Xanax is commonly prescribed to manage anxiety and panic disorders, but more and more teens in the UK have been taking it as a party drug, inspired by celebrities and pop culture.
Xanax, the brand name for the drug Alprazolam, is only available through private prescription here in the UK, but a growing number of British teens have been using it liberally from ages as young as 11. According to recent investigations, British teens can now find Xanax pills almost as easily as alcohol, including dangerous counterfeit versions, from social media, the dark web or from underage dealers. In the midst of an emerging crisis, psychologists and addiction specialists point out that celebrity culture is one of the main drivers behind the Xanax trend and that teens are influenced by their favourite artists to use this drug recreationally.
Figures show a rise in Xanax misuse and Xanax-related deaths
Xanax demand is on the rise in the UK. The “Xanarchy”, as journalists call it, has led to a booming new industry, one of improvised labs where dealers make fake Xanax pills for a growing teen clientele. In as little as four years, Xanax misuse has been linked to no less than 500 death across the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, there was a 43% increase in deaths caused by benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs which also includes Xanax. According to paediatrician and ER reports, more and more teens are admitted to hospital as a result of Xanax abuse, a phenomenon that was incredibly rare in the past.
Addiction experts jump in on the issue, explaining that Xanax was nowhere near as popular two years ago as it is today, and that this surge in popularity is due to a number of social factors. Frequently stigmatized in the past, mental health issues such as anxiety and panic attacks now benefit from increased awareness. Recognising the symptoms of anxiety, teens are looking for a quick solution to this problem, one that their friends are using and that doesn’t involve talking to their parents. And, as the second-largest black market for Xanax counterfeits, the UK definitely delivers.
Needless to say, we shouldn’t be tempted to see the increase in mental health awareness as a scapegoat for the UK’s Xanax crisis, because the problem has many complex causes. One of them, experts explain, is the toxic influence of celeb culture and social media, which is becoming harder to manage.
Social media and celebrity culture are changing the face of the drug market
Teenagers have always been influenced by celebrities, and singers glamorising drug use is definitely not a new phenomenon. However, unlike previous generations, the young generation of British teens has far wider access to social media, toxic subcultures, and underground sources of anxiety pills.
In an age where news travels in the blink of an eye, teens are exposed to complicated events that they can’t always make sense of. Take Demi Lovato, whose dramatic battle with addiction went viral and sparked a surge of online reactions in 2018. The singer was open about her struggle with mental health and substance abuse and, in a documentary, she revealed that she almost died of an overdose after mixing cocaine with Xanax.
Grammy winner, Internet start and teen idol Drake also mentioned casually popping Xanax pills in his songs, while Soundcloud rappers base their entire careers on themes like anxiety struggles and how Xanax helps them cope.
Media interest peaked in 2017, when emo Soundcloud rapper Lil Peep died at 21 from an overdose of Xanax, fentanyl, and a cocktail of several other drugs. This death sparked shock and concern in the community, revealing a serious problem that parents had been blind to: other Soundcloud rappers had been glamourising Xanax for years. For example, in one viral Instagram post, rapper Lil Pump posed with a Xanax-shaped cake.
Teachers and headmasters across the UK said that they had been pointing out this problem to parents for years, and that for a worrying number of teens popping Xanax pills during lunch breaks is a common practice. This also happens at parties, where teens make dangerous combinations of Xanax and alcohol. In lack of a better understanding of Xanax side effects, many students see Xanax as a safer alternative to illegal drugs that also doubles as a remedy for anxiety or sometimes, hangovers.
Even more worryingly, Xanax is surprisingly easy to obtain. In theory, the drug isn’t available on the NHS and it can only be prescribed at private clinics in the UK, but teens can find an online supplier in less than a minute. And even if they don’t actively look for it, an ad on social media can still pop up, tempting teens to buy a Xanax pill for as little as 70p.
What is Xanax and when does it become dangerous?
Xanax is the trade name for the drug Alprazolam, a short-acting benzodiazepine prescribed in the management of generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Benzodiazepines produce dopamine in the brain, generating feelings of relaxation and helping patients cope with symptoms such as restlessness, trembling, increased heart rate, sweating, or the feeling of impending doom.
so happy i’m done with xanax pic.twitter.com/zuqzNXZNfr
— chels (@yayitschelly) April 2, 2019
However, specialists recommend caution when taking Xanax and benzodiazepines in general, because these drugs are highly addictive. Prolonged use has been associated with harmful, even life-threatening side effects that range from drowsiness and tiredness to depressive and suicidal thoughts.
Doctors also point out that the counterfeit versions of Xanax that are so popular in the UK pose an even greater threat, because benzodiazepines are mixed with other dangerous substances. For example, one investigation at Robertsbridge Community College revealed that students had been taking cheap fake tablets that had been laced with Fentanyl.
Even when the pills are not counterfeit, Xanax can still be dangerous as a party drug. Combined with alcohol, it can slow down heart rate and breathing, leading to respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.
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