5 Most Common Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine usually prescribed to treat anxiety. In 2012, 49 million prescriptions were written for Xanax in the United States, which made it the second most often prescribed psychoactive drug that year, after the prescription opioid hydrocodone. Xanax is also incredibly addictive, with a potentially dangerous withdrawal syndrome that should be supervised and/or managed by medical professionals. Knowing what to expect from a Xanax detox can help you feel prepared when you decide it’s time to break free from your Xanax addiction.
Xanax Misuse and Addiction in the United States
Between 2005 and 2010, the number of ER visits involving the non-medical use of Xanax doubled, rising from 57,419 to 124,902. On its own, Xanax misuse can cause a number of dangerous health risks, including addiction and withdrawal, all of which become more intense and more dangerous when Xanax is taken combined with alcohol or other medications that depress the central nervous system. Young adults are the most vulnerable to Xanax addiction due to a dramatically higher rate of misuse. In 2013, 10.3% of Americans age 18 to 25 reported nonmedical use of Xanax, in comparison to 5.7% of Americans age 26 and older.
Some Xanax misuse is recreational, but some is a form of self-medicating known as “chemical coping.” For example, someone who was prescribed Xanax for panic attacks may start taking the drug for other reasons, such as for insomnia, or to calm anxiety in challenging times. Chemical coping can easily lead to tolerance, as patients adjust to the effects of the medication, which will require them to increase their dosage. This is an easy pattern to fall into. Xanax is primarily an anti-anxiety medication, and anxiety will naturally increase at certain times in life, such as around the holidays or when professional or financial pressures escalate, making patients feel a need to increase their consumption, which will then increase their tolerance.
Xanax is very commonly prescribed, and can be very addictive, but patients who take the drug only occasionally, or for a short span of time, and as directed, are unlikely to experience problems. A recent APA report on benzodiazepines (the family of drugs that includes Xanax), between 11 and 15 percent of adults have taken a benzodiazepine at least once in the past year, while only one to two percent of adults have taken a benzodiazepine every day for 12 months or longer. Xanax is rarely prescribed for more than a few weeks, to avoid physical dependence and Xanax withdrawal symptoms, which will eventually develop with regular use.
Signs of Xanax Addiction
Some of the outward indications of Xanax misuse and addiction include:
- Impaired coordination
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty concentrating and reasoning
- Memory problems
- Drowsiness, excessive sleeping
- Swollen hands or feet
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Other symptoms that someone addicted to Xanax may experience include:
- Vertigo, dizziness
- Disinterest in sex
- Dry mouth
- Nausea, vomiting
- Vision problems, blurred or doubled vision
After someone has been addicted to Xanax long enough to be taking a high dose of the drug, they may experience the most serious side effects, such as:
- Uncontrolled muscle movements
- Chest pain
- Thoughts of self-harm
- Suicidal thoughts and intent
The Danger of Mixing Xanax with Alcohol and other Drugs
Xanax side effects and addiction, and the risk of overdosing on Xanax, greatly worsen when the drug is combined with alcohol and other drugs such as opioid painkillers. Emergency room visits involving benzodiazepines like Xanax result in hospitalization or death 32% of the time when the drug is taken on its own, but rises to 44% when combined with opioid medications, and 50% when alcohol is added to the mix. The increase in risk is significantly higher for patients age 65 and up, who experience a 70% chance of hospitalization or death when visiting the ER for benzodiazepines combined with alcohol and opioids.
Sadly, these dangerous combinations are very common when it comes to Xanax addiction. Approximately 80% of benzodiazepine misuse is involved in polydrug use, usually with opioids. Seventy-three percent of heroin users also used benzodiazepines weekly or more, and up to 41% of alcoholics also misuse benzos, usually to self-medicate withdrawal symptoms.
Time to Quit Xanax
The time is always right to quit Xanax, as long as you seek out professional medical help to guide you safely through Xanax detox.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms are always unpleasant, but the severity of the experience can vary from flu-like symptoms to life-threatening seizures, depending on individual body chemistry, age, drug use history, and whether you try to quit cold turkey—which is never advisable for any benzodiazepine addiction. Anyone who has been taking Xanax for awhile, even if they are not actually addicted, should seek a doctor’s advice on how to slowly and safely wean themselves off the drug. The more carefully you proceed with your Xanax detox, the milder your Xanax withdrawal symptoms will be.
The 5 Most Common Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
The absolute most common Xanax withdrawal symptom is anxiety. It is also usually the first symptom to appear during Xanax detox, usually in just six to 12 hours after the last dose, or after the dosage has been lowered. Any nervousness, restlessness, or anxiety you feel will be much more intense if you are attempting to taper too quickly or if you are risking your health by quitting cold turkey. The anxiety may remain mild, or could escalate to panic attacks, but it will improve over time. Symptoms are always at their worst during the first week or two of Xanax withdrawal. Expect considerable improvement after that, but don’t expect a steady uphill climb, as symptoms can fluctuate, coming and going for months after quitting. The trick is to look at overall long-term improvement. When today is suddenly much worse than yesterday, look back to reassure yourself that this week is an improvement on last week, and this month is an improvement on last month.
