Understanding Xanax Withdrawal

People who take Xanax, especially those who take the drug in large doses or for a longer period than initially prescribed, run the risk of developing a dependence. These people also increase their likelihood of suffering from withdrawal.

Withdrawal occurs when a person who is physically dependent on Xanax suddenly stops taking it. Without Xanax, a dependent person can’t function or feel normal, and they often experience physical pain and psychological disturbances.

Xanax has a very short half-life, which is a fancy way of saying that it goes into and out of the body very quickly. This property appears to make Xanax even more likely to cause emotional and physical dependency than other Benzodiazepines. The short half-life means people will often start withdrawing from Xanax between scheduled doses, which tends to powerfully reinforce their psychological dependency of the medication.

- Dr. Charles Raison, CNNHealth, 2011

People who have taken Benzodiazepines in high doses or for a long period of time generally have more intense withdrawal symptoms.

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Xanax is only intended for short-term use because it has a higher addiction potential than many other Benzodiazepines. Some people have experienced withdrawal symptoms after taking Xanax for only a few weeks—sometimes even on their prescribed dose. However, those who abuse the drug for longer or in large doses may experience more severe side effects, like hallucinations and seizures.

Withdrawal symptoms occur suddenly and usually begin a few hours after a person’s last dose. The most common and/or severe symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle pain and stiffness

Rebound Symptoms

Those who were prescribed Xanax for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or insomnia can experience rebound symptoms after quitting use of the drug. Rebound effects are intensified symptoms of a pre-existing psychological disorder and may include anxiety, panic attacks, and inability to sleep. These rebound symptoms usually fade away after about a week, but the underlying disorder often requires specialized treatment.

Duration Of Withdrawal

Xanax is a short-acting Benzodiazepine, so its effects are felt sooner and are over quicker than most Benzos. Withdrawal starts as soon as the body and brain are deprived of the drug. Therefore, withdrawal can start in as little as a few hours and usually last for little more than a week.

A number of factors influence how long Xanax withdrawal takes. These include:

  • The length of time the user took Xanax
  • The average dose they regularly took
  • How frequently they took Xanax
  • Whether or not they combined Xanax with alcohol or other drugs
  • The user’s mental health and medical history

In some cases, symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may appear up to two years after giving the drug up. This phenomenon is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), or protracted withdrawal. Symptoms of PAWS are apparent for up to 18-24 months after detox. They slowly decrease in severity and frequency throughout the recovery process.  Common symptoms of PAWS for Xanax include:

  • Persistent anxiety
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Aches and pains
  • Difficulty performing complex tasks
  • Poor concentration
  • Sexual problems
  • Depression

Xanax Withdrawal Timeline

6-12 Hours

Within six hours, the effects of Xanax wear off and the effects of withdrawal start taking over.

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Days 1-4

The symptoms of withdrawal are most intense within the first 4 days.

  • Anxienty
  • Insomnia
  • Shaking
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Panic attacks

Days 5-14

Withdrawal symptoms can last for up to two weeks after stopping use.

  • Mild anxiety
  • Mild insomnia

Days 15+

Any lingering symptoms should be mild.

  • Anixety
  • Some minor withdrawal symptoms can return

Xanax Detox

Detoxing from Xanax can be a long process. Because Xanax can produce severe withdrawal symptoms, quitting “cold turkey” is not recommended. Tapering down use is the safest, and most effective, way to detox from Xanax and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Tapering off Xanax involves gradually cutting back on the dosage of the drug over a period of time. In some cases, a doctor may recommend switching to a less potent Benzodiazepine with a longer half-life, like Klonopin, to taper off use. Detox from Xanax should always be done under the supervision of a professional.

Following a sudden withdrawal or even too-rapid taper, the brain thinks it’s being injured, so it marshals all these other mechanisms to try and mitigate these reactions…fatigue, disorientation, malaise, severe panic and startle reactions, nerve pain, muscle aches, short-term memory loss. Xanax withdrawal especially can be dangerous, even fatal, which is why you need a slow, individualized taper.

- Dr. Peter Madill, Huffington Post, 2015

Medically-assisted detox is the most effective way to get clean and avoid health complications. Medical detox programs keep patients comfortable and minimize the effects of withdrawal. This is the safest method of detox, as doctors are close by in the event that withdrawal symptoms become life-threatening.

Treatment For Xanax Addiction

If you’re taking more Xanax than before to feel the same effects, it’s likely that you will experience symptoms of withdrawal if you stop taking the drug. The sudden and intense effects of withdrawal from Xanax require a carefully supervised, medical detox.

Many inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer detox as the first step in treatment. These programs can help Xanax users beat their physical dependence on the drug, while also addressing the psychological side of addiction. Getting treatment for Xanax addiction can give you a chance at recovery.

For help finding a treatment program, contact a treatment provider today.