Xanax, or alprazolam, is a benzodiazepine. Unfortunately, it is a commonly abused drug, and when abused can cause medical emergencies, including overdose, deadly accidents under the influence, and complications – and it can also cause addiction. When addiction occurs, it is defined by both a psychological craving for Xanax as well as physical withdrawal symptoms should the addicted person suddenly stop taking the pills. These withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, especially if there are underlying medical conditions, and treatment at a professional inpatient detox is recommended.
Factors Affecting Xanax Withdrawal Experience
Everyone is different when it comes to how withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines are experienced. Some factors that will impact the experience include:
- The dose of the drug the user was taking at the time of cessation of use
- The original reason for taking the drug (e.g., prescription use versus recreational)
- Use of other drugs or alcohol
- Symptoms related to a co-occurring disorder
- Whether or not the person stops taking the medication completely or cuts the dose over time
- Personal physiology
These issues may make detox a bit more complicated in terms of emotional and psychological response and/or physical withdrawal symptoms. If there is poly-drug use, a co-occurring disorder, or symptoms of psychosis or another serious medical or mental health issue, then professional medical help will be necessary
Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey
Quitting Xanax all at once is a huge shock to the body and the mind. And while many individuals believe they can “muscle through” the withdrawal symptoms or simply aren’t aware of the danger to begin with, it is important to understand that this is a serious situation.
Stopping the use of Xanax cold turkey can lead to a wide variety of withdrawal symptoms. Some of these are unpleasant but not necessarily dangerous, including:
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle pain
Other withdrawal symptoms, however, can place users in serious danger. Some of these include:
To avoid these side effects and to have the best possible chance at successfully avoiding relapse, users should not stop using Xanax use suddenly. Instead, there are guidelines to follow that can help make the process a bit easier.
How to Quit Safely & What to Expect
When quitting Xanax it is almost always better to taper the detox process. That means that instead of throwing both body and mind into shock by suddenly denying them access to a substance upon which they have become dependent, users take a little less of the drug every day. This does lengthen the detox time, but it also dramatically increases the safety of the process. Xanax is a short-acting drug, so detox withdrawal symptoms generally begin immediately after quitting.
Always speak with a professional so that they understand what medications you are taking and can help create the best withdrawal plan possible.
Timeline of Detox and Withdrawal
Though not everyone will experience the same benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms or experience similar symptoms in the same way, in general, the following timeline may describe what patients experience during benzo detox. For those who took a low dose of Xanax for a short period of time, the duration and experience of withdrawal symptoms are generally limited to rebound anxiety lasting for up to 4 days. That is, if the patient was taking Xanax in an attempt solely to manage anxiety symptoms and not for the purposes of getting high, then stopping use of the medication may result in a rebound effect, or a return of anxiety symptoms for a brief period.
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms & Effects
Xanax withdrawal can be severe, and even fatal if detox is done too quickly or without medical supervision. Symptoms usually begin with a few hours of the last Xanax dose and increase over time until they peak after a few days, linger, and then slowly begin to dissipate. They may last for a few weeks or longer. If the person struggling with the addiction was taking a high dose of Xanax at the time of detox, additional withdrawal symptoms may include seizures and/or symptoms of psychosis.
Typically, physical symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:
- Blurred vision and sensitivity to light
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in the sense of smell or sensitivity to smells
- Aching muscles and headaches
- Cramps and diarrhea
- Sweating or fever
- Tingling in the arms and legs or numbness in the extremities
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Breathing difficulties
Because Xanax is a prescription medication that’s used to treat certain conditions and symptoms, these symptoms return when a person stops using the drug. Xanax withdrawal produces rebound symptoms, which means that when the symptoms do return, they tend to be more severe than they were before the drug. The most common psychological effects of Xanax detox include:
- Short-term memory loss
Tips to Get Through Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
- Learn about medication options: Unlike those who are undergoing detox for addiction to opiate medications (e.g., OxyContin, Vicodin), there are no long-term medication detox options for people who are undergoing benzodiazepine detox. There are, however, some options in non-addictive medications that can help to address or alleviate the experience of specific symptoms. For example, if insomnia is an issue then the detox team may determine that medication to aid in sleep may be a helpful choice. Similarly, medications for muscular pain and stiffness or nausea may be of benefit as well.
- Enroll in professional detox: A professional detox program will be able to provide supervision that will help the patient weather all withdrawal symptoms safely and effectively and become drug-free by the end of the process. Therapeutic support, as well as medical monitoring and care, ensure that the patient is safe as she undergoes benzo detox.
- Do not leave detox early: Leaving a professional detox program early is almost guaranteed to result in relapse, and relapse during the detox period can be deadly. It is important that patients have access to any and all resources that will make their experience more comfortable and ensure their safety as the days unfold. Though it may be difficult, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the best way to avoid relapse is to stay within the walls of the program until withdrawal symptoms have passed.
