Xanax is a benzodiazepine primarily prescribed for anxiety disorders. It works by increasing how much GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is in the brain to promote feelings of relaxation and calm. When taken on a short-term basis and exactly as prescribed, most people can use this medication safely. However, it does have the potential to cause tolerance and become habit-forming.
What are the Signs of Tolerance to Xanax?
Xanax acts on the central nervous system and brain to cause a relaxing and calming effect. The medication accomplishes this by heightening the effects of GABA, a type of chemical in the body.
People might receive a prescription for Xanax due to having an anxiety disorder. In some cases, it might be used on a short-term basis to treat insomnia. It is imperative that people only take this medicine exactly as directed to reduce the risk of tolerance and other possible issues. Benzodiazepines like Xanax are not prescribed for long-term use due to how rapidly dependence forms.
Whether someone uses Xanax as prescribed or misuses the medication, certain short-term effects are possible. According to MedlinePlus, these might include the following:
- Trouble concentrating
- Increased salivation
- Appetite changes
- Trouble urinating
- Being more talkative
- Dry mouth
- Sex drive changes
- Weight changes
- Joint pain
When someone takes more Xanax than prescribed, drowsiness can be extreme. It is also possible to experience the following, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research:
- Mood swings
- Slowed reflexes
- Erratic and hostile behavior
Once someone takes Xanax, the effects occur relatively quickly — typically within about 30 minutes. This is a short-acting drug, so the effects do not last long. To continue experiencing the effects of the drug, people will take more pills. This is what can lead to tolerance.
How quickly someone develops tolerance to a drug depends on several factors, according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.
- Size and weight
- Whether the person has a compromised immune system
- Level of stress
- If other medical conditions are present
Tolerance can increase a person’s risk of experiencing an overdose on Xanax. As soon as someone notices that their regular dose is no longer providing the same effect, it is important to consult their physician.
If the person has been abusing Xanax in any way, which includes using it without a prescription or taking it more often than prescribed, substance abuse treatment may be needed.
What Steps Should You Take if You Have a Tolerance to Xanax?
Those who have developed a tolerance to this drug need professional assistance. This is especially true for people experiencing a dependence on or addiction to Xanax. It is estimated that about 40 percent of people who take benzodiazepines every day for at least six weeks become addicted to the medication, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Most people who become addicted to Xanax need help to find recovery. Mayo Clinic states that the following signs typically indicate that someone is experiencing addiction:
- Needing to use Xanax regularly
- Needing a higher dosage to get the same effect
- Working to ensure that Xanax is always available
- Putting off responsibilities for the drug
- Stealing and other behaviors to obtain the drug
- Spending a lot of time focused on the drug
- Having Xanax cravings
- Taking more Xanax than intended
- Spending money the person does not have to obtain the drug
- Using the drug despite it causing issues in the person’s life
- Trying to stop using Xanax but failing
It is generally recommended that people detox from Xanax while under medical supervision. During the acute detox period, it is possible to experience abnormal changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. There is also the risk for grand mal seizures, according to research published in the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
Because of these potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, those who have been abusing Xanax must undergo medical detox. In these programs, physicians will usually put clients on a tapering schedule with a long-acting benzodiazepine. The dosage is then gradually lowered over weeks or months, helping to mitigate the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment typically consists of a combination of dose tapering and psychological support, according to research published in Current Opinions in Psychology. Chosen therapy techniques can include a focus on relapse prevention, stress management, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
How Fast Does a Xanax Tolerance Build?
One of the most unfortunate aspects of drugs like Xanax is that, despite their therapeutic benefits, they can cause trouble. If you’ve experienced anxiety or panic attacks throughout your life and a doctor gave you a prescription drug, you probably noticed an instant relief. To feel like you’ve gained control back over your life again is satisfying, but then you have to worry about something else—developing Xanax tolerance, dependence, or addiction. It’s a cruel truth of our lives, but it’s probably led you to wonder—how fast does a Xanax tolerance build?
