BEYOND Substance Use | Xanax and the Dangers of Misuse
This night would be a release. She had been cooped up in her stuffy dorm room for the last two weeks, studying away for her hardest class’s midterm exam. She was so nervous that, many nights, she couldn’t even sleep. The pressure made her heart a caffeine-fueled drag engine, sometimes because of the anxiety about her grades. But it was all finally over. When she reentered on-campus, the school doctor gave her a prescription for her anxiety. She took some yesterday but didn’t take anything that night because, after the exam, she and her friends were going to go out to drink and dance.
Here in central Illinois, the most used substances are opioids and alcohol. Both are part of the drug-class depressants which affect the central nervous system. The above scenario indicates a very real problem: mixing alcohol with opioids. This young woman does not intend to mix these two. She is not even aware she can. Her anxiety drug is prescription Alprazolam, sold under the brand name Xanax.
Xanax has become one of the most prescribed benzodiazepines and was intended to be a safer drug less prone to abuse than Valium. Xanax treats anxiety and panic disorders by facilitating the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). For an average person, it takes about 11 hours for their body to eliminate half the dose of Xanax. On the quickest side, it takes about six hours; for the obese person, it could take up to 27 hours.
Former bartender Alex Withers not only bartended at Casey’s Pub until this year but also went to college in Bloomington at the height of the opioid epidemic between 2015 and 2019. He often witnessed people passing out from the combination of opioids and alcohol.
“The problem with that too, when you quit Xanax and other opioids, you start having seizures, so that was another thing you see people seizing, which is always uncomfortable,” Withers said.
Estimates based on the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) of opioid use and misuse rates among Illinois youth ages 18 to 25 (101,306, 7.1%) and adults (271,289, 3.2%) reported misusing prescription pain relievers in the past year.
“You see it at bars or at friends’ houses, sometimes that will happen, or they fall asleep yeah a lot of that and a lot of people mixed it with alcohol, they just like immediately blackout,” Withers said.
Additionally, the body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over everything else, so if you are drinking alcohol while taking a prescription drug like Xanax, then essentially, the clock has stopped on your body’s metabolizing of Xanax so that it can metabolize the alcohol in your system so you will have more Xanax building up in your system as the more you drink.
“When you have freedom for the first time, you’re going to want to explore it, and I think that will take you to places you want to be and places you don’t want to be. You’ll try things you like, things you don’t like, and I think sometimes people try more things that they don’t like and go through things that they shouldn’t,” Withers said.
Some of the more common slang terms are Xannies (or Xanies) and Zannies; benzos or downers; bars, ladders, Xanbars, Xans, Z-bars, handlebars, beans, footballs, planks, poles, sticks, blues, or blue football.
If you or a friend need help, please call Illinois Helpline at 833-234-6343 or text “HELP” to 833234.