Xanax is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. With a simple flick of their wrist, millions of people have access to the drug. With how easily accessible Xanax is to the public, you might believe the medicine is sold over the counter or that it isn’t deadly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Benzodiazepines like Xanax are some of the most dangerous drugs on the planet.
In 2015, there were an estimated 8,000 overdose deaths because of benzodiazepines used in conjunction with opioids. The practice is known as “polysubstance abuse.” An estimated 82 percent of treatment admissions that year were related to benzodiazepines. Despite being viewed as less dangerous than alcohol, opioids, or other substances, these highly addictive drugs are causing havoc nationwide.
Benzodiazepines were created as a less addictive alternative to barbiturates, which were once used to treat anxiety, seizures, and sleep disorders. Anxiety disorders are considered the most common mental illness in the United States and affect 40 million people annually, translating to 18 percent of the population.
With such a staggering number of people dealing with mental illness, it’s understandable why such a vast amount of prescriptions are given out. However, it doesn’t take away from how dangerous it is.
Not only is Xanax dangerous when used as prescribed, but it can be fatal during withdrawal. Unlike opioids, Xanax withdrawal shouldn’t be considered forgoing alone. If you’ve been prescribed Xanax and want to stop, you should learn more about what to expect.
Xanax is considered a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning it slows down blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature in your body while reducing stress, anxiety, and panic. Xanax is also used on occasion to reduce epileptic seizures. When your brain acclimates to Xanax in its system and gets used to it slowing down these functions on a regular basis, it loses control of that ability when Xanax is suddenly removed.
It’s possible for a person to experience the following physical withdrawal symptoms from Xanax:
Benzodiazepines come from a class of prescription drugs that have sedating properties from their ability to increase the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Xanax, also known by its generic name alprazolam, is considered the most popular benzodiazepine.
In 2011, a CBS News report found that it was the 11th most prescribed drug in the United States. It’s commonly abused for its sedating effects since it’s used to manage anxiety and panic disorders. The use of Xanax is associated with a release of dopamine in the reward pathways in our brain.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given prescribing information for the drug that mentions use can lead to dependence, especially in high doses for more than a month. GABA is a natural sedative in our brain, and it’s produced as a means to slow specific functions and mute our reactions to stress. As you continue taking Xanax, it’ll influence the production of GABA, and our brain will stop making it without the presence of the substance in our system.
The brain is likely to become dependent on Xanax, and once it exits the bloodstream, withdrawal will begin as our brains struggle to regain a natural sense of balance and order. Xanax withdrawal should never be attempted without medical guidance because of its inherent dangers and potentially life-threatening side effects.
You should never stop abruptly or cold turkey, and you should always monitor vital signs like heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature during the withdrawal process. Grand mal seizures are well documented and are a dangerous side effect of benzodiazepine withdrawal that can be fatal without professional assistance.
Benzodiazepines like Xanax act on the reward, motivation, and mood regulation regions of the brain. When dependency develops, these parts of the brain will be affected as well. When a person who’s dependent on Xanax attempts to stop using the drug, their brain requires time to return to levels of functioning before the drug was used.
Psychological Xanax withdrawal symptoms can be intense, including paranoia, panic, and anxiety that increase as the drug exits the body. Suicidal thoughts and severe depression should also be monitored during benzodiazepine withdrawal.
A person who stops using Xanax will feel “out of sorts” and won’t be able to control their emotions. They’ll also be jumpy and irritable. Nightmares, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, hallucinations, and short-term memory loss are also side effects of Xanax withdrawal. Having support from an empathetic professional during this time to help you manage the emotional symptoms of benzo withdrawal can be life extremely beneficial.
Of the benzodiazepines available, Xanax is considered short-acting, meaning it has a half-life of around 11 hours. Once the drug stops being active in the plasma of our blood, which is anywhere from six to 12 hours after the last dose, withdrawal symptoms can appear.
Short-acting benzos like Xanax produce acute withdrawal symptoms around six to eight hours after the last dose, peak around the second day, and conclude within four to five days. Protracted or post-acute withdrawals can last anywhere from weeks, months, and in rare cases, years. The lasting symptoms will likely lead to relapse if they’re not addressed in treatment. They will require consistent therapy.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can be a nightmare for those who stop using Xanax, but it can be overcome with adequate help.
Each person will experience withdrawal differently based on various factors, including age, how long Xanax was used, if other drugs were present during Xanax use, how much Xanax was used, and genetics. The more dependent your brain is on Xanax, the more intense and longer you can expect withdrawals to persist. Snorting Xanax instead of consuming it orally can also be determining factors.
Those with higher levels of stress or a family history of addiction, underlying medical complications, mental health issues, and other environmental factors will make a difference in how long withdrawal lasts for a particular individual. Xanax withdrawal can be a more straightforward process with fewer complications by going through medical detox and getting help from trained medical professionals.
As mentioned earlier, Xanax withdrawal must be handled in a professional environment at a detox facility. Medical detox will not only hold you accountable and keep you from relapsing, but it’ll offer supervision and support in a safe environment. Mental health professionals are available around-the-clock to provide you with treatment and support.
Despite the dangers, withdrawal can be controlled and side effects reduced with a tapering schedule determined by a medical professional. When you gradually lower the dose of Xanax over a period of time, withdrawal symptoms can be mostly avoided.
On a case-by-case basis, a doctor could administer a long-lasting benzodiazepine like Valium to keep a small amount of benzo in your bloodstream. It’s designed to control drug cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms until the drug is eventually taken out of your system. You might also be given beta-blockers, antidepressants, or other pharmaceuticals for specific Xanax withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction specialists agree that the safest way to go through benzodiazepine detox is with a combination of gradual dose tapering and psychological support. Therapy sessions that include relapse prevention tools and stress management techniques are also useful. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will help a person explore the links between their actions and thoughts to make them more positive.
Those in the process of getting sober from Xanax could notice a change in their eating habits and lose weight during Xanax withdrawal. During detox, the staff will ensure you eat a healthy and balanced diet to maintain your weight and stay fit.
During your time in detox and other substance abuse treatment programs, the experts will suggest holistic methods to overcome addiction, such as meditation, yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture, to help with stress and encourage healing during these challenging moments.
UCLA (February 2021) Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS
NCBI (May 2019) The Epidemiology of Benzodiazepine Misuse. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6639084/
Healthline (January 2019) Benzodiazepines. from https://www.healthline.com/health/bipolar-disorder/benzodiazepines
ADAA (N.D.) Facts & Statistics. from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
CBS News (September 2011) How the FDA Is Sleeping Through the Xanax Epidemic. from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-the-fda-is-sleeping-through-the-xanax-epidemic/