Anxiety and sleep disorders are two of the most common health problems that Americans face each year. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problems in the United States, affecting 40 million adults annually. Sleep disorders and sleep problems may be even more common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as much as a third of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each week. Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are commonly used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Xanax is one of the most popular brands of benzodiazepines. It was first introduced in 1971 and released in the U.S. in 1981.
Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. But benzodiazepines are also known to cause chemical dependence after a few weeks of frequent use. After that, to stop using Xanax, you’ll have to go through a period of uncomfortable and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. What are the Xanax withdrawal symptoms, and is there a way to get through withdrawal safely? Learn more about Xanax withdrawal, its symptoms, and how it can be treated.
Will You Experience Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms?
Xanax withdrawal is a consequence of something called chemical dependency. When you use a psychoactive drug like Xanax for a long time, your brain and nervous system will get used to it. Your brain chemistry has the ability to adapt to chemical changes in your environment nutrition. As you take certain prescription drugs for consistently long periods, your brain will change your brain chemistry to account for the effects of the drug. Benzodiazepines like Xanax can lead to chemical dependence after just a few weeks of regular use. Dependence may be more likely if you take high doses or use the drug recreationally.
Chemical dependence comes with some signs and symptoms that may let you know that quitting the drug can cause some withdrawal symptoms. One of the first signs is tolerance. Tolerance happens when your brain’s changing chemistry makes the drug less effective than it was when you first started taking it. To you, it will feel like the drug is wearing off more quickly or like you’re not getting the same benefits even though you haven’t changed your dose. If you increase your dose, your tolerance may continue to grow, and so will your chemical dependence.
Another sign is uncomfortable withdrawal when you try to cut back or skip a dose. If you’re taking Xanax and you feel like your insomnia or anxiety is returning when you skip a dose or stop, you may be dependent. Other signs of dependence may include:
- Trying and failing to quit
- Restlessness or jitters
- Cravings for Xanax
- Using more and more over time
- Using more than you intended in one dose
- Needing to use it more often
- Struggling at work or school
What Are The Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms?
Xanax is a central nervous system depressant, which means it can have some of the most uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms of any drug class. It’s also a prescription drug, and some of the most common withdrawal symptoms involve the return of symptoms the drug was intended to treat. That can mean anxiety, insomnia, and agitation. Depressants slow down nervous system activity. As your brain adapts to them, it may start to produce less of its own inhibitory chemicals and more excitatory chemicals to try to balance brain chemistry. When you quit, the depressant chemical is suddenly gone, and your nervous system will become overstimulated. This can cause some other uncomfortable symptoms, including the following:
- Shaky hands
- Muscle tension
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
Xanax withdrawal can cause some dangerous symptoms. Heart-related symptoms can pose a threat if you have existing heart problems or chronic hypertension. The sudden onset of symptoms like seizures can also be potentially dangerous, especially if you’re alone or unprepared for one when it occurs. A condition called delirium tremens is also potentially dangerous and can appear suddenly.
When Will Symptoms Show Up?
The timeline on which you experience withdrawal symptoms will depend on your history with Xanax. If you’ve only taken it for a few weeks and your average dose has remained moderate, your first symptoms may take longer to show up. People that take Xanax for long periods in high doses are more likely to develop more severe symptoms quickly. Symptoms will also take longer to show up if you took an extended-release form of the drug. Xanax withdrawal symptoms can begin within 8 to 12 hours after your last dose. You may stop feeling some of its benefits before then. You may also experience your first symptoms later if you also took other depressants or drank alcohol with your last dose.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
Withdrawal symptoms will slowly get worse until they reach their peak. Peak symptoms usually appear by the second or third day, and this is when withdrawal may be at its worst. Peak symptoms are when severe reactions like seizures are most likely, although they can also happen after symptoms peak. You may start to feel better around four or five days after your first symptoms. Uncomfortable physical symptoms may be the first to go, like headaches and tremors, but sleep issues and anxiety can linger for longer periods. If symptoms last for several weeks or longer, they may need to be addressed with treatment. Some issues that existed before you started taking the medication, like anxiety and insomnia, may need a new treatment approach to address effectively.
Is Xanax Withdrawal Dangerous?
Xanax withdrawal can be potentially dangerous, especially when you stop using the drug suddenly. Central nervous system depressants are known to cause some symptoms that can be dangerous and even life-threatening during withdrawal. Your risk of potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can increase depending on several factors. If you were used to a high dose for a long time and then quit cold turkey, you’re more likely to experience severe symptoms. However, depressants can cause some dangerous symptoms like seizures, even during the post-acute withdrawal phases, which is after your symptoms have peaked and started to wear off.
Seizures can occur suddenly, causing accidents and injuries which can be life-threatening. Withdrawal can also cause a condition called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is more commonly associated with alcohol withdrawal. However, since alcohol and prescription depressants work in similar ways in the brain, it’s possible for Xanax to cause these extreme symptoms. It’s characterized by the sudden onset of symptoms like severe confusion, headache, agitation, paranoia, dizziness, increased heart rate, chest pains, shallow breathing, seizures, and restlessness. In some cases, it results in a heart attack or stroke.
Going through Xanax withdrawal by yourself without medical supervision can be more dangerous. Medical interventions can significantly decrease your risk of experiencing fatal withdrawal symptoms.
How Is Xanax Withdrawal Treated?
Withdrawal symptoms can be treated in several ways, but since Xanax withdrawal symptoms can be potentially life-threatening, it’s important to consult a doctor before you attempt to quit cold turkey. Quitting abruptly may produce the most severe results, and you might need medical treatment during withdrawal. Your doctor will be able to assess your needs in withdrawal or refer you to specialists who can. In some cases, medical detox or medically managed intensive inpatient treatment is necessary. Medical detox involves 24-hour treatment from medical professionals that are experienced in dealing with substance use problems.
During detox, you may be treated with medications that are designed to help you taper off the medication. There are several benzodiazepines that can be used to help you taper off of Xanax, including diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, and lorazepam. You may also be given medications to help treat specific symptoms like headaches. During detox, you’ll also have access to clinicians that can treat the underlying issues that frequently occur alongside substance use disorders like anxiety or depression.
What Happens After Detox?
If you’ve developed a substance use disorder that involved Xanax, detox may not be enough. Medical detox is an important first step in addiction treatment for many people, but it’s not enough to address all of the issues that are usually associated with addiction and substance use disorders. Addiction treatment is a multi-disciplinary process that addresses medical, psychological, and social issues directly or indirectly related to addiction. There are four major levels of care in addiction treatment, and medical detox is the highest level. It’s likely that doctors or clinicians will use the ASAM Criteria to assess your needs to find the best level of care for you.
If you have high-level medical needs or have psychological or social needs that would make independent living dangerous, you may go through inpatient treatment or residential services. If so, you’ll live in a hospital or apartment-style housing that’s managed by your treatment facility. You’ll also have 24-hour access to medical monitoring or clinical care. When you’re able to live on your own, you may move on to an outpatient program.