Benzodiazepines (a.k.a., “benzos”) are a class of psychoactive drugs that act as depressants hence lowering your brain’s activity. Originally developed to replace barbiturates, today they’re commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia.
One example of such medication is Xanax (a.k.a., Alprazolam). This is a prescription sedative that affects your brain and Central Nervous System (CNS) by increasing the amount of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) that’s developed in your brain. When this happens you’ll feel calm and relaxed within an hour or two. You’ll remain feeling this way for up to 15 hours.
What is Xanax?
Xanax (generic, Alprazolam) is one of the most prescribed psychiatric medications today. This is a tranquilizer that belongs in the class of drugs that’s known as benzodiazepines. It acts on your central nervous system to slow down your heart rate and blood pressure. These drugs also reduce your body temperature and respiration. By doing so they can help calm your anxiety and panic. It can also create feelings of relaxation that help you sleep better.
In 2007 85 million prescriptions were written for this medication. Since it’s so readily available, many teens get started down the road towards addiction right inside their home’s medication cabinet. Unfortunately, benzos are very addictive because tolerance develops quite quickly. This is why abuse and addiction are serious concerns today and it’s also why we need to learn more about it.
What is Xanax Tolerance?
When you start taking Xanax your body will adjust to its presence. Eventually, this will result in you developing a tolerance for this drug. What this means is that you’ll need more of the drug to achieve the same side effects as you had previously.
Although you may think that you’re safe while taking Xanax since you have a prescription, you’re not. It is possible to develop a tolerance just from prescription or recreational use alone. Of course, if you take Xanax more frequently or use it for a longer duration than intended the likelihood of such tolerance increases exponentially.
Once you develop a tolerance for Xanax you’re more likely to move on to develop a dependency. When this happens you’ll most definitely experience Xanax withdrawal symptoms. This will happen regardless of how you stop taking it – yes, it even happens when you attempt to taper down the dosage or frequency which is why it isn’t recommended that you do this without being under a doctor’s supervision.
Without their help, you could cause grave injury to yourself and possibly even those around you.
What is Xanax Dependence?
Although Xanax is prescribed for various types of anxiety disorders, using this drug can help anyone feel happy and calm. Oftentimes, people who are abusing alcohol or cocaine will also abuse Xanax. The effects of these drugs will hit you fast, but they’ll be short-lived.
You may quickly develop a tolerance to Xanax so that you’ll need to take more each time to achieve the desired effects. Some people who are addicted to this drug will take as many as 30 pills each day to get the desired effects. This is because you’ve become dependent on the drug to help you feel calm and relaxed.
When this happens your brain will only produce GABA (the main chemical in your central nervous system which reduces mental and physical stress, facilitates sleep, lowers anxiety, and helps you feel calm) when you take Xanax. In this way, Xanax is physiologically addictive, even if you’ve only used it for a short time.
When you take Xanax without a prescription or for a long period (Xanax is typically prescribed only for short–term use) you’re more likely to become physically dependent on it. This is because of the way it affects your brain. However, even if you’ve only used it for a short time and as prescribed you may still experience withdrawal symptoms.
What is Xanax Addiction?
As you take more of this drug to achieve your desired effects it’s possible to quickly start taking as many as 30 pills each day. This means that your daily responsibilities will probably get neglected as you spend your time seeking more Xanax. Some of the other signs you may be addicted to Xanax include:
- You can’t stop using Xanax even though you know it’s making life difficult for you (e.g., legal issues, risk-taking behaviors)
- You’re no longer interested in the activities you used to enjoy
- You’re obsessed with obtaining and using as much Xanax as possible
If you’re having any of these issues and you want to detox, you shouldn’t quit “cold turkey.” You need medical supervision because withdrawal symptoms can be severe and even deadly (e.g., seizures).
Signs of Xanax Withdrawals
Xanax withdrawal is both physically and mentally difficult which is why it’s important to slowly reduce the dosage instead of quitting cold turkey. As you taper off of it you will most likely be prescribed a long-acting form of Xanax for a while. This process will help reduce your withdrawal symptoms. Nevertheless, when you take your last dose of Xanax you should expect to experience:
- Intense drug cravings
- Increased heart rate
- Blurred vision
- Muscle pain
Just how severe these symptoms will depend on how long and severe your addiction has been.
