Xanax Withdrawal – Symptoms, Dangers, Duration & Treatment
A tapering Xanax dose, supervised by a medical detox team, is a safer alternative to cold-turkey withdrawal.
What is a Xanax Addiction?
Addicted to Xanax? American Addiction Centers may be able to help. Start your journey to recovery by checking if your insurance covers addiction treatment.
What are the Physical Withdrawal Symptoms?
As a central nervous system depressant, Xanax serves to slow down heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature in the body in addition to minimizing anxiety, stress, and panic. Xanax may also help to reduce the risk of epileptic seizures. When the brain becomes used to this drug, slowing all of these things down on a regular basis, if it is suddenly removed, these functions may rebound.
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
Benzodiazepines are a class of prescription drugs with sedating properties that stem from their ability to increase the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter known as 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 used in the management of panic and anxiety disorders. Xanax is commonly abused because, in addition to its sedative effects, its use is associated with increased dopamine release in the reward pathways of our brains. In 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported that close to 10% 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 states 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.
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Physical Withdrawal Symptoms of Xanax
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:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle aches
- Tension in the jaw and/or teeth pain
- Numbness of fingers
- Tingling in arms and legs
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Alteration in sense of smell
- Loss of appetite
- Heart palpitations
- Sweating and/or fever
Xanax should not be stopped suddenly, or “cold turkey,” and vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature need to be closely monitored during withdrawal. Grand mal seizures have been well documented, the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association publishes, as dangerous side effects of benzodiazepine withdrawal may be fatal without professional assistance during Xanax detox.
What are the Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms?
Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, act on the reward, mood regulation, and motivation regions of the brain, and when a dependency is formed, these parts of the brain will be affected as well. When an individual dependent on Xanax then tries to quit taking the drug, the brain needs some time to return to normal levels of functioning. The psychological symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can be significant, as anxiety, panic, and paranoia may increase with the drug’s removal from the body. Depression and thoughts of suicide should also be closely watched for during benzodiazepine withdrawal. Xanax withdrawal can leave people feeling generally “out of sorts,” unable to control their emotions, irritable, and jumpy. Mood swings, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, and hallucinations are also possible 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 Timeline: How Long Can Withdrawal Last?
Xanax is considered a short-acting benzodiazepine, with an average half-life of 11 hours, the FDA states. As soon as the drug stops being active in the plasma of the blood, usually 6-12 hours after the last dose, withdrawal symptoms can start.
For shorter-acting benzos like Xanax, acute withdrawal symptoms usually begin with 6-8 hours, peak around the second day, and resolve within 4-5 days. Protracted, or post-acute symptoms, may last for weeks or months. These lasting symptoms may lead to relapse if not addressed with continued treatment, such as regular therapy.
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
Withdrawal is different to each individual and the withdrawal timeline may be affected by several different factors. The more dependent the body and brain are to Xanax, the longer and more intense withdrawal is likely to be. Regular dose, way of ingestion, combination with other drugs or alcohol, age at first use, genetics, and length of time using or abusing Xanax can all contribute to how quickly a dependence is formed and how strong it may be.
High stress levels, family or prior history of addiction, mental health issues, underlying medical complications, and environmental factors can also make a difference in how long withdrawal may last for a particular individual and how many side effects are present. Xanax withdrawal can be made more comfortable and less dangerous with the help of medical and mental health professionals trained in treating substance abuse and dependency.
Xanax Withdrawal & Treatment
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is best handled in a professional environment at a Xanax detox facility. 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.
Tapering & Treatment Medications
Withdrawal can be safely controlled and side effects reduced with a slow and controlled tapering schedule set up by a professional. By gradually lowering the amount of Xanax taken over a safe period of time, the more severe withdrawal symptoms may be largely avoided. At times, a longer-acting benzodiazepine, like Valium (diazepam), may be substituted for Xanax during detox. 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 psychological support and gradual dose tapering, the journal Current Opinions in Psychiatry states. Therapy sessions that include stress management techniques and relapse prevention tools may be helpful, preceding the initial physical detox from Xanax. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, assists individuals to find the link 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.