Xanax is one of the most common prescription drugs in the United States today. Used primarily to treat anxiety and panic disorder, tens of millions of Xanax prescriptions are written every year. While being a highly effective medication for treating these conditions, Xanax also has a darker side. Use of Xanax for longer than 3-6 weeks will create a powerful chemical dependency, resulting in the onset of withdrawal symptoms if the use of Xanax is stopped.

While tens of millions of people in the United States use Xanax to help them successfully navigate symptoms of difficult conditions, millions of other individuals are struggling with their addiction to Xanax. This struggle often goes unseen. Despite the many benefits of Xanax within a clinical setting, attempting to quit Xanax after a chemical dependency has formed is often one of the most difficult processes that individual experiences in their lifetime.

For those individuals that are struggling with a drug addiction to Xanax, gaining a better understanding of what the detox process from Xanax entails can serve as an important step towards getting the help and resources they need to get clean and stay that way. Unlike many other types of drugs, detox from Xanax isn’t only difficult but it can also be life-threatening. In this article, we’ll outline a Xanax detox timeline, with an eye towards what symptoms you may experience and how long they will last. We’ll also weigh the benefits of undergoing medically-managed detox versus navigating the withdrawal process on your own.

Though there are many paths to recovery, detoxing from Xanax and other benzodiazepines should always be done under medical supervision. Throughout this article, we will repeatedly highlight the dangers associated with Xanax withdrawal, as there are serious health complications that can arise during the withdrawal process. Fully understanding what these complications are and how to avoid them can help you or your loved one make an informed decision about the level of care they may need to begin overcoming a Xanax addiction.

What is Xanax?

Xanax, the trade name for alprazolam, is an anxiolytic drug that is part of the benzodiazepine class of drugs. Anxiolytics are drugs used for their effectiveness in treating anxiety disorders. Xanax was first introduced in 1981, and quickly became the most popular front-line treatment for anxiety and panic disorder. 

Prior to the introduction of Xanax, Valium was perhaps the most widely recognized benzodiazepine. Unlike Valium, which took roughly 40 minutes to have an effect on the user, Xanax works fast. Typically, an individual taking Xanax will experience the full effects of the drug within 20 minutes. This makes Xanax a fast-acting benzodiazepine. This fast action is accompanied by a short half-life, meaning that the human body breaks down and excretes Xanax within 4-7 hours, which is much faster than many other benzodiazepines. 

How Does Xanax Work?

If the effect of Xanax could be summed up in one word it would be “calming”. Xanax and other benzodiazepines are effective at treating anxiety and panic disorders by sedating and calming the individual that takes them. This calming effect occurs through a powerful interaction with the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter and its receptors. 

GABA receptors are found throughout the central nervous system. When Xanax enters the body it proceeds to quickly bind to these receptors, increasing the interaction of GABA with GABA receptors. Within a very short period of time, usually around 20 minutes, this produces a profound sedative effect in the user. This powerful calming effect is what makes Xanax and other benzodiazepines so highly effective at treating anxiety.

Alongside the fast and powerful effect that Xanax has on the GABA receptors, the use of Xanax also results in an increase in dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating feelings of pleasure or joy. An increase of dopamine causes the individual taking Xanax to feel a sense of pleasure or well-being. This, combined with the powerful calming effect that Xanax has, contributes to its high potential for drug abuse.

What is Detox?

Now that we have a better sense of what Xanax is and how it functions in the body, let’s turn to the detox process. Detox is the process of ridding your body of the drug to which you have a chemical dependence. A recovery program treats drug addiction from two angles. The first is to address the physical component of addiction, which is accomplished during the detox process. The second angle is by treating the mental component of addiction, which is done after a detox program has been completed.

Essentially, detox prepares the individual for entering the main portion of the recovery process. During detox, use of the drug is stopped and the body begins to enter withdrawal. Once the detox process is done, most significant withdrawal symptoms will have passed. 

Why is Detox Important?

Detox is a crucial component of any comprehensive treatment program. By ridding the body of the substance of abuse, whether it be drugs or alcohol, a detox program serves as a rapid transition period from intoxication to sobriety. The fact is, without addressing the physical dependence one has on the substance they are abusing, individuals in recovery would be required to continue taking drugs or alcohol to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

Functionally, Xanax addiction detox helps individuals navigate the withdrawal process safely by placing them under constant medical supervision. While withdrawal from some drugs may not be life-threatening, withdrawal from Xanax can result in seizures that can ultimately be fatal. Because of this, it is incredibly important to go through the detox process under medical supervision, rather than attempting to navigate Xanax withdrawal on your own.

One of the benefits of going through detox for Xanax under medical supervision is that many of the withdrawal symptoms you experience can be reduced in intensity or eliminated completely. For example, two symptoms that are particularly worrying are the onset of intense anxiety and the onset of seizures. For this reason, many people going through detox for Xanax will be given anti-anxiety and anticonvulsant medication that allows them to avoid these unpleasant or dangerous symptoms.