The Xanax Detox Timeline
Many things will affect your withdrawal timeline. One of the most important factors is how long you’ve abused Xanax. Other factors include your overall health, weight, and metabolism. Most people find that Xanax leaves their system quite quickly and they start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as 6 – 8 hours after their last dose. You’ll then need to give your brain some time to heal and relearn how to function normally once again. Therefore it’s important to know what to watch for during the different stages of detox but it’s equally as important to remember that this timeline will be somewhat different for everyone.
The First 6 – 8 Hours
The first step in Xanax detox is to remove this drug from your system. Since there are dangerous side effects that may occur during this period, this is something that must be done properly. If you quit “cold turkey” it can be fatal. This is why you should only detox under the supervision of a doctor who can properly monitor your condition.
Several hours after you take your last dose of Xanax anxiety and insomnia will start to emerge. If you were prescribed Xanax for these issues, you should know that you’re likely to feel worse during this period as your symptoms will likely intensify. Precisely how long it’ll take for the drug to leave your body will vary from one person to another.
Days 1 – 2
Within the first 6 – 12 hours of your last dose of Xanax you’ll experience nausea, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and headaches. You should expect these symptoms to peak within the next few days. It’s quite common to feel very uncomfortable and tired during this period.
You may also experience an increased heart or breathing rate and sweating. If you’ve been using Xanax for a long time you’ll start to feel the symptoms of withdrawal at this point. You should expect them to get worse until they eventually peak about 48 hours after you’ve had your last dose.
Days 3 – 7
At this point, your symptoms will peak. This is especially true if you’re experiencing any insomnia or anxiety and have been diagnosed with one of these issues in the past. You may also start experiencing agitation and grand mal seizures (experienced by around 20 – 30% of those undergoing withdrawal). By detoxing under medical supervision you’ll be able to receive medication to lessen these issues. Fortunately, by the end of this time, you’ll be through most of your withdrawal symptoms. Xanax may also permanently affect your brain, especially if you’ve been taking a lot of it or abusing it for a lengthy period.
Days 8 – 14
Now that some of your symptoms are starting to subside (you may continue to experience them occasionally though), you should start to feel a lot better.
Days 15 and Beyond
At this point, you’re done with detox and its acute symptoms will either improve or start to subside. You may still experience:
- Persistent cravings
- Permanent cognitive damage
- Memory loss
Unfortunately, anything you’re still experiencing at this point may be lifelong issues. In this case, you’ll need to receive long-term mental health support.
What are PAWs?
When you’ve been heavily dependent on Xanax you may experience what is known as PAWs (post-acute withdrawal symptoms). This is when you experience sharp withdrawal symptoms for 6 months or longer after you’ve detoxed. These symptoms include:
- Drug cravings
- Poor concentration
- Permanent changes in your mood
- Difficulty performing complex tasks
- Chronic insomnia
- Issues with your social skills
- Persistent anxiety
- Loss of sex drive
Typically if you’ve worked with a medical professional to detox and you’ve tapered down your Xanax you’ll be able to prevent PAWs. However, if you do experience PAWs you should know that it can be adequately treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.
What Factors Affect the Xanax Detox?
Several factors will affect the Xanax detox timeline. These factors include:
- How long you take the drug
- The level of tolerance you have
- If you were using Xanax while also abusing other substances
- Your age
- How you took the drug (e.g., snorting instead of taking it as a pill)
It’s also possible that you may have unique biological factors that must be taken into consideration (e.g., the ability to metabolize the drug, genetics).
Risks of Home Xanax Detox
You should be deterred from trying to detox from Xanax at home simply by looking at the possible symptoms you may experience. It is important to note that if you don’t receive the proper treatment throughout your detox you could die from seizures, hallucinations, suicidal ideations, or confusion that places you at risk of harming yourself or those around you.
