Xanax is a brand name of alprazolam, a sedative drug in a class of medications known as benzodiazepines. This medication is typically used to treat anxiety disorders and panic disorder. By decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain, Xanax lowers anxiety, and can prevent or end a panic attack. Sometimes, this medication is used to treat depression or agoraphobia. Alprazolam can be taken in tablet form or as a concentrated solution that is swallowed.
Abuse of Xanax
Many people use Xanax to control anxiety symptoms. Most of these people never have a problem with dependence or addiction; however, like all benzodiazepines, Xanax can be highly addictive. Most commonly, people who become addicted to Xanax were originally prescribed the medication for legitimate purposes but became physically dependent on the substance and developed an addiction in response. This is more likely to happen if Xanax is misused – that is, used outside the parameters of the prescription.
According to the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, alprazolam is one of the most addictive benzodiazepines, in part because the effects can be felt so quickly after taking the drug. Some people with anxiety disorders may use Xanax too often or in larger doses than prescribed, in an attempt to control their anxiety. This can increase the risk of developing an addiction. If your prescribed dosage of Xanax does not fully control your anxiety, your doctor can change the dose or recommend another medication. You should never use Xanax in any way other than as directed by the prescribing physician.
Treatment for an addiction to Xanax begins with detox. During this process, Xanax is processed from the body. With benzodiazepines, this is often done slowly, to give the body and mind an opportunity to adjust to functioning without the substance.
In some instances, individuals are switched to a long-acting benzodiazepine and then weaned off that drug over time.
Withdrawal from Xanax differs between individuals. Some people experience very few symptoms, while others may experience a full-blown withdrawal syndrome. A study from the journal Addiction found that people who experience withdrawal from benzodiazepines like Xanax typically go through at least one of three types of benzodiazepine withdrawal: short-term anxiety, physical withdrawal, and extended anxiety. The timelines for each of these syndromes is different.
- Short-term Anxiety
Many people who are addicted to Xanax originally began taking the medication to manage symptoms of an anxiety disorder. When withdrawing from this medication, some people see their anxiety symptoms return for a short period. People who experience this type of withdrawal will notice symptoms of anxiety and insomnia within 1-4 days of discontinuing the medication. Symptoms may last days or weeks, but resolve on their own, without any form of treatment.
- Physical Withdrawal
Many individuals who are addicted to Xanax and other benzodiazepines are physically dependent on the drug. While not everyone who is physically dependent on this medication experiences physical withdrawal symptoms, a percentage do experience the full-blown withdrawal syndrome typically associated with drug withdrawal. Symptoms typically appear within a few days of discontinuing the medication and continue for 10-14 days. Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Tension and anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain or stiffness
- Changes in perception, such as sight or hearing
It is unclear what percentage of people who are addicted to benzodiazepines go through this kind of withdrawal syndrome. Taking a slowly tapered dose of the addictive substance can help to alleviate or avoid some of these symptoms.
- Extended Anxiety
Occasionally, people who detox from Xanax will see anxiety or insomnia symptoms, which were previously controlled by the medication, return. Unlike with the short-term anxiety type of withdrawal, these individuals continue to experience symptoms of anxiety or insomnia until some alternative methods of treatment are instigated. Withdrawal may last weeks or months, and will not resolve without intervention. This is not uncommon among people who were using Xanax to control a severe anxiety disorder.
Detox from Xanax should always be done under direct medical supervision. Because withdrawal can be severe when stopping use of benzodiazepines, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends that it only occur under a doctor’s care, so any complications can be addressed. In some instances, benzodiazepine withdrawal can result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, so individuals should never attempt to detox from Xanax on their own.
As mentioned, a slow tapered method of detox is typically recommended for this medication. Following this method of detox, the dosage of Xanax is lowered very slowly over an extended period of time. This helps alleviate some physical symptoms of withdrawal and can prevent health complications. The specific drug of abuse may be given in increasingly small doses, or the addicted individual may switch to a more long-lasting sedative first, before the dosage is tapered. Taking a longer-lasting drug, rather than a short-acting drug like Xanax, can help some people increase the amount of time between doses.
The timeline for Xanax detox when using a tapered dose can vary greatly among different individuals, and it tends to depend on the severity of withdrawal symptoms. A lack of physical withdrawal symptoms typically means detox can be completed in a few days or a couple weeks. More severe symptoms may lead to detox being extended for several weeks, or even months, as the dosage must be lowered very slowly.
A return of anxiety or insomnia symptoms can further complicate this process. The dosage may need to occasionally be lowered even if the individual begins to experience symptoms of anxiety. Various other treatment methods can be used to replace Xanax in controlling an anxiety disorder.
Finding Treatment for Xanax Addiction
Detox is only the first step in recovering from an addiction to Xanax. Detox alone cannot treat addiction, which is a complicated and chronic disorder, and comprehensive addiction therapy is needed. To achieve lasting recovery, most people require long-term treatment. This treatment can come in many different forms, and it may take place in a residential or outpatient setting, depending on the specific needs of the individual. Behavioral therapy is the most common method of treatment for this type of addiction.