Take Your Pills: Xanax review | ‘This is an epidemic of loneliness’

★★★★☆ Take Your Pills: Xanax asks all the right questions about the epidemic's material causes, but what about the spiritual?



It is a drug that has taken on an entirely new life and legacy, Xanax. From promotion and sustained use in hip-hop and the surrounding culture to the commercial minefield of American pharmacology, and the age of social media and hyper-partisan politics, Xanax has a history brimming with baggage; and Netflix’s new documentary, ‘Take Your Pills: Xanax’, sheds a careful light onto this phenomenon.

It begins with Google searches. ‘Why am I so anxious?’, ‘is there anything I can take?’, ‘escape the anxiety trap.’

Early on, the question is asked, are we as a society more anxious than usual? From the off, there is a particular focus on social media, the seemingly perfect and heavily-curated lives of influencers, that pick apart the self-conscious audience.


Through social media and the 24-hour news cycle, we are bombarded almost constantly by insecurity, worry, and fatigue. Events that, in any other era, would likely not be immediately known (a disaster in a foreign country, for instance) can suddenly strike anyone anywhere in the world. It is a unique set of mental stressors inflicted upon an utterly unique generation.

‘There is an epidemic of loneliness.’

‘Social media will make you anxious, there’s really no way about it.’

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According to the documentary, one in eight Americans have an anti-anxiety prescription. For younger generations, Xanax is ubiquitous. Everyone knows someone who can source it through conventional or unconventional means. The documentary thoroughly explains the panic attack through the eyes of those experiencing it, what it feels like, and what causes it.

‘Anxiety is your body telling you that something is wrong.’

Throughout, there are many reasons attributed to the use of the drug. Bullying, the pandemic and its restrictions, school and career stress, parenthood, menopause, and a generally nervous disposition.

Usage has exploded in the 21st century. A consistent rise in the use of anxiety medication has been observed over the past two decades. After the September 11th attacks, there was a 23% uptick in Xanax use in New York.

Constantly hanging over the drug is a growing legacy of addiction. The documentary doesn’t shy away from discussions of over-prescription, withdrawals and addiction.

‘Knowing what I know now, I would have never taken that first prescription. It was the biggest mistake of my life.’


That was ‘John’, whose overuse of Xanax and subsequent withdrawals led to a mental breakdown and suicide attempt.

‘If your problems didn’t scare you, wait until you see our solutions’

‘People are taking Xanax way too often, for way too long.’

A big part of this issue and its locality in the United States seems to stem from American law permitting the advertising of pharmaceutical drugs directly to potential consumers. Such adverts offer people their lives back and freedom from discomfort. However, this seems to affect older generations more.

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For the youth, it is an entirely different cultural beast. In the 2010s, Xanax was the drug of choice for many rappers and influencers within the adjacent online communities. It moved from a pharmaceutical to a recreational drug in the eyes of many.

Some, most notably the aptly named rapper Lil Xan, based his entire persona on his drug use. For impressionable teenagers, this is remarkably dangerous, and the documentary does well to shed light on this. Though the culture seems to have shifted, Xanax is now widely treated with contempt and suspicion. This is in no small part due to the high-profile deaths of several rappers and artists due to taking street versions of the drug, often laced with the deadly fentanyl.


Dr Anne Lembke

Overall, the documentary fairly balances its acknowledgement of the drug’s utility in combating physical symptoms while not shying away from the addictive qualities of such medications. However, where I feel the documentary falls short is a generally materialistic view of mental health and mental illness. Money, national and global affairs, relationships and technology play significant roles; however, so do matters of the spirit. Are we fulfilled? Do our lives contain sufficient meaning? Why do I have to spend a third of my life in a job I hate? I’m lonely, loveless, and nihilistic. I have no faith, no future.

Xanax may very well have helped millions of people manage their anxiety symptoms. It may well have destroyed a life for every one it saved. Perhaps Xanax is just a quick fix. A plaster taped over a person’s natural and reasonable response to the modern world; that moves at the speed of light, in which everyone is exposed, under a microscope, one wrong step or misplaced word away from social devastation. The causes of anxiety are treated as facts of life, as is anxiety itself.

This documentary is fascinating and well produced; the editing is crisp, and the expertise thoughtful. The testimonies were personal, vulnerable and oddly endearing. And yet, I was left with more questions.

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