Xanax, or alprazolam, is a popular anti-anxiety drug used by millions of Americans. But regular use of the benzodiazepine can easily lead to physical dependence.
When dependence on Xanax occurs, a person’s body will require the drug to function normally. Ceasing use or lowering one’s dose can bring on unpleasant and life-threatening withdrawal reactions.
Benzo dependence can develop with four to six weeks of continuous use, according to a 2007 study in the British Journal of General Practice. At least a third of people who use benzos, including as Xanax, will experience withdrawal symptoms when reducing their dosage.
Xanax withdrawal can cause an array of physical and psychological problems. Withdrawal can come on when a person lowers their dose or quits using Xanax suddenly.
Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:
Withdrawal symptoms tend to be more severe with short-acting benzos, such as Xanax and Ativan, than with longer-acting benzodiazepines. Avoidance of withdrawal symptoms is often a contributing factor to Xanax addiction.
Taking too much Xanax or mixing it with other drugs can lead to a Xanax overdose — but Xanax withdrawal can also be deadly.
Xanax withdrawal can trigger seizures, which can be fatal. Seizures are more common when a person stops the drug abruptly. That’s why it’s never advisable to quit “cold turkey.”
Seizures are also more likely in someone taking high doses of alprazolam, such as those contained in Xanax bars — but seizures can occur at any level of use or dependence.
Severe withdrawal symptoms can also lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.
While Xanax withdrawal is different for everyone, many people describe the process as difficult and miserable.
People who have misused other drugs have described Xanax withdrawal as worse than withdrawal from opioids and other drugs — in part because it’s so long-lasting and unpredictable. Symptoms don’t always decline in a steady fashion, and symptoms may fluctuate.
Christy Huff, a cardiologist who became dependent on Xanax in 2015, developed dozens of symptoms when tapering off Xanax.
Huff was prescribed the drug to treat insomnia related to a painful eye condition. But when she tried to quit the drug cold turkey, she was sleeping only three hours a night. She could barely swallow or eat and ended up losing 20 pounds.
Through online research, Huff discovered she needed to taper off the drug slowly — but even gradual weaning proved miserable.
In a series of tweets, Huff chronicled more than 79 symptoms during her Xanax taper, including “teeth chattering chills” and “bone crushing, soul sucking” fatigue. Other symptoms ranged from ringing of ears to teeth clenching to morning dry heaves to “dark and tortured” thinking.
Today, as co-director of the nonprofit Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, Huff uses her personal story to educate others about the dangers of benzodiazepine drugs.
The onset of Xanax withdrawal is related to how long Xanax stays in your system. Alprazolam has a half-life of about 11 hours, meaning half the drug has left the body in that time. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 24 hours to 48 hours of stopping the drug or lowering your dose.
The acute phase of Xanax withdrawal can last anywhere from five days to four weeks. Symptoms usually peak at two weeks and most people will return to normal within eight to 14 days.
In some people, symptoms seem to resolve only to flare up in wavelike intervals. These recurrent episodes of symptoms are known as protracted withdrawal.
Typical symptoms of protracted withdrawal include: anxiety, insomnia, trouble thinking, depression, sensory problems and gastrointestinal trouble.
People taking high doses of Xanax and other short-acting benzos can also experience withdrawal symptoms in between doses of the medication. Interdose withdrawal symptoms occur when the drug wears off and usually present with early morning anxiety or anxiety in between doses.
The FDA product label for Xanax advises that a patient’s total daily dosage be broken up and given on a more frequent basis if interdose withdrawal symptoms develop.
Interdose withdrawal symptoms are a sign of physical dependence. If you are experiencing interdose withdrawal symptoms or other Xanax side effects, talk to your doctor.
Unfortunately, many people are unable to successfully quit taking Xanax on their own.
A medically managed detox can provide additional support to help you overcome Xanax dependence and addiction. Depending on the severity of your dependence, you may be able to detox on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
Xanax withdrawal is best managed by slowly weaning off the drug. Your doctor can prescribe a tapering schedule to gradually reduce your dose over several weeks or months.
This won’t necessarily prevent withdrawal symptoms, but it may make them more tolerable. Gradual tapering also gives your brain time to adapt to the drug’s absence and decreases your risk of suffering a life-threatening seizure.
Your doctor may also choose to switch you to a longer-acting benzo, such as lorazepam (Valium), before beginning your taper. This often eases withdrawal symptoms and helps patients stick to their tapering regimen.
If your withdrawal symptoms are severe, you may need hospitalization or inpatient care at a detox center.
An inpatient detox provides round-the-clock support and medical monitoring. You’ll likely receive medications to minimize the risk of seizures and relieve other symptoms, such as anxiety, nausea and insomnia.
Some inpatient detox centers also offer holistic treatments, such as yoga, meditation, and massage to assist your healing.
Once you’re stable, you can begin the next steps of recovery. Not everyone who develops a dependence on Xanax is addicted, but the two often go hand in hand.
Dependence can become addiction when a person continues using Xanax despite negative consequences. A person who is addicted to Xanax will experience cravings and a compulsion to use the medication.
Benzo treatment and rehab provides intensive therapy and counseling that teaches you skills to help you live drug-free. Call today to learn how rehab can help break the bonds of a Xanax addiction and get your life back on track.
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