Xanax is among the most popular prescription drugs in the United States, coming in at around number 11 on the list of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the country. Xanax is the trade name for a drug called alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety and promote sleep.
It’s no wonder that a powerful anxiolytic pill is a hit in the U.S., in which 31 percent of adults experience at least one form of anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime. Plus, millions of people struggle with insomnia and sleep disorders as well.
Xanax is used to treat general anxiety, panic disorders, and social anxiety. It also produces hypnotic and sedative effects but users typically build up a tolerance to these effects within a few days. Some studies suggest that patients can also build up a tolerance to the anti-anxiety effects of Xanax but other studies have demonstrated that it can be used for eight months without a loss in effectiveness.
Though it is useful in treating anxiety and panic, as with other benzodiazepines, it does come with a few potentially serious side effects. When used incorrectly, Xanax has the potential of becoming powerfully addictive. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, patients who are treated with doses higher than four milligrams a day for 12 weeks or more have a significant likelihood of developing a chemical dependence on the drug. People who abuse or overuse Xanax also have the potential of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, especially if they try to stop using suddenly.
Since this drug can be dangerous when chemical dependence has formed, it’s important to become familiar with the threat and treatment of Xanax withdrawal, especially if you or someone you know is using the drug. Learn more about Xanax dependence, addiction, and why Xanax detox is the safest way to stop using.
Xanax is a medication in the benzodiazepine class of drugs which all come with some adverse effects and the risk of chemical dependence. But Xanax is a unique benzo, in that it binds to very specific locations on GABA receptors, the part of the nervous system responsible for slowing down nervous system activity. The result is relative efficiency in causing anti-anxiety effects. However, one study suggests that it may be unique in another, more alarming way.
Xanax may be more toxic than other similar benzos. According to one study, in cases of Xanax overdose, 22 percent of participants needed to be admitted to an intensive care unit, making Xanax overdoses two times more likely than other benzos to send patients to the ICU. The result of the study stated that Xanax was significantly more toxic than other benzos. This could make it more likely to cause an overdose or other dangerous side effects.
But Xanax isn’t only dangerous when you take too much of it at once, it can also be dangerous if you try to stop taking it abruptly. When you become dependent on Xanax, your brain will become used to the effect and presence of the foreign chemical. As a result, it may stop producing its own central nervous system depressing chemicals and start trying to counteract the drug to maintain balanced brain chemistry. When you stop taking Xanax abruptly, your brain’s chemical balance is thrown off, like when one person jumps off a seesaw.
The chemicals that were suppressing your nervous system are now suddenly removed and your nerves may go into overdrive. An overactive nervous system may have a variety of side effects, including:
Most of the above symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening on their own. However, if you were used to a higher dose of Xanax and you stop suddenly, you could experience potentially deadly symptoms. These more severe reactions can include seizures and psychotic episodes. Seizures aren’t always deadly but they can come on suddenly and cause violent convulsions, leading to injury. If you are driving or you’re in some other critical position, it can cause a fatal accident. In some cases, heart rate and blood pressure spikes can lead to dangerous medical complications during seizures.
In some cases of Xanax withdrawal, you could develop a phenomenon called Delirium tremens, characterized by convulsions, confusion, and catatonia, which can lead to coma or death without medical treatment.
However, your risk of experiencing dangerous or severe symptoms decreases when you seek medical assistance and receive medical detoxification. Even the prognosis for Delirium tremens significantly improves with medical treatment, dropping from as high as a 25 percent fatality rate to less than two percent.
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Xanax withdrawal symptoms and the timeline on which you experience them can widely vary based on a number of factors. How long have you used Xanax? How high was your last dose of the drug? What was the dosage that you took on a regular basis?
Your level of tolerance is a significant factor in your experience with Xanax withdrawal. However, the symptoms of withdrawal tend to follow a general timeline. Here’s what you can expect after your last dose of Xanax:
The first signs of Xanax withdrawal can start to occur within 12 hours of your last dose, but they can happen as early as six hours. The initial symptoms are usually mild and can start with trouble sleeping, some mild anxiety, and restlessness. The longer your withdrawal symptoms occur the more intense they will become. Some people may experience more severe insomnia and anxiety during this phase.
Within the first four days of Xanax withdrawal, your symptoms will start to become more and more severe. This can start to happen as early as the first 24 hours or on day four. Both psychological and physical symptoms will start to become very uncomfortable and may include shaking, confusion, or panic. This is most likely the period for you to experience dangerous symptoms like seizures or Delirium tremens. If you’ve been feeling withdrawal symptoms for more than 24 hours, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Peak symptoms can last for up to a week and after a week or two, your physical and mental symptoms should start to lose their intensity, as your brain begins to find a neurochemical balance again.
Symptoms will slowly subside but there is still a threat of serious symptoms occurring for another week. It’s important to remain in medical care during this time period so that medical professionals can monitor your health and offer any interventions as needed.
While the most dangerous symptoms of Xanax withdrawal will have subsided after two weeks, you still may have some lingering symptoms, especially psychological ones. If you initially started taking Xanax as a treatment for anxiety or panic disorders, your symptoms may return after the effects of the drug are out of your system. This is a process called rebounding when you break your chemical dependence on a drug and the symptoms that drug is used to treat return. You may also experience insomnia or other sleep disorders.
Without treatment, psychological symptoms may persist for months. In some cases, anxiety and panic need to be addressed by a therapist. Stress and triggers may continue to cause intense Xanax cravings for a long time. Addiction treatment can help you learn to deal with these cravings and develop strategies to prevent relapse.
Medical detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. Formally, it’s referred to as medically managed intensive inpatient services, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. In detox, you will have access to 24 hours of medically managed care every day. Medical professionals and a clinical team will help ensure that you are safe and as comfortable as possible. Medical detox will also offer supervision and accountability to help you avoid relapsing during moments of intense cravings. You may be given medicine to help alleviate symptoms or treat other co-occurring disorders or medical complications.
While it is a necessary step in addiction treatment, detox may not be enough to lead you to a life of long-term sobriety. Addiction is a complex disease that affects more than just your brain chemistry. It affects the learning and reward centers of your brain. To address and overcome these issues, clinicians may connect you to the next step in addiction treatment after detox.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms are nothing to take lightly. If you or a loved one is experiencing some of the signs of chemical dependency on Xanax, you may be in danger of life-threatening symptoms.
Addiction is complicated and it’s a difficult path to travel on your own. However, there is help and treatment available. Freedom from addiction and chemical dependence may just be one call away.
ASAM. (n.d.). American Society of Addiction Medicine. Retrieved from from https://www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about
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Isbister, G. K., O’Regan, L., Sibbritt, D., & Whyte, I. M. (2004, July). Alprazolam is relatively more toxic than other benzodiazepines in overdose. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1884537/
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Any Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml
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