Medical management of the detox process enables medical professionals to identify any underlying mental health conditions and get a treatment plan in place. By identifying and treating co-occurring conditions such as underlying anxiety or depression early on, the individual in recovery will be able to truly engage with the recovery process in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Of course, it should be noted that in order for this to occur you will need to seek out a treatment facility like Apex Recovery that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment.

Timeline for Detox

Now that we understand the important role that detox plays in the recovery process, let’s explore the timeline for xanax detox. Detox from Xanax occurs over a longer period of time than some other drugs, with some withdrawal symptoms persisting for weeks or even months. There are a couple of factors that influence the duration and intensity with which withdrawal symptoms are experienced. These are the length of time that an individual has been abusing Xanax and the dosage at which Xanax was taken.

 

  • Length of Xanax Abuse – If you have used Xanax for a longer period of time, your chemical dependency on the drug will be greater. This translates to a longer and more intense withdrawal process, with the possibility of developing some very dangerous symptoms.
  • Dosage – The use of Xanax at high dosages, combined with a longer period of time of Xanax abuse, contributes to the onset of the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax abuse. Typically, individuals that abuse Xanax over any length of time will develop a tolerance for the drug. This tolerance will require them to steadily increase their dose to achieve the same effect. Once the use of the drug has stopped, the onset of withdrawal symptoms will be swift and intense.

Onset of Withdrawal Symptoms

Once the use of Xanax has been stopped, the body will begin to enter withdrawal. Due to the fact that Xanax is a fast acting benzodiazepine that is eliminated from the body in a relatively short period of time, the onset of withdrawal symptoms will usually occur anywhere from 6-12 hours after the last dose. 

Once withdrawal symptoms begin, they will increase in intensity over the next hours and days. Early Xanax withdrawal symptoms will start off mild and become increasingly uncomfortable. Individuals going through the early stages of withdrawal may experience excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, chills, or headaches. These Xanax detox symptoms are very similar to the common flu, making them bearable but unpleasant.

Peak Symptoms

Once the body enters withdrawal, the symptoms will increase in intensity over the first four days. Flu-like symptoms may be present throughout this time period, while individuals may also experience a range of non-physical symptoms. Given the fact that Xanax produces a calming effect on the body, individuals going through withdrawal often experience agitation or anxiety that persists throughout this period.

During the first four days of withdrawal, the risk for developing serious health complications is at its greatest level. It is during this window of time that individuals may experience seizures. Other severe withdrawal symptoms include agoraphobia, or fear of places that might cause embarrassment or anxiety, delusions and hallucinations, distortions of perception, and severe panic attacks or anxiety. Alterations to the musculoskeletal system from long-term Xanax abuse also manifest during this period of withdrawal, resulting in muscle spasms and changes to gait or movement, a condition known as ataxia. 

Subsiding Symptoms

For most individuals going through withdrawal for Xanax, symptoms peak in intensity around 4 days after the last dose before slowly beginning to subside. This period of time is characterized by symptoms that are waning in intensity bust still present. This continues for most individuals until the end of the second week, by which time nearly all of the physical withdrawal symptoms will have passed.

While many of the physical withdrawal symptoms may be decreasing in intensity during this time, it is not uncommon for individuals going through withdrawal to experience the onset of a variety of non-physical withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can pop up at any time during the withdrawal process and are often as difficult or more difficult to deal with than the physical withdrawal symptoms. Common mental withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating. Addressing these non-physical withdrawal symptoms early on in the withdrawal process can make the recovery much more bearable.

Transitioning to a Treatment Program

You might think of Xanax detox as a treatment program in itself, but really the detox process is simply preparing an individual to take part in the real work of recovery. Detox rids the body of any remaining traces of the drug while also helping you navigate the withdrawal symptoms in a safe manner. Once this has been accomplished it is time to enter a program with treatments for Xanax addictions.

There are no hard and fast rules for how long it will take to complete a detox program. Most individuals transition out of a detox program once they have safely navigated the withdrawal process to a sufficient degree to allow them to move onto their treatment program. Ultimately, the time frame for transitioning to the core treatment program will be at the discretion of the medical professionals who are caring for you.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding the Xanax detox timeline is important for assessing how long detox takes and what you can expect. Though Xanax detox is difficult for many, it should be kept in mind that there are a variety of ways that medical management of the detox process can make the process both safer and easier to deal with. Through the use of anti-anxiety and anticonvulsant medications, medical professionals can address the anxiety that often comes with withdrawal from Xanax and reduce the risk of experiencing life-threatening seizures. 

Detoxing from Xanax  is one portion of the recovery process. It is important that individuals addicted to Xanax go through the withdrawal process under medical supervision. It is equally important to have a comprehensive treatment plan in place for after detox has ended. A detox program addresses the physical component of addiction, while the therapies and skills courses that follow tackle the underlying issues that gave rise to the addiction in the first place. 

Our trained staff at our drug treatment in San Diego facility are here to help. To learn more about the Xanax detox process, 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