Xanax is a benzodiazepine that interacts with both the nervous system and brain chemist, and people usually take it to help with the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder. It increases the gamma-amino-butyric acid, or GABA, in the brain, which at proper levels reduces the feelings associated with the fight-or-flight response. It works on the brain similarly to a sedative and reduces the tension that comes with this response. Users may experience a slower heart rate, breathe slower and have a lower body temperature. These are all bodily markers that rapidly increase when a person gets anxious or stressed. Therefore, Xanax is a useful medication for those that need to suppress their heart rate, breathing rate or body temperature.
As well as being a useful drug for those with anxiety or panic disorders, it also has potential abuse appeal. This is because it can give users a “high” when taking higher doses by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure. More dopamine coursing through your body can make you feel happier and more positive. When this is combined with increased GABA, the sedative effects are powerful, and it becomes obvious why Xanax has become so popular recreationally.
In 2015, around 1.5 million people misused prescription sedatives in the US. Misusing prescription drugs like Xanax can lead to addiction, which can come with many dangers. As Xanax alters the chemistry in the brain, tapering off is the safest way to stop taking it. This allows the brain to catch up and adjust back to normal neurotransmitter levels. When someone stops taking Xanax, they will often start to experience withdrawal symptoms. Tapering can also help reduce withdrawal, as can a detox program overseen by medical professionals.
Dangers of Stopping “Cold Turkey”
Although it can be tempting to stop Xanax “cold turkey”, it can be very dangerous. No benzodiazepine should be stopped suddenly because of the potential for dangerous withdrawal symptoms to develop, and this is especially true of Xanax, which is considered more toxic than other benzodiazepines. Quitting Xanax this way can cause psychosis and seizures, among many other dangerous side effects, which can even lead to coma or death. Using the “cold turkey” method can also increase your chance of relapse, which could potentially lead to a fatal overdose.
The only way to stop taking Xanax safely is with medical detox. Medical detox is a process centered on a tapering plan usually designed by a medical professional. The plan will include lowering the dose gradually to enable your body to adapt to the lack of Xanax until it is comfortable without the drug. This can also help to reduce the withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping Xanax.
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Guide To Tapering Off Xanax
Tapering off Xanax can be different for every individual. Many factors can influence the experience an individual may have. Someone that is tapering off Xanax after taking a prescribed dose with advice from a medical professional may find it easier than someone with a high dependence after Xanax abuse. Metabolism can also make a difference, as can previous medical history. If the individual has a history of substance abuse or addiction, they may also experience a more severe withdrawal.
Xanax’s half-life is fairly short. This means that once an individual stops taking Xanax completely, the drug will be mostly out of the bloodstream within 24 hours. Therefore, during tapering, a medical professional may recommend the use of other benzodiazepines with longer half-lives. For example, they may suggest using Valium as part of a controlled taper. This can help the body adjust slowly and not put it under the same shock as stopping suddenly.
You’ll need to seek advice from a medical professional before tapering off Xanax, as they will perform an assessment and advise the dosage you should taper at. There is no one timeline for Xanax detoxification, and your timeline will probably look different from someone else’s.
Timeline for Tapering Off of Xanax
Remember that this timeline should only be used as a rough guide. You should seek guidance from a medical professional before tapering. Learn more about recovery with Windward Way Recovery.
Between Days One to Three
- In the first few days, Xanax will normally be replaced with diazepam. The dosage of this will depend on the individual, but the rate will usually be 10 milligrams of diazepam for every one milligram of Xanax.
- It is common for individuals to experience depression and anxiety during this stage. Feeling restless and struggling to sleep are also common side effects at this stage.
Between Days Three to Seven
- At this stage, the dosage will usually be reduced by between 10 and 25 percent. This again depends on the tolerance the individual has developed to Xanax.
- Most people feel the peak of withdrawal at this stage. They may experience periods of sickness, tremors, a change to blood pressure and heart rate, pain in the muscles, cravings, vision changes, appetite changes and sweating. It is also common to experience sensitivity to lights, noises and touch.
- After approximately two weeks, the dosage is normally reduced by another 25 percent. This depends on the individual and will be assessed by a medical professional.
- At this stage, the physical withdrawal symptoms start to decrease. Some people may still feel withdrawal symptoms, but these will be less severe than before.
- The medical professional will usually advise the individual to reduce the dose by another 10 percent.