With the correct medical supervision and intervention, you’re at a much lower risk of this. You’re also less likely to experience a serious negative impact on your health.
By detoxing at home, you also won’t know if you’re experiencing benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. This is a complication that will make your experience of detoxing from Xanax much more intense, thus making it even more challenging to deal with.
You’re more likely to experience benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome when you’ve taken very high doses of Xanax in a very short amount of time. When you experience this syndrome your entire detox process is likely to last longer and be riskier than normal. During this period you may experience:
- Delirium (confused thinking and reduced environmental awareness)
- Catatonia (abnormal movements and behaviors caused by a disturbed mental state)
- Disassociation (disconnecting from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and sense of identity)
- Psychosis (losing touch with reality)
- Mania (a period of high energy and mood)
- Heart palpitations
- Memory loss
Can You Die from Benzo Withdrawals?
Xanax is a benzodiazepine so it will have similar withdrawal symptoms as other benzos. Some of these symptoms pose both medical and psychological dangers. The more serious symptoms include seizures, sensory distortions, suicidal ideation, self-harm, homicidal ideation, depression, mania, delirium, psychosis, and paranoia. It’s also possible that you may experience seizures and violent behavior that could result in your death or put those around you in harm’s way.
Certain people are in greater danger while detoxing from Xanax. These people include:
- Elderly users who are experiencing Xanax withdrawal are at risk of having a heart attack, falling, and experiencing delirium.
- Anyone who’s abusing alcohol or other drugs while abusing Xanax will be detoxing from a variety of substances at once which is more dangerous.
- People who have a history of seizures are more likely to experience a seizure while detoxing.
- Those who already have issues with their mental or physical health could have these issues further exasperated throughout their withdrawal.
All of these things must be taken into consideration throughout your Xanax withdrawal. Fortunately, when you’re in a treatment facility you’ll have professionals there who will look out for your health and safety.
Medically Supervised Detox for Xanax
Medically supervised detox is highly recommended. It helps you stay safe and healthy throughout your detox and reduces your discomfort so you’re less likely to relapse. This is also important since the symptoms associated with Xanax withdrawal can be quite severe. When in a medically supervised detox center you’ll be with professionals who can be proactive in avoiding any possible health-related complications.
Unfortunately, 10 – 25% of people who abuse Xanax for a long time will continue to experience withdrawal symptoms after the acute period is over. Whether or not this is true for you will depend on how much of the drug you took and how frequently.
Some doctors will have you detox from Xanax over a few days. By the third day in the treatment center, you’ll be taking 30% less Xanax. From there the dose is reduced by about 10 – 25% at a time if you’re taking a lot of Xanax. If you face difficulty with this, your doctor will reduce your Xanax at a slower rate of between 5 – 10%.
Other doctors will abruptly switch you to an equivalent dosage of a long-acting benzodiazepine (e.g. Diazepam, Valium). They will then gradually reduce your Xanax dosage. Even this method should allow you to stop your addiction without any severe symptoms.
Regardless of which of these methods is used in your detox, you’ll be closely monitored for any withdrawal symptoms. Any medication that your doctor places you on will also be properly adjusted before you’re released from the treatment facility.
Treatment for Xanax Withdrawals
You should never stop taking Xanax without tapering off it. Doing so will increase your likelihood of experiencing fatal withdrawal symptoms. It can also be dangerous to your long-term health. By tapering, you’ll not only keep your health safe, but you may not even experience any withdrawal symptoms at all.
While it’s possible to detox from Xanax yourself, it’s safer to do so with a doctor’s supervision or in a treatment facility. Doing so ensures that you receive proper nutrition, and you can have any serious or uncomfortable side effects properly treated. Medical professionals can also help you stave off any drug cravings that you may experience so you’re more likely to successfully detox.
Lasting Recovery from Xanax Dependence
It’s possible to gain lasting recovery from Xanax dependence. The healthiest, most stable way to do so is through tapering. However, you must be committed to following this schedule through to the very end. Of course, this is something that should be done in a treatment center such as ours, where we have guided clients through withdrawals and into successful recovery, time and time again.