Prescription Drug Addiction


One commonly associates addiction with makeshift factories, illicit drug trafficking, smuggling, street crime and other underworld activity. Our addiction concern in the tranquility middle and upper middle class suburbs typically focuses only on adolescents who may have become captivated by the lure of illicit drugs.

Yet, our collective cultural conscience will recall that in the late sixties and early seventies, these bastions of domestic tranquility where plagued with a housewife addiction to Valium. Valium, along with other benzodiazepine class drugs became the prescription drug of choice for many middle class men and women to help them deal with the anxieties which filled their lives. Soon it was discovered that addicts and addiction are not only found in the bowels of the inner city but in the heart of suburbia as well. Valium's little yellow pill , found its place in popular culture through the 1966 classic hit by the Rolling Stones, Mother's Little Helper. Valium's popularity Peaked in 1978, when in that year alone Americans popped about 2.3 billion pills.

Soon benzodiazepine class drugs received a bad name, causing cautious people to shy away from their prescription and use. There was a 25 percent drop in the number of prescriptions written in the late seventies. The drug industry, in its interminable way, thought shorter-acting, non-addictive drugs to replace the household Valium cure. While also benzodiazepine class drugs, the drug industry coined the term Anxyolotic to describe the type of drug, to remove its association with Valium.

Xanax has become the most popular of these Anxyolytic drug designed to treat the malaise of modern life. Yet, Xanax, Niravam, and, in fact, most other psychiatric drugs fail to be non-addictive, creating yet a new class of addiction and addicts to follow in the footsteps of the v alium house wife.

Alprazolam, Xanax's chemical generic name was first synthesized in 1969. A psychiatrist, Dr. David Sheehan, found that Alprazolam was successful in treating panic disorder and Upjohn (now Pfizer) soon marketed the drug for that disorder, making a distinction from generalized anxiety disorder.

Xanax affects the neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA, gamma amino butyric acid. GABA is a natural occurring tranquilizer, present at approximately 80% of the nerve connections in the brain. When an individual becomes anxious or nervous, the brain releases GABA causing negatively charged chlorine atoms to stream into nerve cells, making it harder for other stimulating neurotransmitters to trigger the firing of that nerve. In effect, allowing an individual to calm down.

Xanax and other benzodiazepine class drugs cause the GABA that is present to work strongly, augmenting their performance. Many people initially develop a tolerance to Xanax after the first few weeks of use. This occurs because the body's responses to the introduction of the drug in two ways. Recognizing the calmer environment the brain releases less GABA. In addition, the liver, which is responsible for eliminating the Xanax (and all other foreign toxins), through the production of an enzyme, will increase the production of the enzyme that destroys Xanax.

This cycle is what causes physical addiction. A person wishing to discontinue his use of Xanax, or any other psychiatric drug, can not do so, cold turkey with out suffering sever effects of withdrawal (what the drug industry euphemistically calls discontinuation syndrome). Immediate discontinuation of the drug will create feelings of anxiety and panic far greater than the individual experienced before ever taking the drug. This is a result of the lowered production of the GABA by the brain, and the increased production of the toxin eliminating enzymes of the liver.

It is imperative that a person wishing to discontinue his use of Xanax, or any other psychiatric drug, do so gradually, under the supervision of a trained medical professional. Sudden withdrawal from such drugs can be dangerous and even life threatening, but once one has been successfully removed from the influence of the drug, there are not any known long- term effects.

Sam Blockman