If you have ever struggled with insomnia, anxiety, or chronic panic attacks, it’s likely you’ve heard the word Xanax cross your doctor’s lips. While this powerful benzodiazepine can assuage most anxiety disorders, it also carries a considerable risk for addiction. And like most addictive substances, quitting Xanax can lead to an uncomfortable period of withdrawal.
Xanax is one of the most popular pharmaceutical drugs in the United States today. In fact, according to Health Research Funding, prescription rates for the drug have risen by 9 percent each year since 2008. With so many bottles of Xanax in medicine cabinets around the country, it should be no surprise that Xanax abuse runs rampant among both medical and recreational users.
Although Xanax is considered a Schedule IV substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – which implies that it carries little potential for abuse – individuals who have used Xanax can attest to its habit-forming potential and difficult withdrawal period. In fact, the medical journal Addiction reports that benzodiazepines (the family of drugs that Xanax belongs to) can cause a painful withdrawal syndrome lasting anywhere 1-14 days. This experience affects a person both physically and mentally.
Xanax Physical Withdrawal
Benzodiazepines like Xanax bind to GABA receptors in the brain, which quiet the neurons in the central nervous system. This creates a feeling of relaxation and sedation. However, when someone stops using the drug, their bodies tend to respond drastically, leading to uncomfortable side effects.
Side effects of stopping Xanax usage include:
- Blurred vision
- Vomiting and sweating
- Uncontrollable shaking or seizures
- Sensitivity to noise and light
- Muscle cramps and pain
If some individual tries to quit Xanax “cold turkey,” the sudden onset of physical side effects can be incredibly painful and sometimes dangerous.
Most people start using Xanax to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks. If they use the drug for too long or in too large a dose, however, they can grow dependent on it and become unable to function without it. This dependence can lead to “rebound syndrome”: a form of withdrawal in which the mood disorder the Xanax was prescribed to treat comes back, often stronger than before. Common manifestations of rebound syndrome are:
While Xanax withdrawal typically lasts 1-14 days, some addiction specialists say that withdrawal effects can linger long after the initial period passes. According to a report from ABC News, mental anguish from benzodiazepine withdrawal can last weeks and, in some cases, even years.
Treating Xanax Addiction
Once someone begins showing signs of Xanax addiction, it is rather dangerous for them to simply stop taking the drug. As Dr. Charles Raison from CNN Health explains, it can take months to successfully wean off Xanax. An individual experiencing abrupt withdrawal symptoms can suffer physical and mental harm and even be compelled to resume their drug use.
Because of these risks, medical professionals agree that the safest way to quit using Xanax is under professional supervision. In 2015, BMC Psychiatry reported that gradual cessation of Xanax use was highly preferable among the individuals they surveyed, and that inpatient withdrawal treatment was significantly more successful than trying to quit at home.
If you, or someone you love, are struggling with Xanax addiction, it is important to get help from a physician or addiction specialist. Under a doctor’s care, a person can safely wean off the drug and manage any withdrawal symptoms. And then with careful monitoring, addiction treatment, and the support of family and friends, recovery can become a reality.