2. Flu-like symptoms
Xanax withdrawal symptoms also include several symptoms that combine to make you feel like you have the flu, and just like with the flu, you could have a mild case and feel only a little sick, or you could have a bad case and be miserable. Expect to feel sweaty with an upset stomach, and possibly vomiting if your nausea gets bad enough. It’s very important to stay hydrated through this period of withdrawal, which should pass in a week or two. If you can’t keep down solid foods at first, try drinking broths and juices. Drink plenty of water, but remember that your stomach may not be able to handle too much liquid at once. Keep a big cup or bottle near you at all times so you can take small sips throughout the day.
3. Difficulty Sleeping
Xanax calms the central nervous system, and as you recover from Xanax addiction, you will experience rebound symptoms as your central nervous system revs back up and your body struggles to regain equilibrium without the presence of the drug you’ve become dependent upon. Insomnia is very common, and like anxiety, can persist for months after quitting, coming and going, but gradually improving over time. Sleep problems include difficulty going to sleep, waking up and not being able to go back to sleep, restless sleep, and nightmares.
4. Physical pain
Xanax detox can also bring on physical pain, such as headaches, and muscle pain and stiffness. Like the flu-like symptoms, the aches and pains will most likely pass after the first week or two. Taking over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen will help with the pain and stiffness, safely getting you through this phase of Xanax withdrawal.
Depression is common during Xanax withdrawal, and can persist for months, like anxiety and insomnia. For some, depression manifests as sadness, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness, but some people may experience their depression as irritability and hostility. Difficulty concentrating can often accompany depression as well, especially depression caused by a drug detox. And although thoughts of self-harm and suicide are possible during Xanax withdrawal, they are unlikely to occur if you are getting a medical Xanax detox, or are very slowly tapering your dosage before quitting altogether. A slow, careful taper or medical detox will also help you avoid other severe symptoms, such as psychosis and seizures.
What to Expect During a Xanax Detox
Detoxing from benzodiazepines can be very dangerous without medical supervision. Patients in Xanax withdrawal need to be monitored by professionals who have the skills and resources to treat any symptoms or complications that come up. The safest way to handle a Xanax detox is to gradually decrease the amount of Xanax taken in order to avoid seizures and other serious Xanax withdrawal symptoms. How quickly a patient tapers their dosage and how long they wait between each reduction in dose depends upon what withdrawal symptoms are experienced and how severe they are. Most doctors would recommend at least a week between dose reductions, and about eight weeks of tapering overall until the patient is completely off the drug. Some people take even longer to wean themselves off Xanax, but a shorter time span is not recommended unless the dosage you are dependent on is fairly low.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms can fluctuate, as benzodiazepines have a more erratic and unpredictable withdrawal syndrome than other drugs. The symptoms will certainly decrease, but not at a steady rate, and they may flare up worse at times. When symptoms do worsen, patients are not advised to increase their dose, but rather continue on with the current dose until the symptoms pass, and only then resume reducing the dosage.
Xanax withdrawal can be especially intense in comparison to withdrawal from other kinds of benzos, but it doesn’t last as long. This is because it is a short-acting drug, with its effects starting sooner and passing more quickly than other benzodiazepines. Xanax withdrawal symptoms are at their worst in the first five to seven days, but can linger for a few weeks or a month, sometimes longer.
The Xanax withdrawal symptoms that linger longest are usually depression, anxiety, and sleep issues, which can come and go at varied levels of intensity for a few months up to a year. Counseling can be a big help at this time, as can healthy habits like physical exercise and trying to keep to a regular sleeping schedule. There are also medications that may help you, such as a sedating antidepressant like trazodone, which can be a big help for depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
After Xanax Detox
To stay off of Xanax and avoid relapse, it is crucial to continue with treatment even after Xanax detox. Detox is not a cure for addiction, but merely the first step in the ongoing recovery process. You need to continue seeking professional help from an addiction treatment facility, whether it be an inpatient program where you live on-site at the facility, or an outpatient program where you return home at night to sleep. No matter what kind of treatment you get, make sure to stay with it as long as you need to. Leaving prematurely, or assuming that you will be safe returning to old hangouts and friends who use drugs after you are discharged from a program, is a good way to make yourself vulnerable to relapse. You’ll get your best chance at long-term health and happiness after treatment by nurturing your recovery through good self-care, periodic check-ins with a counselor, and peer support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous.
Find the Right Xanax Detox for You
Effective Xanax detox and addiction treatment is available for you, no matter what your personal, professional, or financial situation may be. Xanax withdrawal may not be easy, but you can handle it with help, and any suffering you may encounter in the short-term pales in comparison to the suffering and serious health risks that accompany an ongoing Xanax addiction. Call 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) to begin your recovery today!