Xanax is a prescription drug that is used in clinical settings to treat anxiety and panic disorder. While effective for the treatment of these conditions, continuous use or abuse of Xanax over a period of time creates a strong chemical dependency leading one to eventually become addicted to Xanax. When individuals attempt to quit the habitual use of Xanax, they will experience the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Not only can these withdrawal symptoms be extremely difficult to endure, but for many individuals who are addicted to Xanax, withdrawal symptoms serve as a very real barrier to long-term sobriety.

In this article, we’ll provide an end-to-end exploration of the most common physical and mental withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax. We’ll pay close attention to the types of symptoms you or your loved one might experience and their duration. There are some very serious health complications that can arise during Xanax withdrawal, and recognizing the risk that these complications may pose is an important consideration when it comes to finding treatments for Xanax addictions. 

Although Xanax withdrawal is a difficult process, with the right resources available it can be effectively navigated. Many individuals that have tried quitting Xanax before turning back to abusing Xanax during the withdrawal process. Because of this, and because of the safety considerations associated with Xanax withdrawal, it is important to go through Xanax withdrawal under medical supervision. Not only will this allow you or your loved one to safely navigate the withdrawal process, but by going through Xanax withdrawal as part of a comprehensive treatment program you will also be giving yourself or your loved one the best chances for a successful recovery. 

What is Xanax?

Before diving into the signs of Xanax withdrawal, let’s take a moment to understand what this drug is and how it functions. This information provides important context for understanding the withdrawal process itself, as the unique properties of Xanax make the withdrawal process more intense than withdrawal from some other benzodiazepines.

Xanax is the trade name that the drug alprazolam is marketed under. Since its introduction in the United States in 1981, Xanax has become a first-line treatment option for a variety of different conditions. Xanax is most commonly used within a clinical study to treat the following conditions:

  • Anxiety Disorder(s)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Side effects of chemotherapy

Xanax is a particularly effective medication for treating anxiety and other related conditions. This is because Xanax interacts quickly and powerfully with the body’s GABA receptors that are found throughout the central nervous system. When Xanax enters the body it increases the effectiveness of GABA at these receptors, producing a profound calming and sedative effect. Though all benzodiazepines produce this effect, Xanax does so quickly and powerfully, making it a highly effective treatment for anxiety and panic disorder where the onset of a panic attack requires a quick acting sedative.

Though Xanax may also be used to treat other conditions, this use is far less common. Xanax has seen clinical use to treat the side-effects of chemotherapy, while also seeing some use as an anticonvulsant. While Xanax was first used to treat depression, this treatment has fallen out of favor in light of the strong abuse potential of Xanax and the introduction of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are a more effective long-term treatment for depression.

Xanax and Abuse

To this point, we have discussed Xanax within a clinical context, but this discussion sheds little light on the abuse of Xanax. Xanax abuse is widespread, with Xanax currently being the most abused benzodiazepine in the United States. Xanax is also the most prescribed benzodiazepine in the United States, so the frequency with which Xanax is abused is due in part to its wide availability. However, the fact that Xanax can be easily found and is relatively cheap doesn’t capture the full picture of why it is so commonly abused.

Xanax is also commonly abused due to the way it interacts with the body. Xanax is characterized as a fast-acting benzodiazepine. While Xanax may not last very long, typically from 4-7 hours per dose, during the time it is active it produces a strong sedative effect. This effect makes it a great treatment for anxiety, yet it also leads to an increased rate of substance abuse than other benzodiazepines with a slow action.

It should also be noted that one of the reasons Xanax abuse remains a persistent public health concern is because it is often a less visible form of substance abuse than many other types of drugs. The use of drugs like heroin and methamphetamine is simply treated in a different manner than the use of Xanax over a long period of time. Though Xanax abuse often results in negative outcomes in the life of the user, given the fact that Xanax is often prescribed, the abuse of the drug may not draw the intense scrutiny that use of other illicit substances brings. Like these other drugs, it is crucial to address an addiction to Xanax early.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Now that we have a good idea of what Xanax is, how it functions, and how it is used in a clinical setting, let’s turn to the withdrawal symptoms associated with the drug. Many people who abuse Xanax look forward to withdrawal symptoms with some degree of trepidation. There is a good reason for this, as Xanax withdrawal symptoms are widely recognized as both difficult to navigate and in some cases dangerous.

Here, we’ll provide a list of both physical and mental withdrawal symptoms. Some users may experience many withdrawal symptoms, while other individuals may only experience some of them. 

Physical Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Trembling
  • Burning or tingling of the skin (paresthesia)
  • Inability to fully control movement or gait (ataxia)
  • Seizures

Many of the physical symptoms associated with Xanax withdrawal are uncomfortable, but not necessarily life-threatening. Vomiting, diarrhea, and chills are all symptoms that, while not present, will subside relatively quickly. More severe physical symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include ataxia, a condition where an individual has difficulty controlling their movement or experiences a change in how they walk, or paresthesia, a very uncomfortable condition characterized by persistent burning and tingling of the skin.

The development of seizures during Xanax withdrawal is of particular concern. Many people have died from seizures during Xanax withdrawal, and recognizing the danger of this is crucial before you attempt to navigate the withdrawal process on your own. 

