Xanax “bars,” “zanies” or “planks” the Deadly High
|2009 - June|
Senior at Westlake High School
In medical terms, it’s a benzodiazepine. It’s legally used for stress, anxiety and panic. Around school, however, it’s referred to as “bars,” “zanies” or “planks” and used to get a feeling similar to intoxication. This over-prescribed drug is becoming a staple in parents’ medicine cabinets, making it much easier for teens to access. What sets Xanax apart from all the other miscellaneous drugs in the medicine cabinet, though, is its ability to make the user black out, the high chance of addiction and the fact that withdrawal from Xanax is potentially deadly.
“Xanax is so dangerous because it hits you so fast,” licensed clinical social worker Kirk Broaddus said. “Within 10 or 15 minutes you’re soaring into the euphoric high, or low for some. What happens is [Xanax] sedates [the users]. If you’re talking to them or observing them, they look drunk — they’re slurring words, their eyes are closed and their head is drooping. It’s called psychomotor retardation. They just slow way down .
Sometimes, they’ll even fall asleep. A lot of people are known to just fall over.”
The drunken feeling associated with Xanax is unlike actual alcohol intoxication in that it wears off rapidly and impairs memory as well. These two factors play a large role in a potential overdose. With a drug that’s wearing off and a user with an impaired memory, the probability of taking one too many rises dramatically.
“It’s a fast-acting high and rapidly metabolized out of the body,” Broaddus said. “The high disappears really fast, and [the users] want another one so they take it again. Real high real quick and it goes away. Sometimes they forget they took the first one, so they take another one; now they have ingested two even though they don’t feel high. They think they can take another one. Taking more and more in a short period of time can be lethal.”
Mixing drugs with alcohol is dangerous in any case, but it is known to be especially dangerous with Xanax. Due to the fact that the two substances have the same affect on the body, they end up magnifying the feeling of intoxication to hazardous levels.
“If you mix alcohol with Xanax you’re really playing with fire,” Broaddus said.
“Generally speaking, people who are using Xanax to get high are often times around alcohol, so they mix the two. This combination is one lethal cocktail. Because they have added effects on each other, they slow down the central nervous system and respiratory system, which could possibly lead to death.”
While attending high school, exposure to illegal substances, whether it’s marijuana or underage drinking, is almost bound to happen. However, the severity of use of these illegal substances has seen a lot of growth in the past couple of years, according to nurse Holly Hubbell. Students are experimenting with new and “fun” things to try and achieve the “best” high. The danger comes into play when these students are unaware of the potential consequences.
“I have no idea [what it was like],” senior Laura Smith* said. “It totally blanks out your memory, so I can’t recall a thing. It’s like blacking out when you’re drunk, but you don’t remember any tidbits. [I took it because] someone had it and I was like, ‘Why not?’ I knew, but didn’t fully realize, I wouldn’t have a memory of that night.”
Like many people in her circumstance, this user was unaware of the danger surrounding the drug. The idea of addiction, withdrawal or even overdose never crossed her mind.
“I didn’t know it was really dangerous just because it’s so common,” Laura said. “I thought it was like any other drug. If you didn’t abuse it, it wouldn’t be bad.” After waking up with no idea what had happened the previous night, she changed her mind.
“I will never do it again,” Laura said. “It’s pointless.” Although the only consequence for her was loss of memory, things could have been drastically worse.
"The first time I did it, I was expecting a good time,” senior Molly Doe* said.
“Instead I woke up in the middle of the night and had no idea what I had been doing for the past five hours. The next morning my friends told me they didn’t know where I was all night and neither did I.”
Lately, however, Xanax is not only making its way into the hands of students on the weekend, but it’s also coming with them to school.
“There has been an increase in Xanax abuse [in school] lately,” Hubbell said. “If someone, a teacher or a student or anything, thinks a student isn’t acting like themselves, they’ll call for someone in administration who then gets the student and they do a medical evaluation.”
Difficulty concentrating, depressed heartbeat and breathing, drowsiness and excessive sleep, mental confusion or memory loss — Xanax addiction luckily comes with many warning signs, making it easier to spot. The addiction is not only hard on the body, but also hard on any relationship.
