First experiments with pain pills, booze, pot, Xanax: High school
My discovery of benzodiazepines (aka benzos) began in the early 80s when I was a junior in high school. (Please see below for general information about benzos.) Alcohol and drugs were still new to me in the high school era during which I drank my first booze, smoked my first joint, and popped my first Xanax. In fact, I cannot recall the order of my first-time drug and alcohol experimentation; I’m just not sure which came first, though I suspect it was (1) the pain killers from my dentist for wisdom teeth extraction, (2) the Canadian Mist procured for me and my friend Lane by a fellow bagboy at the Green Hills Kroger, followed by (3) a semi-regular morning marijuana campaign with my friend Brian whose mother supplied him with the herb. That’s another story for another time.
A self-conscious kid, ripe for the benzo solution
I had always felt like something was missing from my personality or character, something that kept me from feeling whole. At most times, I felt apart from rather than a part of. I was extremely self-conscious, so much so that it negatively affected just about everything I did when people were watching; playing basketball and other sports during PE class, writing on the chalkboard, and on and on. But there were times when all seemed well with the world, such as anytime I was doing the things I loved to do back in those days. That included riding my BMX bike all around the neighborhood, building trails in the woods, exploring woods and creeks, catching reptiles (yes, mostly snakes, which indirectly led to the rather humorous moniker “Snakeman”… my eternal gratitude to Josh K. for that one).
One day a friend of mine from another class gave some small blue pills to me and a couple of friends of mine. I readily ingested my pill about halfway through the school day. In about half an hour, I felt like I suspected other kids felt — at least the well-adjusted, happy, social, popular ones. Never had Bible class been so intensely interesting! I saw everything in a glorious new light. I imagine I sported an ear-to-ear, Cheshire-cat grin. I was not merely elated; I was absolutely enraptured with my initial benzo-brand of euphoria.
Xanax spiritual experience
That afternoon I considered the benzo experience far superior to the other highs I had experienced up to that point; it seemed to be exactly what I needed for happy wholeness and confidence. My first experience with John Barleycorn was wonderful, but in true alcoholic fashion I took it too far, got sick, and had a hangover the next day. My early experiences smoking pot led to paranoia when we smoked it before school, and that was definitely not how I wanted to feel all the time. Plus, there are dead giveaways with booze and pot, including strong smells and the appearance of being high, especially in the eyes. But benzos were different. There are no smells to cover up, no red, glassy, or droopy eyes to deal with… just a tiny, easy-to-conceal pill.
But one little blue pill gave me a feeling of well-being beyond compare. It was an honest-to-God spiritual experience. I felt better than I had ever felt before. My social anxiety and inhibitions became unnoticeable or went away completely. My mood was a 10 out of 10. I felt I could think clearly and did not feel impaired in the least.
Shoplifting on Xanax
After school that day I drove the ’78 Impala over to 100 Oaks, the closest mall at the time. I was a bookworm so I headed right for the bookstore. I do not remember whether I had any specific books in mind to buy, but what I ended up doing was stealing a book… a soft-porn novel, it sure enough was! I stuffed the book down my pants and exited the bookstore, feeling as though I had basically floated out of there. I was still in seventh heaven to be sure.
Dad catches me red-handed
Back then my closest friends and I routinely passed notes. I wrote about how great I felt and how I wanted more magic pills. Loving to write and eager to explain the revolutionary Xanax experience in great detail, I also described my surreptitious, thieving behavior at the bookstore. Well, I don’t believe anyone ever got to read that tell-all treatise about my first alprazolam adventure — none other than my father, that is, who somehow found and read those lurid details. The first drug talk with Dad rapidly ensued, and I promised not to do it again. Amazingly, I was not to repeat any benzo misbehavior until college.
Xanax® leads directly to suicide attempt in mid-90s
In 1995 had been working at a job I hated, and at which I had a pretty lame – and well-deserved – reputation; however, I’m now quite certain that the real object of my disdain was my miserable, depressed self. A white van ran a red light at Sidco and Harding Place in Nashville and rammed right into me; the accident fractured my kneecap. I enjoyed the pain pills while they lasted – I think I got only one or two refills, much to my chagrin. I had been drinking heavily, Skyy vodka I believe it was, usually by myself in my lousy Huntington Park Manor apartment on Edmondson Pike. I decided to quit my job and used the insurance proceeds from the accident to buy a crotch rocket, a Yamaha FZR600. (I had taken a lot of Xanax the day I set my land speed record of 139 mph on that bike, but that’s another tale for another time.)
