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What Happens During a Xanax Overdose?


Over the last decade, benzodiazepine abuse has increased substantially. Benzodiazepine overdose deaths are following the rising trend. If a loved one abuses Xanax, you might fear they will join those grim statistics. Whether a person is taking too much of their prescription, buying Xanax on the street, or mixing Xanax with alcohol or opioids, there’s always a risk of life-threatening overdose.

Typically given for the short-term relief of anxiety, Xanax has a high potential for abuse and addiction. [1] The drug is safe when taken according to a doctor’s recommendation. However, when taken for too long or in greater amounts than prescribed, it is addictive. Xanax produces intensely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and can be a source of a drug overdose, alone or in combination with other drugs. [2]

What is Xanax?

Xanax, also sold under the generic alprazolam, is a short-acting central nervous system depressant used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It’s effective at reducing acute anxiety and panic attacks and lasts 4 to 6 hours. It works quickly and can work within minutes to half an hour, depending on how it’s administered. 

What Causes Xanax Overdose?

A Xanax overdose happens when a person takes more Xanax than their body can efficiently break down and excrete, causing a toxic level of the drug to accumulate in the brain and bloodstream. Xanax then causes a person’s breathing and heart rate to become increasingly shallow and slow until they stop, leading to death.

The amount of Xanax needed to produce an overdose varies significantly from person to person. These are the most important factors influencing how much Xanax it takes to cause a Xanax overdose.

  • A person’s age and weight—older people and those who are underweight require less Xanax to overdose.
  • Liver or kidney problems. People with health problems or kidney or liver disease can’t process Xanax efficiently, so it builds up in a person’s system.
  • Whether or not the drug was taken with other drugs or alcohol
  • Tolerance levels. Taking Xanax regularly or over its prescribed dosage results in tolerance. This requires ever-increasing amounts of Xanax to get the same high it originally produced. People often overdose, attempting to get that original feeling of euphoria.
  • Hydration levels
  • Whether or not a person has consumed foods or medications that interfere with the action of the enzyme cytochrome P450 3A (CYP3A), which prevents the body from breaking down Xanax. Examples include grapefruit, cimetidine, fluvoxamine, and antifungal drugs, such as ketoconazole, itraconazole, and numerous others. [2]
  • Other benzodiazepines, like Valium, or Ativan [3]
  • Opioids like oxycontin, hydrocodone, and codeine [3]
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Some antidepressants
  • Some heartburn medications
  • Alcohol. Alcohol combined with Xanax can cause blackouts, depressed breathing and heart rate, and death.
  • Insomnia medications like eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zolpidem (Ambien), and zaleplon (Sonata)

A person new to Xanax and abusing it recreationally is particularly vulnerable to an overdose. This is especially true if they’ve consumed other narcotics or alcohol. Most people who die from a Xanax overdose have combined it with another substance, particularly alcohol or opioids.

How Can You Tell If Someone Is Overdosing On Xanax?


doctor talking to young male patient

People who take large amounts of Xanax might feel drowsy, have poor coordination, be confused, and or blurred vision. These symptoms may begin shortly after a person consumes the drug and continue to increase over time until the body processes the medication completely. [4]

Xanax Overdose Symptoms

Xanax Overdose Symptoms

A person who’s taken an overdose of Xanax may have only a few of these symptoms:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Difficulty speaking or annunciating
  • Loss of coordination or balance
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there).
  • Seizures
  • Memory problems.
  • Unusual changes in mood or behavior.
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • An inability to stay awake
  • Significantly slowed breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Loss of consciousness

If a person who has taken Xanax cannot be roused or is having trouble breathing, or breathing shallowly, call 911 at once. 

How Medical Professionals Treat Xanax Overdoses

If Xanax overdose is caught in time, life-saving medical treatments are available. Ultimately, treatment depends on the severity of a person’s symptoms. In mild cases, nurses and doctors will monitor a person’s vital signs and give intravenous fluids.

In more severe Xanax overdoses, medications exist that can reverse a Xanax overdose. These medications are only administered at a hospital or E.R., as they risk inducing seizures. [5]

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one has developed a psychological or physical dependence on Xanax, Agape Treatment Center is available to help. Our evidence-based, comprehensive, and individualized treatment programs can help you or your loved one overcome Xanax withdrawal and addiction.

If you or a loved one has been suffering at the hands of a Xanax addiction of any severity, please give us a call—we are ready to help around the clock, every day of the week. Our admissions counselors will work with you to determine how to cover the cost of treatment. Then they will help you set up viable travel plans and a date and time for intake.



Call the Agape Treatment Center admissions team at 888-614-0077 to learn more about what our addiction and mental health facilities can do for you or your loved one.

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