The Dangers of Quitting Xanax Cold Turkey
A cold-turkey Xanax withdrawal can produce uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, side effects, including:
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety and/or panic attacks
- Inability to concentrate
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain and stiffness
Serious side effects include:
- Return to Xanax use
Going cold turkey means quitting the abuse of drugs or alcohol abruptly with no weaning period and no professional assistance. Many people assume they can stop using a drug just as easily as they began taking it. This is rarely the case when benzodiazepines like Xanax are concerned. Few people who abuse benzodiazepines are aware of how dangerous they can be, even when taken as prescribed.
Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 52 million people abuse a prescription drug over the course of their lifetimes. In truth, FDA approval of a pharmaceutical drug does not mean users are safe from harm.
In some instances, Xanax is considered to be more toxic than other benzodiazepines. In one study published by the British Journal of Pharmacology, the length of stay for 131 people who overdosed on Xanax was 1.27 times longer than people who overdosed on other benzos. Of those who overdosed on Xanax, 22 percent were treated in intensive care units — 2.06 times more than other cases.
The Dangers of Going Cold Turkey
Individuals can really shock their systems if they try to stop taking Xanax altogether without weaning off it. When a person is abusing this drug, the body becomes accustomed to the effects it causes, and without the drug, the body doesn’t know how to respond. As a result, it goes into overdrive trying to compensate for the loss of GABA activity, and it tries to reset the brain’s normal neurotransmitter production levels.
When people are addicted, they cannot escape Xanax without enduring withdrawal. The Washington Post reports 10-20 percent of individuals who use benzodiazepines like Xanax for prolonged periods of time will end up tolerant to the drug’s effects and dependent on them. Withdrawal can begin to set in as soon as five hours after the last dose of Xanax, possibly even sooner for those who are accustomed to using it more frequently.
Just as abusing Xanax can bring serious side effects, stopping that abuse suddenly can bring a stream of side effects that are hard for the body and mind to handle. Convulsions, seizures, psychosis, paranoia, mood swings, and mania can occur due to withdrawal. These symptoms appear quickly and can be quite hard to handle. Just when they start to wane and individuals feel some relief, they often return and will continue to ebb and flow for some time.
Xanax withdrawal is even more dangerous if individuals are home alone when these events occur. In fact, benzodiazepine withdrawal has been linked to death in some cases. In one case, a female who had used 200 mg of Xanax over the course of six days and then abruptly stopped using it died four days later; it was determined her death was the result of withdrawal from benzos, as reported by the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology.
How to Quit Safely
There is only one recommended method for coming off Xanax and that is to taper the dose under medical supervision. Since medical detox is the only safe method, any other form of withdrawal from Xanax is not recommended.
If a person has been abusing large amounts of Xanax, the tapering process may take a bit longer. That doesn’t mean that someone who uses smaller doses doesn’t need supervision. Medical detox is the only way to ensure safety and wellbeing during the withdrawal process.
Following detox, it is advisable to seek out a plan for continued care. Overcoming addiction is not as simple as stopping use of the drug. Medical detox is only part of the recovery equation. Sustained sobriety requires a complete treatment plan. Through therapy, individuals can address underlying issues that led to Xanax abuse and build the confidence needed to stay sober after detox.
Some preferred methods of treatment include:
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Equine-assisted therapy
- Motivational Interviewing
- Family therapy
Therapy for co-occurring disorders is essential for those who ended up dependent on Xanax as a form of treatment for panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. According to Helpguide, 29 percent of all people affected by mental health disorders abuse drugs or alcohol. Alternative treatments are available that can address both issues – the Xanax abuse issue and the mental health disorder.
Disclaimer: Quitting Xanax without medical supervision can be life-threatening. Always seek a physician’s guidance before attempting to stop use of Xanax or before discontinuing a prescribed drug treatment regimen.