I had also been procuring a few Ritalin and Xanax pills every week or so. I would snort the Ritalin and “enjoy” the combination of vodka, benzos, and amphetamines. I had been procuring these pills on a fairly regular basis for a few months at this point when the supply was either exhausted or hidden better than usual, for I’d been stealing them from an acquaintance.
Unknowingly addicted to Xanax
The following days saw my depression spiral out of control, and within a week or two I believed my family and the world at large would be much better off without me in it. I stole over 320 Xanax footballs – the one-milligram pills – with which I made the first honest attempt to off myself. That turned out to be a really ugly scene, hurting family members much more than I had envisioned it might. Actually, I did not do much envisioning of how my suicide attempt might affect others; I was far too selfish, though I did not realize it at the time.
In retrospect, it is plain to see that the worsening depression was, in large part at least, due to my addiction to Xanax. At the time, I would have sworn to you that I was not physically dependent on Xanax; I did not believe it was possible to be addicted to something I did not take every day. How wrong I was! I believed I was going crazy, just totally losing it — and I guess I was. I continued to drink about a fifth of Skyy vodka most days, which only made matters worse.
A day after the suicide attempt at Radnor Lake I woke up at Vanderbilt University Hospital, still very high and laughing hysterically at my leaking catheter with Dad at my side. One or two days later I was in Vanderbilt’s psychiatric ward for about seven days, which I believe is the amount of time required by law for those who have failed at suicide attempts. I was completely miserable, and I was not given any detox medications. This was very bad, for within an hour of my release, in my apartment with my mother collecting some clothes and such, I had my first grand mal seizure. My mother was horrified, but of course I remembered nothing about it. In my next moment of consciousness, I found myself in the hospital again, more miserable than ever.
A grand mal seizure — also known as a generalized tonic-clonic seizure — features loss of consciousness along with violent muscle contractions. It’s a scary thing to witness. It’s the type of seizure most folks probably picture when they think about seizures in general.
The suicide attempt experience, the horrible time in the Vandy psych ward, the seizure my mother had to witness, and finally my next relapse which occurred three months or so after the suicide attempt – after steadfastly working the AA program, or so I thought – clearly demonstrates that there is no bottom, spiritual or physical, so low and miserable that it alone will keep me sober going forward.
Xanax solution: Master of cold-call sales?
Then there was the time I was employed in sales. I sold computer training at a top computer training company by making up to 100 cold calls per day. I felt I was busting at the seams with self-confidence, my cup spilling over with friendly and effective sales bravado. I truly believed Xanax was making me a master of sales; the day I ran out of those little blue 1-milligram footballs, I found I could no longer pick up the phone to make cold calls. Then the darkness and deep depression began all over again. My disease makes me unbelievably forgetful of the misery and ruin that addiction inevitably causes with every relapse of significant length.
Street names for Xanax, alprazolam
- Xannies, Zannies
- Xanbars, Handlebars, Bars, Z-bars, Totem Poles (referring to the bar shape of 2mg Xanax pills),
- Blue Footballs (referring to blue oval football-shaped one-mg Xanax pills)
- Upjohn (referring to the pharmaceutical company Upjohn, now known as Pfizer)
- Benzos (refers to the family of drugs that alprazolam belongs to — benzodiazepines)
- School bus
- Bicycle parts
- Yellow boys
- White boys
- White girls
The United States has been and still is facing a major drug epidemic. Without a doubt, the war on drugs has been a spectacular flop. The frequency of overdoses has seen a substantial rise. Even today, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to Xanax for their anxiety and depression; unbeknownst to most of these individuals, this is actually one of the worst solutions for symptoms like anxiety and depression; they will definitely ease or erase such symptoms in the short term, but using Xanax every day for even two or three weeks can lead to dependence and finally addiction.
Xanax is readily available and prescribed to a large portion of the population. In 2011, it was reported that Xanax was prescribed to approximately 50 million individuals. The prescription rates topped those of similar drugs, including Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, and Restoril. Due to the drug’s availability and its powerful high, it has become a favorite among abusers.
Coming off Xanax: Tapering/weaning from benzos
As this blogger – a former Discovery Place guest and recovering addict/alcoholic – can readily attest, benzodiazepines in general and Xanax/alprazolam in particular are very difficult to come off of. Professional help, treatment, detox, and/or a spiritual retreat like Discovery Place are called for when quitting Xanax after the user has developed Xanax dependence or addiction.
Please check back soon for more about the dangers of Xanax/benzo and alcohol withdrawal.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or benzos for short, are a large class of drugs including Xanax that are broadly prescribed all over the world for common health issues including stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines have a calming effect on both body and mind and are thus often prescribed to serve as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety agent), a sedative (used as a calming agent, to reduce irritability or excitement), or hypnotic (used to induce sleep, treat insomnia). Benzodiazepines can also be used as an anticonvulsant to treat seizures, a muscle relaxant, and are occasionally used to treat some types of depression (especially anxiety-related depression).
