Xanax, a prescription medication for anxiety and panic disorders, has become a widely abused substance for many due to its addictive nature and sedative effects. In 2020, over 16 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines, like Xanax. Unfortunately, misconceptions about abuse potential, the likelihood of tolerance and dependency, and side effects leave many people unaware of the possible consequences they may endure when starting this medication. 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. However, it can be prescribed as a muscle relaxant as well. To have a calming, soothing 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 relay information to the body, while GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for how calm or relaxed one feels. So essentially, when someone takes Xanax, brain activity is slowed, resulting in a calmer, more relaxed state for the user.
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 a low potential for addiction and abuse, many people become dependent on this benzo.
Some common side effects of Xanax are:
- Sleep problems (insomnia)
- Memory problems
- Slurred speech
- Trouble concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Appetite or weight changes
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of interest in sex
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 on a fetus and nursing infants. Therefore, it 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 damage the brain and body. Therefore, one must seek 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
- Weight loss/weight gain
- Convulsions or seizures
- Muscle spasms or twitches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea or soft stool
- Heart palpitations or tachycardia
- Anxiety or panic
- Paranoia or fear
- 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. Sometimes, they can last for weeks or months (although usually only a week if a medical professional is assisting in the detox).
A typical timeframe for withdrawal symptoms could look like this:
- Stage 1 (The Beginning): The drug leaves 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 around day four.
- Stage 3 (The Downward Slope): On days 5-14, flu-like symptoms are typically gone. However, anxiety and insomnia are still common during this time.
- Stage 4 (The Return): After day 14, the user typically returns to normal functioning but may still have lingering withdrawal symptoms.
How to Get Help When Detoxing off Xanax
It bears repeating that detoxing off Xanax with professional medical help is highly recommended to ensure detox is approached safely and with minimal withdrawal symptoms for the user. Therefore, detoxing in a rehabilitation center is ideal since it offers the additional, individualized 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.
If you or a loved one are seeking drug or alcohol rehabilitation, reach out to our team of professionals. Our rehab centers in Austin and Central Texas provide a safe, healing space to start your recovery journey.
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- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Benzodiazepines and Opioids. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published April 21, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
- Cunha JP. Side Effects of Xanax (Alprazolam), Warnings, Uses. RxList. Published March 11, 2021. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://www.rxlist.com/xanax-side-effects-drug-center.htm
- Sachdev P. Flutter, thump, bump: facts about tachycardia. WebMD. Published April 28, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/atrial-fibrillation/what-are-the-types-of-tachycardia