Xanax, the trade name for alprazolam, is the most commonly prescribed and abused benzodiazepine in the United States today. Tens of millions of Americans are prescribed Xanax, while many others acquire it on the black market for illicit consumption. While Xanax has proven to be an effective medication for anxiety disorders and panic related conditions, this prescription drug also has a darker side characterized by powerful chemical dependency and addiction.

Though the risks associated with Xanax use were not widely recognized early on, over time the medical community has come to clearly see the potential for drug abuse associated with Xanax. Alongside this understanding has come a growth in treatment programs for individuals struggling with an addiction to Xanax. Although overcoming a Xanax addiction can be extremely difficult, there are a number of highly effective treatment options available that will increase the likelihood of achieving long-term recovery.

Getting a better understanding of what treatments for Xanax addiction are available provides an important base of knowledge that can help guide you or your loved one towards the treatment option that is right for you. An effective Xanax addiction rehab program will include both a medically-managed detox component and the recovery program itself. Understanding how both of these components of the recovery process function and work together will give you a clearer picture of the recovery process and emphasize the importance of navigating it within a medically managed setting.

What is Xanax?

Xanax is the trade name for alprazolam, a benzodiazepine. Xanax was first introduced in the United States in 1981, quickly rising to become one of the most prescribed drugs in the country. Prescriptions of Xanax peaked in 2013 at over 40 million individual prescriptions in the United States, the equivalent of roughly 12% of people in the country if all of those prescriptions were written for different people. While prescriptions in the years since have slowly decreased, both prescribed and illicit use of Xanax remains in the tens of millions of individuals. 

Like other benzodiazepines, the class of drug that Xanax belongs to, Xanax is used primarily to treat anxiety and stress-related disorders. Benzodiazepines are highly effective at reducing feelings of anxiety or panic, calming the individual who takes them. Benzodiazepines, or benzos as they are sometimes referred to, do this by suppressing the function of GABA receptors that are found throughout the central nervous system. By slowing the communication of neurons at these GABA receptors, benzodiazepines calm the central nervous system and sedate the body.

Xanax is a Short-Acting Benzodiazepine

Xanax is a benzodiazepine with a short-action that is powerful, comes on quickly, yet subsides within a few hours after use. Typically, the effects of Xanax will be felt for anywhere from 4-7 hours. 

The short-action, fast onset, and powerful effects of Xanax make it an effective treatment for panic disorder, yet they also increase the drug’s abuse potential. All benzodiazepines have a high potential for substance abuse with extended use that is widely recognized. Xanax’s unique characteristics make it even more likely to be abused. 

The abuse potential of Xanax is one of the reasons that it is often prescribed for use “as-needed”, such as at the onset of a panic attack. When Xanax is used outside of this treatment model, or for extended periods of time, powerful chemical dependency can quickly develop. 

Xanax Withdrawal

Any discussion of Xanax should also include a brief examination of Xanax withdrawal. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be an extremely difficult process and one that is sometimes dangerous. The long-term drug abuse of Xanax at high dosages carries the risk of developing very serious health complications during withdrawal.

If you aren’t familiar with drug withdrawal, when you use drugs regularly over a period of time your body builds up a chemical dependence on the drug. Once the use of the drug has stopped, your body begins a period of transition where it readjusts to operating without that drug. This readjustment is a difficult and sometimes lengthy process. 

Most people experience the onset of Xanax withdrawal symptoms around 12 hours after their last dose. Withdrawal symptoms increase in intensity over the first 3-4 days. Following this peak, symptoms typically subside until they are eliminated completely two weeks later. 

The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms have a strong correlation with the dosage at which Xanax is taken and the length of time that Xanax was used. Xanax used at higher dosages and over a longer period of time will result in more intense withdrawal symptoms that last longer.

Xanax withdrawal has both a physical and mental component, and each presents unique challenges. Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Agoraphobia (fear of places and/or situations that cause embarrassment or anxiety)
  • Sensory hypersensitivity
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis (hallucinations or delusions)
  • Paresthesia (burning or tingling of the skin)
  • Seizures
  • Ataxia (changes to gait or ability to control movement)
  • Distorted perception

Many individuals going through Xanax withdrawal will experience one or more of these symptoms concurrently. Early physical withdrawal symptoms can best be described as flu-like, which are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. 

More severe Xanax withdrawal symptoms, such as ataxia, psychosis, or severe panic attacks tend to occur after long-term use at high dosages. Seizures can also occur during Xanax withdrawal, leading to death in some cases.

Because of the risk of developing potentially life-threatening symptoms, it is very important to go through Xanax withdrawal under medical care. Not only will this allow potential health complications to be identified quickly, but individuals going through withdrawal can also find relief from the heightened anxiety they may be feeling or insomnia they may be experiencing. Put another way, there are a host of difficult withdrawal symptoms that can be addressed in a medically-managed setting, but which would be extremely difficult to deal with on one’s own.