Benzos are psychotropic medications, meaning that they are mood-altering drugs: chemical substances that cross the blood–brain barrier and act primarily upon the central nervous system, affecting one’s perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior. Benzos act selectively on gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A) receptors in the brain.
Benzodiazepines are highly addictive central nervous system depressants, with Xanax being among the most addictive owing to its short half-life. Although guidelines provide clear warnings against prescribing benzodiazepines for long-term use, many people end up using benzos long enough to become addicted. Others become addicted to these prescription drugs after abusing them over a long period of time. Those abusing benzos will generally develop a tolerance for the drugs sooner rather than later and will get to extremely high dosages.
Habituated users who suddenly stop taking Xanax or other benzodiazepines without tapering off properly run the risk of experiencing hallucinations, seizures, strokes, heart attacks, or even death in some cases. In fact, benzos are one of the only two types of substances from which sudden withdrawal can actually kill the addicted or dependent user; the other is alcohol. Benzos and alcohol act upon the brain in similar ways.
The following list includes the most popular brand names for common benzodiazepines as well as the generic names.
- Valium® – Diazepam
- Xanax® – Alprazolam
- Ativan® – Lorazepam
- Klonopin® – Clonazepam
- Restoril® – Temazepam
- Dalmane® – Flurazepam
- Librium® – Chlordiazepoxide
- Halcion® – Triazolam
- Rohypnol® – Flunitrazepam – illegal in the U.S.
- Ambien® – Zolpidem
- Lunesta® – Eszopiclone
- Sonata® – Zaleplon
- Imovane® – Zopiclone – Marketed primarily outside the U.S.
Signs of Xanax abuse
A person abusing Xanax will likely manifest symptoms similar to being intoxicated on alcohol.
- Blurred vision
- Poor coordination, unsteadiness
- Forgetfulness, amnesia
- Irritability, hostility
- Disturbing dreams, unusually vivid dreams
- Reduced inhibition
- Impaired judgment, confusion
If a person takes a larger dose of benzodiazepines than prescribed, they are likely to experience severe drowsiness, confusion, poor balance, lack of coordination, light-headedness, and muscle weakness. Mixing benzodiazepines with alcohol significantly increases its effect as a central nervous system depressant. This can lead to shallow breathing and even respiratory suppression sometimes severe enough to cause death.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, it is possible to note substantial changes in a user’s life that become increasingly apparent when addicted to benzodiazepines. Since these drugs are tranquilizers, those dependent on benzos may seem oddly detached from life and sedated. As is the case with other addictions, these individuals may lose interest in matters and activities that were once important to them.
Xanax, other benzodiazepine overdose
An overdose of benzos can result in symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication, including somnolence (a strong desire to sleep, regardless of location or circumstances) and diplopia (double vision). A coma is a possible result of a benzodiazepine overdose; however, this is relatively rare.
Abusing benzodiazepines along with other drugs is not uncommon, particularly heroin or cocaine abusers which means that benzos can be involved in deaths resulting from combinations of drugs. For instance, a very large dose of benzos can be fatal when combined with alcohol, barbiturates, tricyclic antidepressants, or opiates.
Resources: Xanax addiction, benzodiazepine info
- Benzodiazepines – Wikipedia
- Benzodiazepines – Drugs Forum
- Benzodiazepines – Drugs.com
- Benzodiazepine addiction – Wikipedia
- Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome – Wikipedia
- List of benzodiazepines – Wikipedia
- Most Common Benzodiazepine Prescriptions – LiveStrong
- Prescription Anxiety Medications – RxList
- Anxiety Medication – HelpGuide
- GABA-A receptor – Wikipedia
- Benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal: Identification and medical management
- Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives – American Family Physician (AFP)
- Addiction, Part II: Identification and Management of the Drug-Seeking Patient – AFP
- Benzo.org.uk: Resource Site for Involuntary Benzodiazepine Tranquilizer Addiction, Withdrawal, & Recovery
- Benzodiazepines, Tranquilizers, and Sleeping Pills – Addictions and Recovery
- Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines’ Addictive Properties – NIDA – Like opioids and cannabinoids, diazepam and other benzodiazepines take the brakes off activity of dopamine-producing neurons
- Benzodiazepine Addiction, Withdrawal and Recovery – Patient.co.uk
- Am I addicted to benzodiazepines? Benzodiazepines Co-operation Not Confrontation (BCNC)
- Benzodiazepine Abuse – eMedicineHelp
- The Ashton Manual – Benzodiazepines: How They Work and How to Withdraw