“Having a close family member on Xanax is like trying to talk to someone who is on autopilot all of the time,” senior Charlotte Potter* said. “You can never get through. They don’t remember important conversations, and you start to miss them. It’s like they are dead, but somehow still moving while on the drug. It really tears things apart. Not to mention having to worry about whether or not they will wake up the next morning.”
Witnessing this experience of addiction not only made up her mind about the drug, but it also allowed her a chance to reevaluate the way she was living her life.
“After seeing the awful effect it had on [my brother], I did a complete 180,”
Charlotte said. “I will never touch the drug again in my life, and it made me become more responsible with drinking and doing drugs. There’s a fine line between having fun and wasting away your life.”
While some may come to terms with their problem, others have found this much harder to do. These cases of denial not only hurt the addict, but also put a serious strain on their family dynamics.
“Everyone besides [my brother] knew he had a problem,” junior Megan Jones* said. “He was in denial so there were a lot of fights with the family. We didn’t have a relationship at all because he was always concerned with getting high.”
Anxiety and a slight headache are early signs of withdrawal for an addicted user. Once it’s reached a more intense level, the user begins to feel dizzy and usually common activities, like buttoning a shirt and saying their own name, become difficult tasks. If the withdrawal progresses, it’s possibly fatal.
“Maybe the most important thing of all is, if you take it every day for a couple of months, you become physically dependent on it and you have withdrawal if you suddenly stop it,” Broaddus said. “And if you’ve built up a significant dependence on it and you suddenly stop, you can go into a potentially fatal seizure. It’s deadly in that it slows your heart rate way down.”
So how is this dangerous drug finding its way into teenagers’ hands? The lenience now associated with prescribing Xanax makes it a common bottle of pills in the cabinet.
“Xanax is now one of the most prescribed medications out there,” Broaddus said. “Doctors are mis-prescribing it. It really should only be used for a panic disorder, but they are prescribing it left and right for general anxiety.”
Like most addictions, the end is hopefully treatment. First, the patient is forced to detox, which lasts 10 to 14 days. Some people choose to attend residential treatment programs to get the most comprehensive supervised detox. After seeing the increase in Xanax abuse, school officials have taken matters into their own hands to ensure sobriety for the users.
“We have a student support counselor, Katie Milsovich, at school,” Hubbell said. “She will refer them to treatment.”
Milsovich will help the student find treatment, but it’s then up to them whether or not they use all their available resources.
“It really depends on if a student is coming because they want help or because they got into trouble,” Milsovich said. “If a kid comes [voluntarily] and says they’re using every day, I won’t pick up the phone and call their parents, but I try and work with the student to involve their parents, and then go from there. Most kids don’t see their level of use as a problem; that’s probably the challenge of working with the student trying to get help. We see if they’re going to do an outpatient program, counseling or go to treatment.”
Behind the user, however, there’s always a dealer.
“I started to sell Xanax to support my own habit and make more money just to buy more bars with,” junior George Darrell* said.
Even after seeing hoards of people flock to him for their next fix and the negative effect the drugs were having on their lives, George didn’t give a second thought to what he was doing and how it was affecting others.
“It didn’t matter who the buyer was, how far the depth of their addiction went, or what person was concerned enough to try and keep me from making a sell to them,” George said. “They were just another couple of dollars in my pocket.”
Between the feelings he was getting from dealing and always being under the influence, he never had any questions as to whether or not he would suffer any legitimate consequences.
“I was invincible,” George said. “[Dealing] didn’t scare me because I was on top of the world at that time in my life. I was so barred out on the drug daily. Days faded into days with no recollection of yesterdays and no fears of tomorrows to come. My mind was so filled with haze that I didn’t even consider the consequences.”
Although some know the dangers of Xanax, most are unaware of the severity. When partying on the weekends with friends, the thought of deadly seizures probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Xanax. However, there are things to remember. It’s highly addictive and potentially lethal.
“I wouldn’t know if it was fun or not, because I don’t remember,” Molly said. “It’s pointless and you never know what you do and if that’s fun for you, then go for it, but it’s not for me. It seems to be one of the number one drugs of choice and people who do it seem to be more susceptible to messing up their lives — hence the word ‘bar tard.’ Bottom line: it’s just not worth it.”
“Don’t fog your mind, not for anything, because it’s hard to get it back,” George said. “Your life becomes empty. Time really doesn’t exist anymore. It’s not some memory-filled lane. You’re just passing between moments... because the past doesn’t exist anymore.”
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