- By week four, the individual will usually be taking half of the original diazepam dose. Remember, this will depend on medical advice.
Week Five to Week Eight
- At this stage during detoxification, the dose is usually kept the same and most physical withdrawal symptoms should start to subside.
- It is at this point where therapy sessions or counseling can be useful to manage psychological withdrawal. Not all individuals will suffer from these. However, they can include working through cravings, depression and anxiety.
Week Nine to Week 10
- At week nine, the dose will normally be dropped again by an additional 25 percent. Some people may need to taper more slowly, however, which is why detoxification should only take place in a licensed medical facility.
- For those struggling with psychological withdrawal, certain skills are usually the focus of therapy. These include preventing relapse and managing stress and anxiety with coping mechanisms and reframing behaviors.
Week 11 to Week 12
- Dosage will normally be taken down by another 25 percent.
- Some people may need to continue therapy and counseling sessions. These can include individual and group sessions, possibly as an outpatient depending on the individual and their needs.
Week 13 to Week 14
- This is the final stage in the taper before complete discontinuation in week 15. At this stage, the dose will be reduced by another 25 percent.
- By week 15, most people will stop taking diazepam completely. Some people may not feel ready to discontinue the drug altogether at this stage, but medical professionals manage this on an individual basis.
Everyone will experience withdrawal differently. However, common withdrawal symptoms felt by people tapering off Xanax include:
- Anxiety and depression.
- Weight loss.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Raised blood pressure.
- Pain and tension in muscles.
- Sensory problems.
These are just some examples of the withdrawal symptoms associated with Xanax.
When Should Someone Seek Help?
There is no shame in needing help to quit Xanax, but not everyone will need it. Entering recovery and following an addiction treatment plan is usually only needed for those with an addiction to the drug. It’s important to understand the difference between dependency and addiction. It is normal to develop a physical dependence on Xanax, experience withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing use and having to taper. However, an addiction to Xanax is entirely different.
If someone feels a strong desire to take Xanax and uses it recreationally, they may have an addiction. If your dependence on Xanax is purely physical and you have no emotional needs that are affected by the drug, then you should be okay after tapering. However, someone with an addiction will need to seek additional help because of the psychological dependence they have on the drug.
Addiction is complex and involves habits and behaviors that develop around the use of a drug. An addict’s relationship to Xanax will be very different to someone that uses the drug as prescribed and has no strong desire to keep using it.
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Do I Have a Xanax Addiction?
It’s difficult to know whether you have an addiction to Xanax. If you’re unsure and you have concerns over your use, then here are some common traits of addiction to be aware of. If you believe any of these describe you, then you may have a substance use disorder or addiction.
- Feeling overtaken by thoughts relating to using Xanax.
- Repeated attempts to stop using Xanax with no success.
- Taking more Xanax than you should or more than you intended to.
- Having a desire to take Xanax multiple times a day.
- Developing a tolerance to Xanax and needing to take a higher dose to get the same effects.
- Using money that you cannot afford to spend on Xanax.
- Being sure that you always have a good supply of the drug, sometimes going to significant efforts to get it.
- Withdrawing socially because of Xanax or avoiding situations where you cannot use the drug.
- Using Xanax in situations that may cause harm to you or others. For example, when driving or when drinking alcohol.
- Failing to meet responsibilities at work, school or at home because of Xanax use.
- Withdrawing from hobbies or commitments because of your Xanax use.
- Breaking the law to get Xanax. For example, stealing money or possessions from others.
- Feeling psychological or physical harm from taking Xanax, but continuing to take it anyway.
- Taking Xanax even though you know it is influencing your relationships with others.
- Dedicating most of your time to Xanax. You may spend much of your time sourcing the drug, using it or recovering from your use of it.
- Feeling withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop taking Xanax.
Remember, that withdrawal symptoms aren’t necessarily a sign of an addiction to Xanax. However, if you think Xanax is affecting your daily life, then this may be a sign that you need help. Fortunately, there are many options to help people battle their addictions and live a drug-free life. Click here to learn more about the signs of addiction.
Getting Help and Entering Treatment
Depending on the severity of your dependence or addiction to Xanax, you may benefit from entering a treatment program. If you feel like your Xanax use is harming your life, you can take control again through a treatment program. You can work with medical professionals to safely stop taking Xanax and get the help you need through a range of treatments. If you think you need help, get in touch with Windward Way Recovery today.