Thirty or forty years ago, “recreational drug” meant something illicit that was probably concocted in a secret lab somewhere. Something illicit like LSD, heroin or cocaine. Timothy Leary in his wildest dreams could never imagine a world in which recreational drugs were marketed with multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns and available to order online as easily as the latest bestseller on Amazon. If only Timbo had lived a few years longer…
More and more recreational drug users are choosing their chemical diversions not from a street menu, but from an array of well-known brands like Ambien, Xanax, Vicodin and Viagra (no, I’m not kidding about the last one).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that approximately 20 percent of the US population age 12 and over has used prescription drugs for non-medical use. According to Nora Volkow, The Institute’s Director, “While we do not yet understand all of the reasons for the increasing abuse of prescription drugs, we do know that accessibility is likely a contributing factor.” The rise of online pharmacies dispensing medications without a prescription means that even minors are able to order the medications easily over the Internet.
As reported by Body-Philosophy a few weeks back, Ritalin and Adderall, intended to treat ADD, are being used by college students hoping to improve their SAT scores or ace their finals. And of course painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin have been famously abused by a litany of celebrities including former First Lady Betty Ford and talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.
But painkillers are old hat! These days, trendy abusers in the know are choosing Xanax, Ambien and Viagra to take the edge off modern life.
Xanax: A Quaalude for our times. Developed as an alternative to Valium, alprazolam, branded as Xanax, is widely prescribed as a sedative, particularly to reduce anxiety and panic attacks. Xanax works by depressing the central nervous system, enhancing the effects of a chemical in the brain that slows down the firing of neurons and reduces brain activity.
It takes the scratchy edge off the day and leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, inside and out. I have friends who take it before long plane journeys to eliminate air travel jitters. And if you need to get a good night’s sleep after a stressful afternoon and before an even more stressful morning meeting, Xanax is like a couple of top-shelf margaritas without the salt or the hangover. Of course, there’s a downside too.
Xanax can be addictive, and continued high doses can cause a reaction called rebound anxiety. When heavy users stop taking Xanax, they may experience the same or more severe symptoms than before, such as changes in mood, anxiety or sleep. Rebound anxiety is usually a result of abrupt discontinuation – tapering off slowly is less likely to cause these symptoms.
Xanax is sometimes used in combination with other harder drugs to relieve the panic or distress generated by psychedelics such as LSD and also to promote sleep in the “come-down” period following the use of uppers like cocaine and amphetamines. It is also often used by heroin addicts to suppress withdrawal symptoms, because in conjunction with methadone, Xanax produces a high similar to heroin. People can overdose on Xanax alone, although usually they get into trouble by mixing it with other drugs or alcohol, says Dr. Richard Saini, medical director of the chemical-dependency unit for Orlando Regional Healthcare in Florida.