Xanax, the brand-name version of alprazolam, is the most popular benzodiazepine on the market today, according to Medical News Today. Xanax works by acting on the central nervous system and brain to decrease anxiety.
Though it is safe when taken as directed, it is important that you do not quit taking it cold turkey. Instead, you must discuss your Xanax use with a doctor and decrease your dose by slowly tapering off the medication. Otherwise, it can cause withdrawal symptoms even if you have only taken it for a week.
Your doctor can assist with the tapering process. Not everyone experiences withdrawal, but it’s important that a medical professional manages this process.
The Basics Of Xanax
Anxiety occurs when a person’s central nervous system and brain become overstimulated. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax are meant to decrease activity in the brain by releasing more of a chemical messenger called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which is known for its relaxing effects.
Xanax is known for starting to work in as little as five minutes. The drug influences your central nervous system and can become habit-forming. Some Xanax users feel drunk when they take higher doses of the medication.
People can become physically or psychologically dependent on the drug. Xanax also has the potential for abuse and tolerance. Remember that tolerance and dependence do not mean you are misusing or addicted to Xanax.
Xanax is a controlled substance, and some people may use it, even if they do not have a prescription. This type of misuse is illegal and can expose users to serious consequences depending on local, state, and federal laws governing recreational use of prescription medication.
On top of concerns over misuse, Xanax is known to cause side effects. These most often present when people start using the medication.
Potential side effects include:
- Decreased energy
- Muscle cramps
- Decreased libido
These should go away with time, but there are other more serious effects. Users have reported taking more risks when they start taking Xanax or even feeling more suicidal at the beginning of therapy.
You may start questioning the drug’s effectiveness if you notice problem behaviors, such as feeling that you can no longer function if you do not take the drug.
Quitting cold turkey may sound like a good idea because it seems convenient and even like the logical thing to do. It will also theoretically allow you to get rid of your Xanax supply so that you will not feel tempted to take again.Whether or not you have taken Xanax with a prescription, or you are taking it illicitly, it is important to consult a doctor that can help you safely taper from the medication.
Quitting cold turkey could cause you to experience withdrawal, and some symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can be dangerous.
Common Symptoms Of Withdrawal
You may not be aware that Xanax causes withdrawal to begin with. It is common for people to believe that only illicit drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, can cause these symptoms. Though Xanax is legal as long as you have a prescription, it can still cause uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal once you become dependent on it.
Per a 2018 study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine, Xanax is widely known for its strong withdrawal symptoms even when it is tapered correctly.
The study also mentions that people who taper off Xanax are more likely to experience dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, such as psychotic episodes or delirium. This may be because those who are tapering off the drug have engaged in long-term, high-dose use. Seizures are also an issue when quitting benzodiazepines, and these can be life-threatening.
In addition, the study reports that patients can feel symptoms of withdrawal just one week after taking Xanax.
Other common withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Faster heartbeat
Not all users will experience Xanax withdrawal symptoms, however. Symptoms can vary depending on the person.
Women who are pregnant should be careful with Xanax, as their baby can experience neonatal withdrawal as mentioned by the Journal of Addiction Medicine. Babies can also become sedated if their mother uses Xanax.
Xanax also affects the following groups of people differently:
- Senior citizens
- People who misuse alcohol
- Obese individuals
Healthline says that Xanax has a half-life of about 11 hours in adults who are of average health. This means it takes between two to four days to fully clear the body of Xanax. But people stop feeling the medication’s effects far before the drug has completely left their bodies.
Xanax is often used up to three times per day, depending on the decisions your doctor has made about how it can benefit you. You do not need to misuse or be addicted to Xanax to experience withdrawal.
Typically, people start to feel the symptoms of withdrawal within a few days after discontinued use. Some symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may not seem like a big deal, such as headaches or restlessness, but they should be reported to a physician.
Symptoms such as vomiting can cause you to become dehydrated, which could put you at risk for even more discomfort or more serious symptoms down the line.
Tapering From Xanax
Santa Monica College recommends several different tapering methods, depending on how many benzodiazepines are taken, to prevent withdrawal symptoms. For many people, decreasing doses by 25 percent every two weeks can work.
With the associated side effects and withdrawal risks, it is no wonder you may decide you no longer want to take Xanax. The first thing you must do if you decide Xanax is no longer for you is to talk with your prescribing doctor.
They can recommend a tapering schedule that best suits your needs.
They can recommend a tapering schedule that best suits your needs. It’s recommended that doctors take the following into account when choosing a tapering schedule:
- How ready a person is to decrease or stop using Xanax
- A reduction that is gradual and slow
- Personal aspects, as tapering schedules should be modified as needed
Overall, tapering guidelines will be to:
- Decrease the dosage by 25 percent.
- Reduce the dose every two weeks to minimize the onset of withdrawal symptoms.
Some people may require a six-month-long tapering schedule if they have tried to quit using a benzodiazepine but were unable to in the past. Xanax’s manufacturer recommends tapering at maximum rates of 0.5 mg every three days.
Medications To Ease Withdrawal
Though it seems counterintuitive, some doctors may prescribe another benzodiazepine to help you taper from Xanax. Doctors often prescribe diazepam during tapering because it has a longer half-life than Xanax. This enables you to slowly decrease your dose as your body adjusts to life without the drug.
Your doctor can also help you deal with withdrawal by:
- Recommending over-the-counter medication to deal with headaches or vomiting
- Helping you find a non-benzodiazepine alternative to manage anxiety
- Providing referrals to a therapist or other experts so you can learn new skills that will help you better deal with anxiety