Mental Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Though often less visible, the non-physical withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax are extremely important to understand and plan for. Many people that go through Xanax withdrawal struggle with these mental withdrawal symptoms the longest, and for some their toughest battle is with the insomnia, depression, or acute anxiety that can come along with Xanax withdrawal. 

It should be kept in mind that all of these symptoms can be medically managed, and certain conditions like depression, agoraphobia, or anxiety can be effectively treated over the long-term. Recognizing and treating these symptoms as they arise is often an essential component for achieving long-term sobriety from Xanax.

Mental Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis
  • Visual disturbances and hallucinations
  • Sensory hypersensitivity
  • Distortions of perception

The mental symptoms related to Xanax withdrawal can be debilitating. Many individuals begin using Xanax as a treatment for anxiety or panic disorder. When the use of Xanax is stopped, symptoms of these conditions can return. In some cases, the original condition that Xanax was used to treat returns with greater force. 

While anxiety and depression are both common symptoms of Xanax withdrawal, so too is insomnia. Insomnia can be difficult to deal with, while in some cases lasting far longer than many of the other symptoms. Individuals that suffer from insomnia during Xanax withdrawal are given no reprieve from their other physical and non-physical symptoms. This alone can cause many people that are attempting to quit on their own to return to the use of Xanax, simply so that they can have a good night’s sleep.

The presence of severe mental withdrawal symptoms, such as psychosis, hallucinations, severe panic attacks, or distorted perception makes going through the Xanax withdrawal process under medical supervision a high priority. Each of these symptoms can put the individual going through withdrawal into unforeseen and sometimes dangerous situations and encounters.

Factors Influencing Xanax Withdrawal

There are two key factors that influence the intensity and duration of symptoms associated with Xanax withdrawal. The first is how long an individual has been using Xanax, and the second is the dosage that Xanax is being used at, assuming that an individual has been using Xanax on an ongoing basis.

Chemical dependence on Xanax occurs quickly, which is one of the main reasons that Xanax isn’t used very often to treat conditions that require ongoing treatment, such as depression. Even with prescribed dosages, chemical dependency on the drug can occur in as little as 3-6 weeks. Around this time, if an individual quits the use of Xanax suddenly they will experience mild withdrawal symptoms. Once a user has been abusing Xanax on a regular basis for 6 months or longer, withdrawal symptoms typically become much more acute.

Alongside the length of time that Xanax has been used, the dosage that Xanax is used at is also a key determining factor in how intense and long-lasting withdrawal symptoms are. Simply put, the ongoing use of high doses of Xanax will result in more severe withdrawal symptoms that last longer. Individuals who use Xanax regularly at high doses and quit the use of Xanax suddenly are at greater risk of developing severe health complications during the withdrawal process, including the onset of seizures which can be life-threatening.

Xanax Withdrawal Timeline

Due to the fact that how an individual experiences withdrawal is heavily dependent upon the dosage they used, the length of time they used, and individual variations in the body, there is no simple timeline for Xanax withdrawal. However, we can provide a basic outline of how long most people experience symptoms, which can give you a rough idea of how long the symptoms persist.

For most people, the onset of withdrawal symptoms will begin within 12 hours of the last dose of Xanax. Symptoms will begin mildly and slowly increase in intensity over the next 4 days. Though the most common withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening and track close to the common flu, this is also a period of great risk during which severe withdrawal symptoms can manifest.

After the first 4 days, withdrawal symptoms will slowly decrease in intensity. By the end of the second week, or 14 days after the last dose, most or all of the physical withdrawal symptoms will have subsided. Mental withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia can persist for weeks or months after this point. This means that in some cases, these symptoms may continue even after an individual has completed a treatment program. This makes it incredibly important to identify and treat these conditions early on, giving the individual in recovery the best chances for achieving long-term sobriety.

Closing Thoughts

Withdrawal from Xanax is not an easy or fast process in most cases. Though the intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms are highly dependent upon the addiction itself, such as the dosage and length of time abuse has occurred, withdrawal symptoms can occur even in individuals that have used Xanax at low doses over shorter periods of time.

Xanax withdrawal has both physical and non-physical components, each of which can be challenging and many of which will be experienced simultaneously. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Xanax can also result in the onset of seizures, which can be life-threatening and are a medical emergency. Individuals experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms may also suffer from hallucinations and distorted perception, which can themselves place the individual going through withdrawal into dangerous situations.

The Xanax withdrawal process is not only dangerous but also serves as a significant barrier to sobriety. Many individuals attempt to quit the use of Xanax on their own, and relapse during withdrawal due to the uncomfortable and difficult nature of the symptoms they experience. Minimizing the chances for relapse and avoiding any severe health complications during withdrawal is a core reason why individuals looking to quit the use of Xanax should do so under medical supervision. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to this drug, it is important to consider a treatment program with a medically-managed Xanax detox process. Not only is medical management of the detox process an important factor in ensuring the safety of the individual going through withdrawal, but by having a comprehensive addiction treatment plan in place you or your loved one will have the best chances for overcoming their Xanax addiction with a successful, long-term recovery. 

Our trained staff at our drug treatment in San Diego facility are on standby and ready to help. To learn more about treatment options for Xanax addiction, 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