Unfortunately, alprazolam tolerance can develop rapidly. Since Xanax is intended for short-term treatment and use if you feel the symptoms of a panic attack developing, most people won’t use it regularly, avoiding tolerance. However, those who abuse it are at risk. Depending on how much you’ve been using, Xanax tolerance can come on within a few days of regular use. If you’ve reached this point, you might also wonder how to reduce benzo tolerance. The only way to do this is to take less of the medication, but you might be at risk of Xanax withdrawal if you’ve taken too much.
If you’ve ever wondered how long Xanax tolerance lasts, that answer depends on several factors. These include how long you’ve taken the medication, what dosage, and if you’re using other drugs or alcohol in conjunction with the benzodiazepine. In some cases, a few days of reduced use or total cessation can reduce your tolerance, but if you’re taking a lot, you run into something more sinister—severe Xanax withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, even if you’ve felt invincible but wondered if you can build a tolerance to Xanax, the answer is yes.
Xanax withdrawal is among the most dangerous drugs on earth. Despite it getting synthesized to bypass the dangers of barbiturates, the symptoms are much the same. If you’ve developed a Xanax tolerance, you’re at a much higher risk of developing potentially dangerous symptoms, including delirium and grand mal seizures. If you’re using Xanax, especially without a prescription, you must work with a doctor or certified addiction expert to taper down your dose. Tell them you’re going to be in benzodiazepine withdrawal. If you don’t have insurance and fear the costs associated with it, you can visit a community health center.
Seizures can occur in those undergoing withdrawal without medical help and untreated withdrawal stemming from Xanax use. Since it can be complicated and potentially life-threatening, we can’t stress enough the importance of seeking care, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with severe mental illness. These include bipolar disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or borderline personality disorder (BPD). In the event you’re battling mental illness, you must take extreme care when stopping Xanax, which is why a doctor will be invaluable. It’s challenging to predict the symptoms you’ll endure if you’ve become dependent on Xanax, but they can persist for a prolonged period. This can lead to relapse.
If you’ve gone through Xanax withdrawal before and have a history of severe symptoms or have underlying conditions, working with a doctor or addiction specialist is even more important. Xanax withdrawal carries many risks. Older adults in cognitive decline should also speak with their doctor about the risks involved.
If you’ve reached a point where you need to stop, you must do it safely. At a certain point of drug use, you might also wonder if you need to take a break. Each cause is unique, but if you’re developing tolerance and misusing the drug, maybe it’s time.
Do You Need a Break?
Once someone develops Xanax tolerance, they should consider taking a break from the medication but only after they have consulted with a physician. As tolerance continues to build, if someone keeps increasing their dose of Xanax, this puts them at risk for dependence, addiction, and overdose.
If a person is dependent on a benzodiazepine, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. The symptoms of withdrawal might include the following, according to research published in Addiction:
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and dry retching
- Muscle stiffness and pain
- Sleep problems
- Increased anxiety and tension
- Hand tremors
- Concentration difficulties
- Some weight loss
- Perceptual changes
Research shows that the acute withdrawal period typically lasts about one to four days; however, people can go through withdrawal for an additional 10 to 14 days after this acute period. Ultimately, there is the potential for withdrawal effects for several months, especially for those who attempt to stop using Xanax cold turkey and without medical supervision. Again, doing this is incredibly dangerous and could even result in death.
Using this type of drug chronically can cause certain long-term effects, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, such as:
- Impaired memory, thinking, and judgment
- Coordination problems
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
Any person who notices physical or psychological changes as a result of Xanax use should consider taking a break from using this drug. Remember that tolerance lowers once someone stops taking the drug. If their use returns to prior levels, overdose is possible.
Xanax overdose can be very dangerous. Overdose symptoms may include the following, according to Medscape:
- Blurred vision
- Nystagmus, or repetitive, uncontrolled eye movements
- Slurred speech
- Respiratory depression
- Ataxia, or loss of body control
- Hypotonia, or decreased muscle tone
- Altered mental status
- Low blood pressure
While overdosing on any benzodiazepine medication can be dangerous, one study shows that a Xanax overdose could be even more toxic than an overdose on the rest of the drugs in this class, according to research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
When someone takes Xanax, it is vital that they keep an eye out for the signs of tolerance. Should they occur, consult with a substance abuse treatment professional and the prescribing doctor to determine the next steps.