Treatment Options for Xanax Addiction

Though Xanax addiction is often very difficult to overcome, there are effective treatment programs available that make long-term recovery a realistic and achievable goal. Treatment programs for Xanax addiction seek to address both the physical and mental components of the addiction. The physical component, or chemical dependency, is addressed through a medically-managed detox program. The mental component of the drug addiction is addressed during either an inpatient or outpatient recovery program following detox. Let’s dive in these treatment Xanax addiction options in greater detail.

Medically-Managed Detox

An important component of any comprehensive treatment program is to have a plan in place to wean the body off of its need for Xanax. Xanax use over time creates a chemical dependency on the drug itself. Users must continue to take the drug in order to stave off the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Addressing this physical dependency first allows individuals to truly engage with the treatment modalities that subsequently follow, making detox a critical tool in any recovery program.

Medical-management of the Xanax detox process serves to help the individual entering the recovery program navigate the withdrawal process as painlessly and safely as possible. Under constant medical supervision, individuals will have their health and symptoms monitored for the development of any severe health complications, such as seizures. They may be given anticonvulsants during the course of detox to ensure that no seizures occur. 

Since Xanax produces a calming effect, once it is removed from the body individuals may feel a heightened sense of anxiety. Typically, this is addressed as well through alternative anti-anxiety medications.

A second common option that is used during detox is a replacement and tapering process. In this case, an individual would be given a benzodiazepine with a longer action. This slower-acting benzodiazepine would then be tapered off over weeks or months. By tapering the drug dose in this way, it is possible to avoid difficult withdrawal symptoms.

The detox portion of a treatment program lasts long enough to ensure that the physical withdrawal symptoms have been eliminated, mental withdrawal symptoms have been identified and managed, and the individual in recovery is ready to fully engage with the therapy and treatment programs that follow. Medically-managed detox occurs in an inpatient setting, meaning that for the duration of the detox program individuals will be required to stay on the premises. This allows health professionals to constantly monitor health and vitals, while also eliminating the risk of relapse during the withdrawal process.

Treatment Following Detox

After you have completed a detox program that has helped you navigate the majority of withdrawal symptoms, it will be time to move on to the portion of treatment that addresses the underlying issues that gave rise to your addiction in the first place. The second portion of treatment involves the use of a variety of treatment modalities to teach individuals in recovery the skills and strategies they’ll need to maintain sobriety after the program has ended.

While it is important to note that there are a variety of different paths to recovery, each representing different treatment philosophies, some treatment options have been demonstrated to be highly effective at treating addiction to Xanax. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one such treatment option. CBT is a type of counseling where a therapist works with an individual to identify the thought processes that supported or led to their addiction, then helps them to implement strategies that can help address those underlying issues in a more positive manner.

Alongside treatments such as CBT, individuals in a recovery program typically take part in individual and group therapy sessions. Some treatment programs bring in family members for family therapy sessions, allowing families to start to repair the damage done by the addiction in the first place while also creating a model for healthy communication and support moving forward.

Finding the Right Treatment Program

There are a large number of treatment options available, and it is important to take the time to find one that will work for you. Whether you believe in a more holistic approach to addiction treatment, or you prefer a secular or non-secular treatment program, there is a treatment facility and program out there for you. Finding a treatment program that is a good fit can be time-consuming. The end result will be a program you are more likely to engage with, learn from, and grow from.

There are some basic tips that can help you find the right treatment program for you. First, you should visit the facility you will be enrolling in if it is possible. This will allow you to see how the staff treats you and interacts with other patients in the facility, while also giving you a sense of how clean and well-kept the facility is itself. A tour of the facility can give you a real sense of whether you can see yourself spending 30-90 days in an inpatient program there.

You should also spend some time speaking with staff at the facility to determine what types of treatments they offer. This will provide you some insight into their treatment philosophy, which should be something you can identify with. It is important to find out not only how they approach treatment while you are in the facility, but also what types of resources and care they offer for after treatment has ended. Often, the most vulnerable period of time for individuals in recovery is the period just after they have left the treatment program. Having the right resources in place during this time can help reduce the chances of a relapse.

Closing Thoughts

Successfully overcoming an addiction to Xanax often requires having a comprehensive treatment plan in place prior to quitting. Treatments for Xanax addiction seek to address both the physical and mental components of the addiction. Quitting Xanax suddenly, or “cold-turkey”, will result in the onset of withdrawal, which has symptoms that can be life-threatening. Due to this, it is always important to quit the use of Xanax within a medically-managed detox program. Medical-management of the detox process not only helps you safely and comfortably navigate the withdrawal process, but it also reduces the risk of relapse and improves your chances of a successful recovery.

Once you have addressed the chemical dependency on Xanax through a medically-managed detox program, you can take part in a treatment program that addresses the mental aspect of addiction. An inpatient treatment program for Xanax will last anywhere from 30 to 90 days, during which you’ll take part in a variety of different therapies and counseling sessions, as well as courses that will teach you the skills and strategies that will allow you to achieve long-term sobriety.

To find out more information about what treatment options are available for you, please contact Apex Recovery today. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/Conditions_Treated/Benzodiazepine_Addictions
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/
  3. https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-015-0493-y