Xanax is a brand-name prescription benzodiazepine made from alprazolam that can help treat generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and insomnia. Like all benzodiazepines, Xanax affects the central nervous system by boosting a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA slows down nerve activity in the brain, resulting in a relaxed and calm feeling.
Xanax, a Schedule IV drug, floods your system with dopamine, which promotes feelings of pleasure and relaxation. The powerful surge of dopamine you can experience when taking Xanax triggers a pleasurable high that your brain will want to repeat. The effects of Xanax on dopamine are what give the drug a high potential for misuse.
The most common symptoms of a Xanax use disorder include:
- Poor coordination
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty walking
- Memory problems
- Concentration problems
- Having Xanax cravings
- Poor judgment
- Mood swings
Anyone can develop a Xanax addiction, though there are risk factors that can affect your likelihood of misusing the drug.
If you have a family history of substance use disorders or if you have a mental health condition, you are more likely to struggle with this problem. You can also be at a higher risk if you have easy access to Xanax, have experienced trauma, or have a stressful home environment.
In the United States, 5.3 million adults are addicted to benzodiazepines. One commonly prescribed benzodiazepine is Xanax, which has a high potential for misuse and can quickly lead to dependence. If you have a Xanax addiction, the first step in your recovery process is detoxification, but what does this mean, and what can you expect?
The more you use Xanax, the more your body becomes accustomed to functioning with the drug. Your brain’s balance of neurotransmitters can become altered in order to compensate for the effects of benzodiazepines. This is called dependence.
If you suddenly stop using the drug (rather than tapering off), your body needs time to adjust and relearn how to function without the presence of Xanax. That adjustment period causes withdrawal symptoms that can be moderate, severe, or life-threatening.
Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms
If you have not been using Xanax for a long time or have not increased your dosage substantially, you may experience milder withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Muscle aches
- Hypersensitivity to light and sound
- Loss of appetite
These can sometimes be the first symptoms that appear when going through the withdrawal process. They may resolve or lead to more severe symptoms.
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
More severe Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Panic attacks
- Rapid heartbeat
There is a real danger of dehydration with these symptoms because vomiting can be severe.
Life-Threatening Withdrawal Symptoms
Although rare, some people can experience the following life-threatening symptoms:
Those who have had a benzodiazepine use disorder for a long time or rely on high dosages to function are more at risk of developing severe symptoms. There is a risk of death with these symptoms, especially if you develop seizures.
Your height, weight, metabolic rate, and age can all affect how severe your Xanax withdrawal symptoms are. Other factors that can play a role are whether you have any underlying mental or physical health conditions.
Older adults, as well as people who suffer from obesity, have a harder time metabolizing the drug.
If you enter a detox program that provides a tapering off schedule and medications to help manage the symptoms, you can also expect to go through a shorter and more comfortable withdrawal process.
For most people, the worst symptoms only last a few days. However, some people experience protracted withdrawal syndrome, with symptoms continuing for months or years.
Protracted symptoms occur because of functional changes to neuroreceptors and areas of the central nervous system. As many as 15% of people with a long-term benzodiazepine addiction can experience protracted symptoms.
Although the Xanax withdrawal process can be unique to each person, there is a basic timeline you can expect to go through once you stop taking Xanax.
Within 24 Hours
Withdrawal symptoms can begin within 24 hours after your last dose. The most common first symptoms are agitation, headaches, and insomnia.
Days One to Three
Days one through three of the withdrawal process is when you have the highest risk of developing seizures. If you were using Xanax to treat anxiety, you could experience rebound anxiety during these days. You can also experience a fast heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and mood swings.
Weeks One to Three
You may still struggle with insomnia after the first week, and you can expect to start experiencing depressive symptoms as well. The risk of seizures has passed for most people after the first few days of the withdrawal process.
After Week Three
Most symptoms will have faded, though sleeping can still be a problem. You may still experience some light and sound sensitivity, headaches, and depression.
Over time, the remaining symptoms are likely to pass, though you may still have cravings.
However, some people also experience protracted withdrawal symptoms that can last for months.
Medical detox can be an effective option for anyone addicted to Xanax or another benzodiazepine. Medical detox allows you to get 24/7 monitoring as you go through the withdrawal process, along with medications that can help you avoid the worst of the symptoms. These medications stabilize you and can lower your risk of relapsing.
To keep you comfortable and stable, there are a few medication options that can reduce distressing symptoms.
For some people, longer-acting benzodiazepines can help, including diazepam, clonazepam, and chlordiazepoxide. Antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can help with depression and anxiety during the withdrawal process.
Once you have undergone the detox process, you can choose the kind of treatment program that suits your needs best.
Residential treatment offers the highest level of care and can be a good option for people who are just starting their recovery and need continuous support.
Behavioral therapies are some of the best options to help you uncover the cause of the addiction while also teaching you how to manage stress and regulate your emotions. Therapists can teach you valuable skills to use when the desire to relapse arises.
Many treatment centers also provide access to group therapy, where you can hear from others about their experiences with addiction. To help you rebuild trust with loved ones, you can also participate in family therapy sessions.
Partial Hospitalization Program
A partial hospitalization program (PHP) allows you to get a level of care comparable to residential treatment but without having to stay at the facilities overnight. For people who have family and work responsibilities, a PHP can offer more flexibility.
During a PHP, you still have access to individual therapy sessions, but the required treatment hours are fewer. A PHP allows you to also put into practice the strategies you learn in therapy, applying them to real-life situations.
Many PHPs also provide group therapy and family therapy.
Intensive Outpatient Program
An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is similar to a PHP, letting you go home each night and requiring fewer hours. It is a good option for those whose active substance use disorder lasted a short time before they received help and who feel comfortable going through treatment without continuous monitoring.
You need to have a supportive home environment that does not provide easy access to drugs to be able to get the most out of this type of program.
An IOP can give you a chance to build your support system, encouraging you to attend group programs and engage with your community.
If you have successfully gone through the detox process and another type of treatment program or if you feel stable enough after detox to go back to your regular life, an aftercare program can offer continued support.
Aftercare programs provide individual therapy sessions and group and family therapy to help you manage challenges in relationships.
These programs can also help connect you to sober living options. If your home environment is not healthy, a sober living facility can support you as you transition from treatment to everyday life.
Often, addiction and mental health conditions go hand-in-hand. People with mental health conditions often turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to alleviate symptoms. But although drugs like Xanax can appear to help, they can make symptoms of mental illness worse because of the negative effects they have on brain chemistry. In other cases, a long-standing addiction can lead to mental illness because of the structural changes it makes to the brain.
If you have a co-occurring disorder, it can impact your recovery process, so treating both conditions at the same time is crucial. You can start making the necessary changes in your life by engaging in therapy sessions. Your provider can help you uncover the root cause of addiction and your mental health condition.
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