According to multiple research works, approximately 3.8 percent of the world population, i.e., approximately 284 million people suffer from anxiety disorders. Directed by Blair Foster, “Take Your Pills: Xanax,” the 2022 Netflix Documentary talks about how people in the United States of America try to escape the anxiety trap and the kind of implications their escape route has on them. In the modern medical system, we often try to get instant relief rather than eliminate the root cause of the problem. We are often oblivious to the side effects that a drug would have in the long term, and even if we know about it, we tend to ignore it. Xanax belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, and according to reports, more than 40 percent of its daily users become dependent upon it in the long run. “Take Your Pills: Xanax” serves as a brief commentary on the psychological issues faced by people in the United States and how they try to tackle the issue. Xanax was over prescribed by doctors at one stage, and it became the go-to magic pill in most cases. And why wouldn’t it? It helped people let go of their fears and apprehensions, and they felt like somebody had lifted the weight off their shoulders. The main issue was that the solution, in this case, was bigger than the problem, and the medical experts were totally unaware of it. Apart from getting addicted to Xanax, a lot of patients were also showing signs of a withdrawal syndrome when they tried to get off the medication. It was one of those rare times when the existence of a syndrome was detected by the patients instead of the medical experts. Though some patients were very happy with the result of the pill, there were others who found themselves in a greater mess and didn’t know how to come out of it.
Dr. Anna Lembke (professor at Stanford Medicine), Tracy Dennis-Tiwary (professor at Hunter College), and Dr. Julie Holland (psychiatrist) tell us that anxiety is quite similar to fear, as both emotions activate the fear center inside our mind called the Amygdala. The doctors tell us that anxiety could also have positive effects if present in the right amount, but if it’s not, then it has the capacity to have a paralyzing effect on a person. A lot of times, a person’s experiences make them prone to anxiety disorders, and they find themselves in situations where they are no longer in control of how they feel physically and emotionally.
In the documentary “Take Your Pills: Xanax,” we get to hear multiple testimonies of people who have been taking Xanax on a regular basis to fight their acute anxiety disorders. Through them, we get to know the kind of dependency one can develop and how difficult it could be to stop the usage altogether. Though most of the time, tapering the dosage has physical implications, sometimes it is the psychological fear that prevents a patient from stopping the medication. Xanax gives the patients the feeling that they have a safety net in place, in the absence of which they feel quite vulnerable and scared that something untoward might happen. One of the patients, named John, tells us that for years he had been on Xanax, and it had done wonders for him. When he was finally confident that he could handle his anxiety, he informed his psychiatrist about it, who reduced his dosage by half a milligram. From having brain fog to experiencing heart palpitations, John started experiencing all sorts of physical problems. At that time, neither he nor his doctor had any clue that it was because of the reduction in the dosage of Xanax. John said that he visited more than 30 doctors and did almost every test before realizing on his own that it was his anti-anxiety magic pill that was causing all the problems.
People who have not dealt with anxiety issues might take it lightly, but those who have suffered understand the kind of desperation and hopelessness one goes through during an anxiety attack. Experts say that social media has played an active role in triggering anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, etc. A lot of times, we end up comparing our lives with the enameled experiences of our colleagues or maybe a celebrity on social media, and that becomes the root cause of all the discontentment inside us. People get burdened by their own expectations, and somewhere they start feeling that they are never going to accomplish anything in their lives. However, Xanax punches that vulnerability in the face and makes a person feel that he has overcome it; in reality, that feeling of inadequacy just lingers in some corner of the subconscious and strikes back once again with greater velocity. Today, our work culture is such that we are surrounded by technology at all times. We rarely go out and interact with nature, and in our hectic schedule, there is no time for exercising or playing some sport. For most people who are a part of the corporate setup, there is no work-life balance, and the notion of self-care is mostly neglected. The pandemic made us realize that mental health is as important as physical health and overlooking it could have serious implications. According to a survey, the current generation has become more prone to mental health issues due to the constantly decreasing social contact and the inability to find a stimulus outside themselves that drives them ahead. The doctors tell us that Xanax is not the only solution to curing anxiety, and people could resort to cognitive behavioral therapy, which has shown great results in the recent past. As more and more people came out in the open and talked about their Xanax addiction, the world came to know that the problem was more common than we had imagined. Today, we are more informed about the kind of side effects and withdrawal symptoms Xanax can have, and that is why even doctors are very cautious while prescribing it.
As Dr. Lambke points out, in today’s world, we want an instant remedy for everything, but we should try building resilience towards it instead of leaning on medications at the first sign of trouble. Learning how to cope with oneself is an ongoing process and staying resilient and accepting existential reality are probably the keys to fighting anxiety.
“Take Your Pills: Xanax” is a 2022 Investigative Documentary film directed by Blair Foster.