Anxiety affects millions of people every year, and anxiety disorders are considered to be the most prevalent of mental illnesses. Statistics show that in the United States, some 40 million adults grapple with an anxiety disorder every year — over 18 percent of the total adult population. It’s estimated that around 25 percent of children in the U.S. struggle with anxiety, too.
For many people, the first line of treatment provided to them by their doctor will be a prescription drug, as usual. But the truth is that there are many natural alternatives, which are just as effective and boast fewer side effects (if any).
The Xanax controversey
Xanax and its generic counterparts are some of the most commonly prescribed prescription drugs, and are part of the “benzodiazepine” class of drugs. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety — but they come with some serious consequences. Even so, doctors write 44 million prescriptions for Xanax alone every year — and many of those prescription holders will find themselves in rehab, thanks to a budding benzodiazepine addiction.
Narconon reports that rehab admission rates for people with a benzodiazepine addiction nearly tripled between 1998 and 2008. This coincides with an increase in prescription rates as well: CDC data shows the number of adults using a benzodiazepine increased 67 percent over 18 years, from 8.1 million prescriptions in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2013.
Additionally, the researchers say that the quantity of filled prescriptions increased during the same time frame.
The outlook for Xanax and its pharma cousins is even bleaker today: Studies show that the death toll from these drugs has been increasing over the last several years. Benzodiazepine addiction has been overshadowed by the devastating opioid addiction epidemic — yet, these pharmaceuticals are responsible for over 30 percent of prescription drug overdoses. In either case, Big Pharma is ultimately to blame — especially when it comes to Xanax.
Not only has Xanax been glamorized to an alarming extent, it is well-known that tolerance to Xanax builds up quickly. This means people need more of the drug to produce the same “effect” over time — sometimes, in just a matter of weeks.
The risk of addiction is so high that the National Institutes of Health has stated that Xanax shouldn’t be used in patients for more than a few months — yet many people end up on the drug long-term.
There are so many natural alternatives to help treat anxiety, prescribing addictive, potentially lethal drugs is downright criminal.
HOW DOES XANAX WORK AND WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
Xanax is the more widely known brand name of a drug called alprazolam, which is in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, or “benzos” for short. Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs that alter the brain’s neurochemical level. Most notably, benzodiazepines amplify the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which causes sedative, anxiolytic, hypnotic, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant effects.
Since they induce relaxation, lethargy, and drowsiness, benzodiazepines are used to treat conditions involving anxiety and panic attacks, insomnia, muscle spasms or tension, headaches that result from high blood pressure, epilepsy, and some other conditions. Moreover, benzodiazepines have been so widely used for medicinal treatment because they’re fast-acting and get either be short-, moderate-, or long-acting as well.
In addition to Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin, Xanax is one of the most widely used and recognizable benzodiazepines on the market. The reason that Xanax has been preferred over other benzodiazepines for treating anxiety-related conditions is because Xanax effects are moderate in strength, moderately fast-acting, but also short-acting. This means that in the event that a person needed to take Xanax for something like seizures or panic attacks, the drug’s effects would alleviate his or her symptoms and wear off not long thereafter.
This makes the minimum period of time between doses much smaller, which is helpful for conditions like epilepsy where a person may need to take the drug multiple times in a day without fear of intoxication or overdose. Of the many conditions that Xanax has been prescribed to treat, some of the most common include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), anxiety derived from depression, epilepsy, insomnia, and many types of phobias such as social phobia.
THE LONG-TERM XANAX EFFECTS
Although we’ve found that it’s risky for people to take benzodiazepines for extended periods of time, there are countless people who have been taking Xanax for years or even decades for chronic health conditions. Any substance that alters a person’s neurochemical levels is inherently dangerous but it becomes exponentially more dangerous when it’s taken repeatedly for a period of time.
Much like someone who abuses alcohol or drugs habitually, the body of someone experiencing the effects of Xanax regularly must adapt to the near-continuous presence of the drug and its effects. For instance, due to the Xanax effect of inhibitory neurotransmitters that cause relaxation, the body accommodates the Xanax by making less of neurochemical on its own. This causes cognitive instability during the times when a person is without Xanax, making it difficult for the individual to think, causing unstable moods, and poor memory.
With continued use of Xanax over years or decades, more serious effects become apparent. A person will begin exhibiting serious memory impairments, much more profound and comparable to dementia or amnesia. The main long-term Xanax effects include:
- rashes on the skin
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- memory loss
- difficulty urinating
- reduced libido
These become much more pronounced over decades of use and may impact the person’s speech. In particular, it will seem that he or she has difficulty saying certain words or will exhibit slurred speech as if he or she was intoxicated from alcohol. There are also often issues with:
- respiratory depression
- occasional states of delirium
- severe depression
- potential violent episodes
- impulsive behavior
- occasional states that resemble psychosis
Like almost any drug, experiencing the Xanax effects over n extended period of time will eventually take its toll. Addiction tends to creep into every aspect of a person’s life as it consumes his or her finances, relationships, social life, and natural cycles. However, quitting Xanax cold turkey is not recommended either, as the withdrawal symptoms can easily be dangerous and ineffective without proper medical supervision.
Natural methods for overcoming anxiety
There are many options for natural anxiety relief. Amino acids, in particular, are believed to be very useful in this regard: By bolstering production of neurotransmitter GABA, amino acids taurine and L-theanine both have the potential to reduce anxiety. Attenuating GABA, the “brain calming chemical,” is actually exactly how Xanax works. Studies have shown that L-theanine can fight anxiety as well as the drug.
A number of vitamins and minerals are known to help reduce anxiety and promote overall mental health. These include B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc.
Many herbs are known to help reduce anxiety. Chamomile, passionflower, valerian, and lemon balm all have a place in the plant-based medicine arsenal, and are known for promoting relaxation. Recent studies suggest these herbs help support GABA production. But two of the most potent anxiety-relieving herbs are kava and and gotu kola.
Beyond supplements, there are a host of other tricks for relieving anxiety. Avoiding caffeine is a big one, as lots of people find it worsens anxiety. Getting plenty of sleep.