What Are Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms?
Xanax withdrawal symptoms can take hold within hours of the last dose, and they can peak in severity within 1-4 days. During withdrawal, people can experience:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle pain
- Numb fingers
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Loss of appetite
- Heart palpitations
A tapering Xanax dose, supervised by a medical detox team, is a safer alternative to cold-turkey withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription drugs that reduce over-activity in the brain and central nervous system by increasing the presence of the inhibitory neuron gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
One of the most popular of these medications is Xanax, or alprazolam in its generic form, as CBS News reports that in 2011, it was the 11th most prescribed drug in the United States.
Xanax is regularly prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders, to help relax muscles, relieve stress and tension, and help people sleep. Xanax is commonly abused as it can make people feel good by activating pleasure cells in the brain. In 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that close to 10 percent of all emergency department visits related to the abuse of pharmaceuticals involved the benzodiazepine, or benzo, alprazolam.
Xanax is also considered to be very addictive. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prescribing information for Xanax indicates that taking the drug can lead to dependence, especially when taking high doses for longer than a month. GABA acts as a kind of natural sedative in the brain, slowing down certain functions and muting reactions to stress. Over time, Xanax may actually influence the production of GABA, and the brain may stop making it without the presence of the drug. The brain may then become dependent on Xanax, and when it leaves the bloodstream, withdrawal can start as the brain struggles to regain its natural sense of order and balance. Xanax withdrawal should not be attempted without medical assistance, as it can be dangerous and even potentially life-threatening.
Blood pressure, body temperature, respiration, and heart rate may go up rapidly, and seizures that can lead to coma and even death may occur. Some of the physical warning signs of Xanax withdrawal to watch for include:
Xanax should not be stopped suddenly, or “cold turkey,” and vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, respiration levels, and temperature need to be closely monitored during its removal from the body. Grand mal seizures have been well documented, the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association publishes, as dangerous side effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal and may be fatal without professional assistance during Xanax detox.
Xanax withdrawal can leave people feeling generally “out of sorts,” unable to control their emotions, irritable, and jumpy. Mood swings, nightmares, trouble concentrating, short-term memory loss, and hallucinations are also potential side effects of Xanax withdrawal. Support from mental health professionals can be very beneficial, and therapy and counseling may help an individual control and manage the emotional symptoms of benzo withdrawal.
Xanax Withdrawal TimelineXanax is considered a short-acting benzodiazepine, with an average half-life of 11 hours, the FDA publishes. As soon as the drug stops being active in the plasma of the blood, usually 6-12 hours of the last dose, withdrawal symptoms can start.
Early benzodiazepine withdrawal generally lasts 1-4 days and encompasses the “rebound” symptoms the drug may have been intended to suppress. Acute withdrawal comes next and may last from a few days up to an entire month. All withdrawal symptoms may be present during acute withdrawal, which will typically peak around two weeks. After this point, symptoms likely will start to improve.
Some people may experience protracted withdrawal, however, which can include psychiatric symptoms and drug cravings.
Protracted withdrawal can last for several weeks, months, or even years without being addressed by a mental health professional.
Factors Affecting Withdrawal
Safety of Xanax Detox CentersBenzodiazepine withdrawal is best handled in a professional environment at a Xanax detox center. A detox center offers supervision, monitoring, and support in a safe and controlled environment. Medical and mental health professionals are available to offer the necessary treatment and support.
Withdrawal can be safely controlled and side effects reduced with a slow and controlled tapering schedule set up by a professional. By slowly lowering the amount of Xanax taken over a safe period of time, the more intense withdrawal symptoms may be largely avoided. At times, a longer-acting benzodiazepine, like Valium (diazepam), may be substituted for Xanax during detox and withdrawal too. By keeping a small amount of a benzo in the bloodstream, drug cravings and withdrawal may be controlled for a period of time until the drug is weaned out of the system completely. Adjunct medications like antidepressants, beta-blockers, or other pharmaceuticals may be effective in treating specific symptoms of Xanax withdrawal.
Professionals tend to agree that the best and safest way to conduct benzodiazepine detoxification is through a combination of therapy methods and gradual dose tapering, the journal Current Opinions in Psychiatry cites. Therapy sessions that include stress management techniques and relapse prevention tools may be important following the initial physical detox from Xanax. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, helps individuals to find the connection between their thoughts and actions, and work to make them more positive in nature.
An individual may notice a change in appetite and weight loss during Xanax withdrawal as well, making eating healthy and balanced meals during detox especially important.
Xanax detox centers and substance abuse treatment programs may also include holistic methods, such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and massage therapy, to relieve stress and encourage healing.