Xanax® misuse: what you need to know

Recent reports suggest that there may be an increase in the misuse of Xanax® (alprazolam), primarily by young people, across the UK. There have been some media reports of groups of young people needing medical assistance, police warnings, and concerns raised by other agencies and mentioned in our own services.

Xanax® is the brand name for a type of benzodiazepine called ‘alprazolam’. It is not available on the NHS and can only be obtained legally in the UK by a private prescription.  You can find out more in our Choice and Medication website.

Benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium®) are used to help manage conditions including anxiety and insomnia. If used for longer periods of time they may be associated with tolerance and dependency. They are also associated with other side-effects such as drowsiness, memory problems and breathing difficulties. The risk of accidental overdose is increased if mixed with other substances such as alcohol.

Xanax® has been mentioned increasingly in our services over the past six months or so. It’s not clear where this new trend has come from, but Xanax® has been referenced in popular culture for many years, primarily through American media.. 

Some young people have mentioned references on social media making the drug of interest. As Xanax® is not available through the NHS it’s most likely the supply routes are through street dealers or online.

It’s possible that Xanax® and other prescription medications might appeal more to young people as they may believe they’re more likely to escape scrutiny in educational settings by claiming they are “just my meds” if there are bag searches.

Team Leader Nick Hickmott said: "Anecdotally Xanax® is being used in conjunction with alcohol and/or cannabis in what appears to be an attempt to reach a more sedated state although rarely is the desired effect achieved.

"The young people we’ve spoken to in Kent appear to have little or no knowledge of Benzos generally in terms of harm and this is reinforced by teachers and staff in school and pupil referral unit settings therefore there is a need to act quickly and reinforce accurate education and messages to these vulnerable groups.”