01 May Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Xanax is a potent benzodiazepine that is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, as a muscle relaxer, to treat sleep disorders, to relieve stress and tension and sometimes, to treat depression. Considered a depressant, Xanax reduces overactivity in the brain and central nervous system and produces a calming effect on the nerves. It does this be increasing the inhibitory neuron, GABA. In essence — it activates pleasure cells in the brain, making the person feel good.
Unfortunately, despite its popularity within the medical community, and its general effectiveness when used appropriately, Xanax is highly addictive and commonly abused. In fact, around 10 percent of all emergency department visits related to the abuse of pharmaceuticals involve Xanax. Taking Xanax can lead to dependence in as little as a month.
How do People Develop a Dependence to Xanax?
Those who take Xanax in large doses or for a period of time longer than what was initially prescribed (longer than a month), run a high risk of developing a Xanax addiction.
Over time, Xanax can actually influence the production of GABA in the brain. The brain may even stop producing GABA without the presence of the drug. Since GABA acts as the brain’s natural sedative, the brain will then rely on Xanax to produce the same effects. These include slowing down certain brain functions and calming the brain to stress.
When the brain becomes dependent on Xanax, withdrawal can set in as soon as the drug leaves the bloodstream, because the brain will struggle to regain its natural sense of order and balance. This is also due to the fact that Xanax has a very short half-life, which means it goes out of the body very quickly. This makes Xanax cause physical and emotional dependence more quickly than other drugs.
When Does a Person Begin to Experience Withdrawal from Xanax?
Withdrawal can actually set in alarmingly quickly, due to the short half-life of Xanax. People can even start experiencing withdrawal symptoms between their scheduled doses, which is a surefire sign of dependence. But simply put, withdrawal occurs when a user who has become physically dependent to Xanax stops taking the drug.
A person who is dependent on Xanax can’t function or feel normal without the effects of the drug. They will often be in physical pain and can experience psychological disturbances. This is because Xanax has hijacked the reward and pleasure centers of the user’s brain.
When compared to other benzodiazepines, Xanax has severe and very dangerous withdrawal symptoms. This again is because of its short-acting nature. Because of how quickly the drug leaves the body, it can cause sudden and severe withdrawal symptoms. Xanax is more than 10 times as potent as other mainstream benzodiazepines like Valium and Klonopin. And people who have taken Xanax in high doses or for a long period of time generally have more intense withdrawal symptoms.
Who Will Experience Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms?
Anyone who has used Xanax can experience the symptoms of withdrawal, but the level of symptoms usually correlates with the person’s dosage and length of usage. Those who abuse or have become addicted to Xanax will most often experience withdrawal.
Typically, these people have been using the drug for an extended period of time, and now require larger doses of the drug to achieve the same high. This leads to a greater risk of withdrawal symptoms when the person stops taking the drug.
On the other side, those who take Xanax exactly as prescribed by their doctor can also experience withdrawal. But why would that be?
Internal or external factors that affect withdrawal
Several factors may influence how and why a person experiences withdrawal. As noted, the more dependent a user’s body and brain have become to Xanax, the more likely they will deal with longer, and more severe, withdrawal symptoms. But there are other factors at play as well. These include the dosage, method of ingestion, whether or not the person mixed Xanax with other drugs or alcohol, their age, genetics and duration of usage.
Other factors like family history or personal prior history of addiction, existing mental health issues or underlying health complications and even the person’s level of stress can influence how long withdrawal may last and how severe the symptoms will be.
Physical Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Since Xanax is a central nervous system depressant, its purpose is to slow down heart rate, blood pressure and the body’s temperature. Xanax will also minimize anxiety, stress and panic, and may even help to reduce epileptic seizures. Using the drug regularly will cause the brain to get used to having these things slowed down on a regular basis.
When the drug is removed, these functions may rebound suddenly, and dangerously. Blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and body temperature may rapidly go up, and some people can even have seizures that may lead to a coma or even death.
Because of these rebounding functions, Xanax withdrawal can affect the body in several ways. Some of the physical warning signs of withdrawal from Xanax to watch out for include:
- Blurred vision
- Tension in the jaw and/or teeth pain
- Tremors or shaking (most often in the hands)
- Numbness in the fingers
- Tingling in the arms and legs
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Alteration in sense of smell
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia or restless sleep
- Heart palpitations or tachycardia
- Impaired respiration
- Sweating or excessive perspiration
- Convulsions or seizures
- Sore, stiff muscles
- Muscle spasms or twitches
- Dry retching, nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or soft stool
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Increased menstrual bleeding, breast tenderness and menstrual cramping in women
Overall, Xanax withdrawal is a physically taxing experience. Those attempting to detox will most likely deal with at least some of these symptoms. You should seek the professional support of a medical detox center for a safe recovery.
