Xanax, a prescription medication known to treat anxiety and panic disorders, has become a widely abused substance for many due to its addictive nature and sedative effects. In fact, over 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involves benzodiazepines, like Xanax. Unfortunately, misconceptions about abuse potential, likelihood of tolerance and dependency, and side effects leave many people unaware of the possible consequences they may endure when starting this medication. As such, understanding potential risks, withdrawal symptoms, and how to get help is essential in making an informed decision on whether the temporary calming effect is worth the possible long-term health dangers.

How Xanax Works

Benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos”), such as Xanax, work to calm or sedate a person that struggles primarily with anxiety and panic attacks, although it can be prescribed as a muscle relaxant, as well. In order to have a calming, sedative effect on the user, Xanax slows down functions in the central nervous system that are responsible for functions such as heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature and concurrently raises the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Neurotransmitters are the communication chemicals in the brain that rely information to the body while GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for how calm or relaxed one feels. Essentially, when someone takes Xanax, brain activity is slowed down, resulting in a calmer, more relaxed state for the user.

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Side Effects of Xanax

Xanax can become addictive and, therefore, is not intended to be taken for long durations of time. However, because there is a misconception that Xanax has low potential for addiction and abuse, unfortunately, many people end up becoming dependent on this benzo.

Some common side effects of Xanax are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep problems (insomnia)
  • Memory problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of interest in sex

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Some more serious side effects that a doctor needs to be informed about are:

  • Depressed mood, thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself
  • Unusual risk taking behavior
  • Confusion, agitation, hostility, hallucinations
  • Pounding heartbeat or fluttering in the chest
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements, tremors, seizures, convulsions

Xanax can also interact with alcohol or other medications, especially those that cause drowsiness (cold or allergy medicine, sedatives, narcotic pain medicine, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers) or medicine for depression. Furthermore, Xanax can interact with birth control and has been shown to have possible damaging effects to a fetus and nursing infants and, therefore, should not be taken when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline of Detoxing off Xanax

Since Xanax has a very short half-life (it enters and exits the body relatively quickly) compared to other benzodiazepines, quitting cold turkey can have damaging effects to the brain and body. Therefore, it is essential that one seeks help from a trained medical professional who can safely taper the Xanax dosage to avoid any potential fatal adverse side effects for the user.

Some common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating or excessive perspiration
  • Headache
  • Weight loss/weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Muscle spasms or twitches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or soft stool
  • Heart palpitations or tachycardia
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Paranoia or fear
  • Irritability
  • Confusion or depression

The severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced varies greatly from person-to-person depending on factors such as the chemical makeup of the individual and the seriousness of the  addiction. Typically there is a progression of symptoms, from anxiety and insomnia to flu-like experiences. These symptoms are usually experienced within 6-12 hours after the last dose and can last for weeks or months (although usually only a week if a medical professional is assisting in the detox).

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A typical timeframe for withdrawal symptoms could look like:

  • Stage 1 (The Beginning): The drug is leaving the body within the first 6-12 hours after the last dose. Symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety are common during this stage.
  • Stage 2 (The Rebound): About one to four days after the last dose, flu-like symptoms may accompany the anxiety and insomnia. These symptoms usually lessen up around day four.
  • Stage 3 (The Downward Slope): Days 5-14, flu-like symptoms are typically gone, however, anxiety and insomnia are still common during this period of time.
  • Stage 4 (The Return): After day 14, the user typically returns back to normal functioning but may still have some lingering withdrawal symptoms.
How to Get Help When Detoxing off Xanax

As previously stated, detoxing off Xanax with professional medical help is highly recommended in order to ensure detox is approached safely and with minimal withdrawal symptoms for the user. As such, detoxing in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center can be most beneficial since it offers the additional, hands-on medical help one needs to transition from Xanax dependency to sobriety. Through counseling, support group meetings, and other forms of therapy, one can develop the skills needed to maintain sobriety long-term and a drug-free life that one deserves.

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