- Connect with other people: Other patients who are currently undergoing detox, those who have recently experienced detox and understand the process, and therapists who specialize in substance abuse treatment can all be helpful resources during detox. The withdrawal symptoms experienced by those detoxing off Xanax are unique, and it can be a great benefit to patients to realize that theirs is not an isolated experience. Additionally, hearing from others who have lived through the experience that withdrawal symptoms will one day be a thing of the past can help the patient to hold on a little bit longer and get closer to experiencing the benefits of sobriety. Similarly, reaching out to a therapist can mean that the patient gets encouragement, guidance, and assistance in making it through detox and beginning the process of recovery.
- Make healthful choices: Though making thoughtful and positive choices on a moment-by-moment basis may not be the focus during the first week of withdrawal symptoms, slowly patients will begin to have room for more than just detox symptoms. First, hydrating regularly and often is important. Dehydration will only worsen physical and mental health symptoms. Once food becomes a palatable idea, avoiding fried, sugary, and fatty foods in favor of small fruit- and vegetable-based snacks will ensure that the brain and body have the nutrients necessary to function. Also, throughout detox, gentle exercise like walks can help to clear the mind and help the body to mend after addiction.
- Utilize holistic therapies: There are a number of holistic therapies that can be helpful in managing Xanax withdrawal symptoms, depending upon the specifics of the patient’s experience. For example, massage and body work can be effective in helping to manage headaches, muscle pain and stiffness, and anxiety. Additionally, acupuncture and aromatherapy may help to lessen stress and irritability, and yoga and meditation can be positive choices later in detox to help get the body and mind back on track after addiction.
- Follow up with therapeutic treatment: Though intensive therapy is not a part of detox, it is a necessary follow-up treatment to detox. Learning how to find coping mechanisms other than Xanax use is essential, especially for people who struggle with an anxiety disorder. Additionally, addressing issues that may make it more difficult to maintain sobriety are an important part of becoming stable in a new life that is defined by positivity and wellness.
- Eat Well: Avoid food with caffeine, artificial sugars, additives and MSG. These substances can actually exacerbate symptoms and make detox a more unpleasant experience
Multiple Phases of Treatment
Detox is an important first step when attempting to overcome addiction, but it is not the only step in transitioning from active drug use to long-term sobriety. Comprehensive care begins with professional detox and continues with a range of therapeutic therapies chosen based on the patient’s needs, and is followed by aftercare services. Like the specifics of withdrawal symptoms, the specific therapies that will be most appropriate will vary from patient to patient. Many will find healing through incorporating any combination of the following:
- Stabilization: In some cases, especially when the patient is taking a high dose of Xanax, the first step in treatment will be stabilization. Psychotic symptoms and erratic behavior can endanger the person and caregivers, and thus it is necessary to stabilize the addicted person before moving forward.
- Detox: Physical withdrawal symptoms can be significant, as described above, or they may play a relatively small part in the overall treatment experience of the patient. Most will experience some level of discomfort in the first days or weeks of recovery, and if this is a challenge, then detox will be necessary.
- Diagnostic evaluation: It is important to identify all the issues that are challenging to the patient’s ability to remain clean and sober. Xanax abuse is usually a symptom of greater issues, and when those issues are addressed, the likelihood of relapse diminishes. To this end, interviews with the patient and potentially close family members as well may reveal clues as to how to begin this process. Assessments for potential brain trauma, co-occurring mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and/or behavioral disorders may be appropriate.
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders: All issues identified during a residential inpatient program should be addressed within the treatment plan. Intensive therapeutic treatment for substance abuse and for all co-occurring disorders should be available simultaneously, allowing the patient to grow in recovery on all fronts and diminishing the risk of relapse.
- Traditional treatment options: Personal therapy, group therapy, 12-step meetings, and other forms of traditional treatment have long been the building blocks for most addiction treatment programs. Millions of patients have been able to successfully utilize these treatments in order to aid them in addressing substance abuse problems, symptoms of co-occurring disorders like anxiety, family dynamics, and the process of reaching future goals in recovery.
- Alternative treatment options: A wide range of treatment options – from equine-assisted therapy and outdoors therapy to psychodrama and more – have all been proven to assist in helping patients to better understand why they abused substances and to find ways to manage those issues more effectively. In some cases, the non-verbal nature of the therapies was beneficial in helping patients to explore different ways of relating to others, themselves, and the world.
- Holistic treatment options: Therapeutic interventions like yoga, tai chi, massage, acupuncture, and more can all help to relieve physical and mental stress. These holistic options also teach effective coping skills, like clearing the mind and focusing on the breath, which can aid in better management of anxiety.
- Aftercare and follow-up treatment: As effective as inpatient or outpatient rehab can be in helping to stabilize patients in recovery and create the foundation for a life in sobriety, the fact is that few people will remain sober for the long-term if they do not follow up with aftercare services. Many patients choose to continue with some of the services that were effective for them during treatment like personal therapy, specific holistic treatment options that they enjoyed, and any alternative treatment options that are available near them.
Ready to Move Forward
For many people struggling with substance abuse, the thought of undergoing withdrawal symptoms is less than appealing. Many postpone entrance into treatment simply because they don’t feel prepared to undergo detox. While it makes sense to take the process of detox seriously, it does not have to be an overwhelming process. With the right resources and with medical supervision, your loved one will be able to successfully navigate detox. Contact us at Futures Recovery Healthcare to connect your loved one with the treatment needed to begin a bright future without drugs and alcohol abuse.