Xanax is a medication in the benzodiazepine family. This prescription medication is most often used by medical professionals to help people suffering from anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. While considered safe when used as prescribed, Xanax can become addictive.
In prescribed doses, Xanax is a safe and effective way to treat severe anxiety or withdrawal. However, in large doses or without guidance from a medical professional, Xanax can cause a “high” that feels similar to alcohol intoxication. This is, in part, because Xanax and alcohol act on the nervous system in a similar way, as they are both central nervous system depressants. Many individuals who begin to abuse Xanax recreationally do so because the drug acts quickly; the effects of Xanax, when taken orally, begin within 15 minutes.
Signs of Xanax intoxication or toxicity include:
- Drowsiness or sleepiness
- Loss of coordination
- Physical weakness or stumbling
- Memory problems or blackouts
- Irritability or mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Coma (another symptom of overdose)
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Slowed or stopped breathing (also a symptom of overdose)
Despite the dangers of taking Xanax in large doses, this benzodiazepine is among the most abused substances in the US.
When an individual suffers from an addiction to Xanax, especially for a long period of time, that person may begin to experience side effects that mimic the disorder Xanax was originally prescribed to treat. These symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, tremors, irritability and fearfulness, and even seizures in very extreme cases. Because this drug can have detrimental effects on the body, it is important to get help when struggling with Xanax addiction or dependence.
The Withdrawal Process
Individuals who have taken Xanax regularly, whether as prescribed or recreationally, may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking this drug. Those who abuse Xanax are more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, but even people who take this medication in small doses with a medical professional’s supervision may experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to stop taking the drug.
Withdrawal symptoms from Xanax include:
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Depression, aggression, irritability, or mood swings
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Involuntary physical movements
- Decreased appetite, sometimes leading to weight loss
- Decreased salivation response
- Nausea or vomiting
- Forgetfulness, confusion, memory problems, or cognitive disorders
- Muscle tone disorders or general weakness
Medical detox is always required for benzodiazepine withdrawal. Individuals who attempt to stop taking Xanax cold turkey may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. As a result, people should never attempt Xanax detox on their own.
During a medical detox program, the individual suffering from Xanax addiction may be switched to a longer-acting benzodiazepine to ease the transition off Xanax.
A doctor will then work with the individual to taper the dose of that longer-acting benzo slowly. Some of these long-acting benzos include diazepam, which can stay in the blood for up to 100 hours, as well as clonazepam. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe additional medications to alleviate other symptoms associated with the withdrawal process, such as antidepressants for depression or mood swings.
How Long Does Xanax Detox Take?
Generally, medical professionals will slowly taper the dosage of benzodiazepines over a period of time to gradually wean patients off the medication. This ensures safety and comfort throughout the withdrawal process. As a result, the timeline for Xanax withdrawal varies greatly, depending on the tapering process.
Withdrawal symptoms begin in as little as six hours after the last dose of Xanax, though it may take up to 24 hours for withdrawal to set in. Physical withdrawal symptoms typically peak 3-4 days after the last dose was ingested. There is variance in the withdrawal timeline, depending on age, physical size, gender, and length of addiction to Xanax. In addition, the withdrawal timeline will be affected if other substances were abused alongside Xanax.
There are two phases to Xanax withdrawal that last quite a long time. These two phases are:
- Acute withdrawal: This phase typically lasts for two months. Most individuals report cessation of symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea, physical weakness, and mood swings by the third month after their last dose.
- Protracted withdrawal: For roughly 15 percent of individuals who struggle with abuse of or addiction to Xanax, protracted withdrawal occurs. They may experience occasional, seemingly random resurgences of physical symptoms like nausea, tremors, or twitching, along with consistent mental and emotional side effects, like anxiety, mood swings, and cravings. Cognitive deficits may begin to improve during this time, but due to the amnesiac effects Xanax has for most people, these deficits can last for years.
Since users are often tapered off benzodiazepines slowly over time, the process can last several months. This gradual process helps to reduce the worst of the acute phase by allowing the brain to reestablish natural production of the neurotransmitter GABA. This neurotransmitter is part of the body’s built-in tranquilizer system. Xanax and other benzodiazepines cause the brain to flood with GABA in order to relieve stress. Research shows that the reinstatement of this natural system can take several months, which is why a tapered approach is more effective and safer than simply stopping use of Xanax suddenly.
Get Help to Detox from Xanax
Because of the long-lasting damage to memory and cognitive function, it is important for individuals who struggle with Xanax addiction to get help with the detox process. In medical detox programs, doctors work with clients to form a plan for tapering off the medication, and then monitor clients for dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
With all the various factors to consider in benzodiazepine detox, it’s difficult to predict an exact timeline for withdrawing from Xanax. Upon admission to a treatment program, clients are generally given a more precise timeline for the detox process.