Xanax is the brand name of a medication also known as alprazolam – a type of benzodiazepine. This medication is normally used as a treatment for anxiety or depression; however, sometimes people who are prescribed Xanax begin to abuse it, taking higher doses or using the drug more frequently to increase or prolong its calming effects. Other people may abuse Xanax as a recreational drug, hoping to feel the euphoria and relaxed inhibitions that can be caused by drug use. Either way, a person abusing Xanax can become addicted to it quite quickly.
For people struggling with addiction to Xanax, the first step in treatment is detox from the drug. This can be a frightening step for a person who is thinking about getting help. Fears of increasing anxiety, discomfort, and other mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal can prevent this individual from moving forward with treatment. On the other hand, it can be risky for a person to try withdrawing from this drug without medical support.
Knowing more about the process of withdrawal from Xanax can help people to feel more prepared about what to expect in detox and withdrawal, leading to a more positive rehab experience.
Drug Detox and Withdrawal: What Is Happening
WebMD provides a good description of what happens during withdrawal. When a person has become addicted to a drug, it usually means that the person has developed a tolerance to the drug. That is, the brain begins to become more dependent on the drug than on the body’s own, natural neurotransmitters that use the same pathway. As a result, the person begins to need more and more of the drug to be able to function normally.
When the person then stops using the drug, the body’s ability to make up for the loss of the chemicals on which it has become dependent is stunted, and the person begins to feel symptoms of withdrawal. Over time, the body recovers the capability to produce and use its own hormones and neurochemicals, which leads to the withdrawal symptoms easing.
Withdrawal symptoms after stopping Xanax use are similar to those for other benzos, as described in an article from Addiction. These symptoms include, among others:
- Increased anxiety
- Mood swings
- Aches and cramps
- Dysphoria (the inability to feel pleasure)
How Long It Takes to Withdraw from Xanax
Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, meaning that it clears from the body fairly quickly, based on information from the website Drugs.com. With a half-life of about 11 hours, the drug is fully eliminated from the body within a few days. However, the full withdrawal syndrome can take about two weeks, and some symptoms – particularly anxiety or panic –may last months or even years after discontinuing use. This is especially true if the person has been using the drug heavily for a long time.
The withdrawal process can be affected by a number of other factors, which may prolong or shorten it for some people. These include:
- How long the person has been taking the drug
- How high the dosage has been
- Whether or not other drugs are involved
- The person’s individual constitution, including weight, metabolism, health conditions, and other physical factors
Based on these factors, it is safer to say that Xanax withdrawal can take 1-4 weeks, with some symptoms potentially lasting for months or years, depending on the individual and on the treatment received.
The Process of Xanax Withdrawal
The following, based on half-life and information from the Addiction journal, provides a basic timeline for Xanax withdrawal. Timing may vary slightly depending on the factors described above.
Days 1-2: Some withdrawal symptoms may begin within 6-12 hours of stopping use; these usually include rebound anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
Days 2-6: Withdrawal symptoms increase and peak; initial symptoms continue and may be joined by achiness and cramping, muscle spasms, headache, trembling, and others as listed above.
Days 6-14: Physical symptoms decline; emotional symptoms of anxiety, depression, and moodiness may linger beyond the general withdrawal period.
This is what can be expected if use is stopped abruptly. However, because of multiple potential complications that can result from quitting Xanax suddenly, addiction treatment specialists and medical doctors advise that the person struggling with Xanax abuse taper down from the original dose. This serves the dual function of helping to ease the mild symptoms and potentially preventing the more serious ones, such as those described below.
People should never attempt to detox from, or taper off, Xanax on their own. It should only be done under medical supervision.
Xanax Withdrawal Complications
Rapid detox from Xanax – quitting “cold turkey” – can result in severe symptoms, such as seizures and catatonia, which may result in death.
Other severe symptoms that may occur include:
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
- Psychosis or mania
The US Food & Drug Administration states that more severe withdrawal symptoms are more likely to happen in people who take Xanax for longer than three months. In these cases in particular, tapering is important, because it can reduce the severity of symptoms when done properly. Nevertheless, seizures can still occur with Xanax, because tapering of a low-dose, short-acting benzodiazepine can be a challenge, based on how quickly the drug leaves the body.
For this reason, medical specialists often substitute a longer-acting benzo before beginning the taper, making it less likely that these dangerous complications will occur. This makes it worthwhile for anyone who is trying to stop using Xanax to get professional, medical help from experienced addiction treatment specialists.
Medical Detox for Xanax Withdrawal
Based on all the above factors, getting support with quitting Xanax abuse is important to avoid risks to a person’s health and safety. Perhaps especially in the case of this short-acting, often low-dose benzo, the assistance of a specialist in addiction medicine can help to avoid the pitfalls of detox and make sure that it is a safer experience for the individual seeking treatment.
In addition, getting medical support can make the process of withdrawal more comfortable, diminishing the cravings that might arise during detox because of symptoms like rebound anxiety and insomnia. Because avoiding relapse is the goal, professional support is the most likely path to stopping Xanax use and looking forward to a future in recovery.