Typically prescribed as a psychiatric medication in the United States to treat anxiety and panic disorders, Xanax is a brain-altering drug that affects the behavior and lifestyle of the person who abuses it.
It is one of the most abused sedatives because people can easily get addicted. People abuse Xanax to get high or to self-medicate for undiagnosed mental health conditions.
It is classified as a benzodiazepine, which suppresses the central nervous system and calms users. Doctors do not prescribe it as a long-term treatment option since it is commonly associated with abuse and addiction potential. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Xanax is one of the most abused prescription sedatives among people ages 12 and older.
The possibilities of becoming addicted to Xanax are much higher once tolerance has developed. Regular, long-term abuse of Xanax can seriously damage the lungs and heart and cause mental confusion.
Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is one of the most popular drugs in the world. In 2011, Xanax was the 11th most prescribed drug in the United States, according to CBS News. Xanax is primarily used in the management of anxiety and panic disorders, and it is commonly abused due to its sedative effects.
Use is associated with dopamine release in our reward pathways in the brain. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) stated that in 2011, nearly 10 percent of all emergency room visits were related to abuse of benzodiazepine drugs, particularly Xanax.
As we mention above, Xanax is a highly addictive medication. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that the use of the substance can lead to dependence, which can lead to addiction when using in high doses for more than a month.
The body naturally produces gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) to cope with stress and help us sleep. Over time, Xanax will start to influence the production of GABA, and our brain eventually stops producing enough on its own without the presence of Xanax. The brain will then become dependent on Xanax, and once it leaves the bloodstream, withdrawal is imminent as the brain struggles to regain order.
Xanax withdrawal is severe. Medical professionals collectively agree that stopping the use of the drug should never be done without medical help. Not only is it dangerous, but it can be life-threatening.
Xanax withdrawal differs from that of many other drugs because the withdrawal symptoms are both physical and psychological and affect one’s mental health. Among those symptoms are:
The severity and length of these symptoms depend on how long someone has been abusing Xanax, how much of it is taken, and if the drug is being taken with any other drugs or alcohol.
Benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax work on the reward, motivation, and mood regulation portions of the brain. When the body develops a dependency, those parts of the brain will be affected the most.
When someone becomes dependent on Xanax but tries to stop using the drug, the brain needs time to return to its initial levels of functioning.
The emotional symptoms of benzo withdrawal can also be substantial. Someone can deal with increased levels of anxiety, paranoia, and panic as the drug cycles out of the body. Extreme levels of depression and thoughts of suicide must also be closely monitored during the Xanax withdrawal phase.
Xanax withdrawal can leave an individual feeling entirely out of sorts. During this time, it may be hard for users to control their emotions, which can leave them feeling irritable and on-edge. Mood swings, nightmares, an inability to concentrate, and hallucinations are other possible side effects during Xanax withdrawal.
Having the right support from addiction specialists or mental health professionals can be extremely useful in moving forward. Therapy and counseling can help the person in question cope with the emotional symptoms of Xanax withdrawal.
Over time, removing the drug from the body can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Below is a general idea of the Xanax withdrawal timeline and symptoms one can expect:
Withdrawal symptoms can cause a great deal of discomfort and are even dangerous. These symptoms will usually peak between three to four days. There is a possibility of developing seizures during this tenuous period, and it is highly recommended to stay under the supervision of a physician. Twenty-four-hour medical care is crucial if one has taken Xanax for a prolonged period.
After the last dose, symptoms can last several weeks or longer, depending on any of the following:
Depending on the severity of one’s addiction, these symptoms listed above can continue for up to four weeks and possibly longer. One may experience these symptoms for four weeks or more, including the following additional symptoms of Xanax use:
Typically, after 30 days, when there are no more remaining traces of Xanax in the system, one should begin to feel better. However, there may be tendencies for anxiety and panic disorder.
While symptoms have most likely worn off during the four-week period, the psychological symptoms of Xanax may have lingered and can continue lingering for months. Someone with a strong addiction to Xanax will need a plan for therapy to work through the recovery process. The first part of any recovery from prescription drugs, such as Xanax, is medical detox.
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A phenomenon that can occur upon cessation of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids is something known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). During the first days or weeks after stopping the use of Xanax, it’s possible to feel acute withdrawal symptoms.
The severity of these is going to vary from one person to another.
PAWS is often a significant barrier for many of those pursuing addiction recovery. The symptoms are going to vary on several factors, but it can last for up to two years after someone stops using a substance. The most common symptoms include:
Quitting Xanax cold turkey can be quite deadly. Some patients may enter a coma from Xanax withdrawal when they suddenly stop taking it. Medical detox will help restabilize the neurochemical levels in one’s central nervous system. A medical team oversees the process of tapering off the drug to ensure a safer detox than going it alone.
The first step toward recovery is the most powerful and life-changing step a Xanax abuser can take. It optimizes the recovery and rehabilitation process by helping the user increase his chances of remaining abstinent from Xanax.
Ongoing addiction treatment after the Xanax detox period is crucial to one’s recovery. A professional detox program offered at Arete Recovery is also part of the treatment offered at inpatient treatment centers, partial hospitalization programs, and outpatient programs.
A recovery program that includes group and individual therapy can reduce the risk of relapse and help individuals better manage their drug cravings for the long-term. Any treatment program will be tailored to maximize one’s chances for a full recovery. All of these steps are essential for long-term recovery from Xanax.
Additional treatments for recovery support to help an individual manage the symptoms that can potentially lead to relapse include:
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Samhsa.gov. (2019). Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration from https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/atod
Hartney, E. (2019, May 07). Why Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Can Be a Barrier to Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-post-acute-withdrawal-syndrome-22104
Lydiard, R. B. (2003). The role of GABA in anxiety disorders. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12662130
How the FDA Is Sleeping Through the Xanax Epidemic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-the-fda-is-sleeping-through-the-xanax-epidemic/