ranges between 331-1271 mg of the drug per kilogram of body weight. This amount equals 76-292 mg, or literally hundreds of 0.5-milligram tablets. If one could mathematically predict a potentially fatal dose of Xanax in humans based on rat data, the number of doses needed to kill a human would range in the tens of thousands.
That said, using Xanax in excess poses other dangers to one’s health. Operating a motor vehicle or machinery is ill-advised while using Xanax. Also, due to the excessive drowsiness it can induce, falls and other injuries are also possible. Finally, when Xanax is used in conjunction with additional intoxicating substances, especially other CNS (central nervous system) depressants, such as alcohol or opioids, this can prove fatal.
Again, it is uncommon for individuals to die from an overdose on Xanax independently. Still, a significant portion of drug overdoses in the United States currently involve Xanax and one or more other potentially deadly substances.
What Is Xanax?
Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine (benzo) commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, and insomnia. Benzos are prescription drugs that attach to GABA receptors in the brain that increase inhibitory signaling, thereby slowing certain brain and body activities. This depressant effect helps induce a therapeutic calming effect for those using these drugs.
When this substance is used for acute treatment under a licensed health provider’s direction, it is considered to be generally safe. However, it can be dangerous when abused, either by taking it without a prescription or using more than prescribed.
Signs and Symptoms of a Xanax Overdose
- Impaired coordination
- Slowed reflexes
- Respiratory depression
- Profound drowsiness
Although some fatalities have been reported in association with Xanax when used independently, fatal overdoses are much more likely to occur with simultaneous use of other depressants, such as opioids, alcohol, or barbiturates. Indeed, in 2017, benzos were involved in over 11,500 overdose fatalities.
A Xanax overdose may require emergency medical treatment that includes sustaining healthy blood pressure, airway management, assisted ventilation, as well as the administration of the benzo antagonist, flumazenil. If you suspect that you or a person you know is overdosing on Xanax or another substance, please call 911 immediately or visit the nearest hospital.
Dangers of a Polydrug Combination
Polydrug intoxication, or the use/abuse of multiple drugs concurrently, often includes benzos such as Xanax. Most fatal benzodiazepine overdoses involve other substances, many of them being opioids, such as heroin and prescription painkillers.
When a person uses other depressant drugs with Xanax, specific effects may be amplified, and a much lower dose can prove fatal. This outcome is extremely concerning because an estimated 80 percent of all benzo abuse is done combined with the misuse of other intoxicating substances.
Alcohol and benzos are an especially risky combination. Xanax, when used in conjunction with alcohol, may easily result in overdose and death. Similarly, using opioids with Xanax can increase health risks significantly. In 2017, nearly 10,000 overdose deaths involved the use of both opioids and benzos.
According to a SAMHSA review of close to one million benzodiazepine-related emergency department visits from 2005-2011, individuals who combined benzos with alcohol or opioids were associated with a 24-55 percent increased risk of a more severe outcome compared to the use of benzodiazepines alone. “Serious outcome” was defined as a needed hospital admission or death in the emergency room.
Serious Xanax Side Effects
Although uncommon, using Xanax, even as directed by a health provider, can lead to serious side effects, including the following:
- Pronounced mood changes
- Suicidal thoughts/behaviors
- Impaired motor coordination
- Problems speaking
- Shortness of breath
Using Xanax can also be dangerous during pregnancy because benzos can cross the placenta, potentially leading to fetal dependence and, upon birth, withdrawal symptoms.
Xanax Addiction and Physical Dependence
Aside from the risk of having an overdose, Xanax is also associated with the potential for abuse, tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. Xanax-addicted people are generally unable to control behaviors associated with their drug-seeking and abuse. They may use Xanax by taking it in excessive doses or combining it with other substances that heighten a deadly overdose risk.
Chemical dependence is not the same as an addiction but is always present among persons addicted to benzos. Dependence involves brain and body changes related to Xanax use in which the individuals become unable to function without the drug. If forced to do so, it becomes uncomfortable and provokes potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms when the drug is unavailable.
Xanax dependence can develop in a matter of weeks. Because of Xanax’s intrinsic risks—including its potential for abuse and dependency—benzos like Xanax should only be prescribed for a brief period. Once an individual has developed a significant dependence, it can be risky to stop using Xanax “cold turkey.” At this point, cessation of the drug should be guided using medical supervision and possibly pharmaceutical intervention.
Acute Xanax withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Impaired concentration
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Blurry vision
- Muscle cramps
- Convulsions and seizures
Many short-term symptoms of Xanax withdrawal will resolve within 1-4 weeks of discontinuation. However, some protracted psychoemotional withdrawal symptoms may endure for several months and involve anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances.
Getting Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Due to the potential dangers of Xanax withdrawal, persons dependent on this substance are encouraged to quit using under medical supervision rather than attempt to do it alone. One approach that effectively reduces withdrawal symptoms and minimizes safety risks is to wean individuals off benzos using a tapering schedule. In this instance, the health provider may opt to prescribe a longer-acting benzodiazepine or stay with the same medication while reducing the dosage over several weeks or months.
Besides a tapering schedule and symptom management, medical detox programs offer 24/7 care and support. Health providers will monitor vital signs and watch for possible complications. Other drugs, including phenobarbital, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants, may also be administered to help manage benzo withdrawal symptoms.
For individuals heavily abusing Xanax or other substances, medical detox alone is often insufficient at fostering long-term abstinence. That is, medical detox and withdrawal management programs prepare individuals for prolonged, multifaceted programs where they can learn how to experience life in recovery. Residential treatment provides an opportunity to live temporarily in a safe, supportive environment while attending intensive individual and group therapies throughout the day.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer customized treatment programs in partial hospitalization and residential formats. All programs include a wide variety of therapeutic services, such as behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, substance abuse education, music therapy, aftercare planning, and more.