Xanax induces calming effects very quickly, which is important for people struggling with anxiety or panic disorders; however, this can also make Xanax a highly addictive prescription drug. Xanax has a very short half-life, so a person may be tempted to take too much over the course of the day just to continue experiencing the drug’s effects or to avoid withdrawal symptoms. It is very easy for the body to develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines, as well, so withdrawal symptoms can feel intense, whether the person has developed an addiction to Xanax or just a tolerance.
In spite of the risks of Xanax addiction and dependence, the Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes Xanax and other benzodiazepines as Schedule IV drugs. This means that Xanax prescriptions are not monitored as well as other addictive prescription drugs like oxycodone or hydrocodone, because the medication is believed to have a lower potential for addiction or dependence. According to a study on PubMed, in 2008, approximately 5.2 percent of US adults, ages 18-80, used benzodiazepines at some point. As one of the most prescribed benzodiazepines, Xanax has a high potential for abuse and addiction.
When a person stops taking Xanax, either because the individual and their doctor agreed to end the prescription, or because the person is attempting to end their addiction to benzodiazepines, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how long the person took Xanax, and how large their dose was, withdrawal symptoms can vary in length and intensity. Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Anger, aggression, and irritability
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and panic attacks, especially if Xanax was prescribed to treat these disorders
- Insomnia, nightmares, or sleep disturbances
- Intrusive memories
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor memory
- Obsessive thoughts
- Pain or stiffness in muscles and joints
- Tingling or numbness in extremities or face
- Weakness, especially in the legs
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Cold or flu-like symptoms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Appetite changes, especially increased appetite and weight gain
- Flushing or sweating
- Skin rashes or itching
Xanax has a half-life of 6-12 hours, so symptoms can begin within 24 hours of the drug leaving the body. Sometimes, the person experiences benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome (BWS), which is a cluster of symptoms, including insomnia, tremors, panic attacks, physical tension, and sweating. This condition can last up to two weeks, although psychological symptoms related to BWS might last longer.
Detoxing from Xanax Cold Turkey
People who struggle with Xanax addiction may try to quit “cold turkey,” or suddenly and without help. Although the most intense withdrawal symptoms will dissipate in a few weeks to a month, cold-turkey detox attempts tend not to work for many people. In general, people who struggle with substance abuse problems may relapse because withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable. Because Xanax in particular is metabolized so quickly, people with prescriptions can experience mild withdrawal symptoms between doses, which increases the potential for abuse or addiction to compensate for uncomfortable feelings. Also, since Xanax treats anxiety or panic disorders, the sensation of rising anxiety or panic as a withdrawal symptom could lead the individual to relapse back into Xanax abuse to avoid the original psychological problem.
Generally, working with a rehabilitation program works best for people who wish to overcome Xanax addiction. Most often, medical professionals will begin tapering the dose of the drug or use other medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
Tapering or Weaning off Xanax
Tapering as a process to detox from Xanax takes longer than a cold-turkey approach. Medical professionals recommend at least 8-12 weeks to taper a person off Xanax if they have abused this medication for many years. This gradual reduction in dosage ensures a safer and more comfortable withdrawal experience.
Because Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, a doctor may switch their patient to a long-acting benzodiazepine as a way to ease the person off the medication, then begin tapering the dose of that drug. Most often, the medication involved is clonazepam, which is sold under the brand name Klonopin. Taking a long-lasting benzodiazepine can reduce symptoms and cravings related to the withdrawal process. Since Klonopin is a longer-acting benzodiazepine, this also allows the person the ability to focus on therapy due to reduced cravings and distractions. Both individual therapy and group therapy, offered through most rehabilitation programs, help people to learn better coping mechanisms to deal with their underlying psychological disorders, triggers to use, and cravings for the drug.
Get Help for Xanax Addiction
Some addictive substances, like alcohol or opioid painkillers, have medications that doctors can prescribe to ease withdrawal symptoms and help the detox process. Benzodiazepines do not have medications that can be used to ease withdrawal symptoms, except for replacing Xanax with a longer-acting benzodiazepine.
Tapering is the best solution to long-term sobriety, but this should only be done under direct medical supervision.
With professional help, Xanax withdrawal can be safely managed.