Psychological Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Psychological symptoms of Xanax withdrawal are actually more common than physical Xanax withdrawal symptoms. Part of this is because that people often take Xanax to manage symptoms of a mental health disorder. When the person is experiencing withdrawal, the issues they were having from the mental health disorder will return in a much worse form.
Some of these psychological Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nervousness or tension
- Confusion or depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short-term memory loss
- Irritability or being “on edge”
- Paranoia and fear
- Anxiety and panic
- A feeling of emotional and psychological distance from other people and things
- Sharpened senses (noises will seem louder, lights seem brighter)
Because of the effects Xanax has on the brain, when a person stops taking the drug, the brain will need some time to return to the way it previously functioned. This is when these emotional symptoms of withdrawal will set in. Anxiety, panic and paranoia can be powerful symptoms in particular.
People dealing with Xanax withdrawal may seem out of sorts and not like themselves. They may be unable to control their emotions and be extra irritable or jumpy. This can involve mood swings, nightmares, having trouble concentrating, short-term memory loss and hallucinations.
How long do Xanax withdrawal Symptoms Last?
While Xanax withdrawal symptoms can often be more intense than other benzos, they typically don’t last as long. Because Xanax works fast has a short half-life, withdrawal symptoms will set in quickly after a person quits using the drug, and are felt as soon as the brain and body are deprived of the drug. Symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after a person stops using, and will generally peak at three or four days in.
There are residual and lingering withdrawal symptoms that can last up to months. But in other cases, Xanax withdrawal symptoms may be present for up to two years. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) or protracted withdrawal.
Here’s a Look at the General Xanax Withdrawal Timeline:
Phase 1: The first 6-12 hours
The effects of Xanax will start to wear off just six hours after a person’s last usage. Anxiety, insomnia and irritability will set in as soon as withdrawal starts taking over. The symptoms will be calm at first, but get worst as the process moves on.
Phase 2: Days 1-4
The next phase will typically last between one and four days. “Rebound symptoms” anxiety and insomnia will persist, and become quite unpleasant and peaking during this phase. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common during this time. Shaking, muscle pain and sweating are common as well. After day four, the symptoms will usually begin to decrease in intensity.
Phase 3: Days 5-14
Symptoms will continue for up to two weeks after stopping use of Xanax. The worst should be over, but symptoms like anxiety and insomnia will linger on, becoming less and less severe.
Phase 4: Days 15+
This final phase should be a return to normal function, but for some, it may be a return to whatever psychological condition was present before they started taking Xanax. At this point, protracted withdrawal symptoms may begin, and can fluctuate for up to two years.
How to avoid Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Obviously, the easiest way to never encounter withdrawal is to not abuse Xanax, but when this isn’t an option, there are preferred tactics to use to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. While there is no guarantee a person will or will not have withdrawal symptoms, taking the necessary precautions is the best course of action given the dangerous nature of Xanax withdrawal.
A major difference between Xanax withdrawal and withdrawal people will encounter from other drugs, is that it is not recommended for those dependent on Xanax to quit the drug all at once. Xanax is a powerful psychological drug, and as such, quitting “cold turkey” can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Because of Xanax’s short half-life, rapid removal can be very harmful to a person’s body and brain.
This is why the best way to avoid the potentially severe Xanax withdrawal symptoms is to quit the drug through a closely monitored tapering down of the dosage. Though this process can take up to months, it is much safer and will be far more pleasant than trying to quit “cold turkey.” This is why the best option for recovery is to enter a detox facility.
How long detox takes will depend on the length that a person was dependent on the drug. The longer a person was dependent on Xanax, and the higher their dosage has reached, the longer they will need to taper off of their dosage. Individual recommendations for tapering should come from a doctor who is familiar with the person’s case and medical history.
Other than avoiding major withdrawal symptoms, another advantage of taking a long time to taper down a person’s dosage is allowing their brain time to adjust to the absence of the drug. The brain will start to produce GABA on its own again to compensate, which will alleviate withdrawal symptoms since a GABA insufficiency is what causes these withdrawal symptoms. The slow tapering allows the brain to keep up.
Most users who utilize the tapering method report very moderate withdrawal symptoms and minimal discomfort. By controlling symptoms, those who were dependent on the drug will be less tempted to relapse. These people can also better gauge their need for the medication, and whether or not to continue on as originally prescribed.
When it is time to quit Xanax, it is best to seek the help of a professional detox facility. Form a support system and get the professional help necessary to safely recover from the drug and manage Xanax withdrawal symptoms.
Lautieri, Amanda. “Xanax Withdrawals Duration, Dangers, and Treatment,” American Addiction Centers. 8 Mar. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/xanax
“Xanax Withdrawal.” Drugabuse.com. 8 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/xanax/withdrawal/
“Xanax Withdrawal and Detox.” Addiction Center. 8 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/benzodiazepines/xanax/withdrawal-detox/