Xanax (alprazolam) is the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. Although it is safe and effective when taken as prescribed, the medication can be abused and can lead to the development of an addiction. Because the medication is addictive, many people ask, “is Xanax an opioid?”
The short answer is no, Xanax is not an opioid. However, that doesn’t mean people don’t get addicted to it and overdose on it just like they do with opioid drugs.
What is Xanax (Alprazolam)?
Xanax is a brand-name medication that contains alprazolam. Alprazolam is a sedative medication that is used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. The medication is also used off-label to treat sleep disorders and alcohol withdrawal.
Alprazolam works by enhancing the production and reuptake of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a naturally occurring chemical that helps regulate the central nervous system (CNS). When the brain has more GABA, people feel more calm and relaxed. They are also less likely to have certain types of seizures. However, when taken in excess, too much GABA will produce poor coordination, memory loss, drowsiness, and a “high” that many people get addicted to.
Xanax is a Schedule IV controlled substance indicating a low to moderate risk for abuse. However, when it is abused, it is highly addictive. Even when the medication is taken as prescribed, it can be physically habit-forming. As a result, Xanax is usually used as a short-term treatment solution.
Is Xanax an Opioid?
Xanax is not an opioid or a narcotic. It is a prescription medication that belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. More specifically, Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are often referred to as “benzos.”
Examples of opioids include heroin, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), and oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone). Examples of benzodiazepines, on the other hand, include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and lorazepam (Ativan).
Just because Xanax is not an opioid does not mean it isn’t dangerous. When abused, Xanax can lead to addiction, physical dependence, and even a potentially fatal overdose. The dangers of Xanax become even more pronounced when the medication is combined with an opioid drug.
Opioids vs. Benzodiazepines
Opioids, sometimes referred to as opiates, are painkillers. Opiates refer to naturally occurring opioids that are derived from morphine or the opium poppy plant while opioids refer to both naturally occurring opioids and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and buprenorphine. All opioids are CNS depressants that produce feelings of pain relief and, in high doses, euphoria.
Opioids come in various strengths and dosages, but all opioids are used to relieve pain. They may be prescribed after surgery, after an injury, or for chronic pain. This class of medications works by blocking the pain signals between the brain and body. Opioids are infamously known for being habit-forming and highly addictive.
Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, are not painkillers. Instead, they are sedatives or depressants that are prescribed to treat a wide variety of health conditions, including:
- Panic attacks
- Sleep disorders
- Muscle spasms
- Alcohol withdrawal
- As tranquilizers before surgery
Benzodiazepines are some of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States. In fact, nearly 21 million Xanax prescriptions were written in 2018. While each benzodiazepine is slightly different from the next, most have some level of addiction potential. And, although benzodiazepines aren’t as well-known for causing overdoses, high doses can suppress breathing and bodily functions to the point where a person falls into a coma or dies.
The Dangers of Mixing Xanax With Opioids
As the opioid crisis continues to rage in America, a benzodiazepine crisis isn’t far behind. In 2019, nearly 16% of opioid overdose deaths also involved benzodiazepines.
Mixing Xanax or other benzodiazepines with opioid drugs is extremely dangerous. Both classes of drugs are central nervous system depressants, meaning they both slow down important bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, and blood flow. When combined the depressant effects become extremely powerful, leading to sedation or overdose.
Studies have found that the overdose death rate among people who were taking both benzodiazepines and opioids was 10 times higher than people who were only taking opioids. Still, many types of patients including cancer patients and veterans, are prescribed benzodiazepines like Xanax and an opioid at the same time.
Today, both benzodiazepines and opioids carry an FDA “black box” warning indicating the potential for abuse and the dangers of using drugs of this nature in combination with one another.
Find Help for Xanax Abuse and Addiction Today
Xanax is not an opioid, but it is highly addictive. If you or someone you love is abusing or addicted to Xanax, it’s time to get help.
Our team at New Jersey Interventions can help you find the right treatment program, verify your insurance, and make travel arrangements so you don’t have to worry about a thing. Don’t wait any longer. Call now to speak with a dedicated admissions coordinator.
Medically Reviewed: December 20, 2021
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.