Guide to Xanax Addiction Treatment

in Drug Insights
Published Oct 1, 2020
xanax addiction treatment

This is a comprehensive guide to Xanax (alprazolam) addiction treatment that includes key facts about Xanax use, risk factors for substance use disorder, signs to watch out for, Xanax detox and withdrawal symptoms, how to treat addiction to Xanax, and the next steps to take.

What is Xanax?

Xanax (also known by its generic name, alprazolam) belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines (sometimes called “benzos”). They are prescription tranquilizers and sedatives that are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Benzodiazepines work to calm or help a person sleep by raising the level of neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Common benzos include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), temazepam (Restoril), and triazolam (Halcion).

Xanax is used specifically for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders (sudden, unexpected attacks of extreme fear and worry about these attacks). It is also prescribed to patients to treat depression, fear of open spaces (agoraphobia), and premenstrual syndrome. As with any benzodiazepine, due to its sedative effect Xanax is prone to misuse. Taking it for prolonged periods may increase the chances of dependence and can cause withdrawal symptoms when the drug is stopped.

Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine that can act within 15 to 30 minutes of taking the drug. It  also increases the presence of certain neurochemicals (GABA), slows down the heart rate and blood pressure, and produces feelings of calm, sedation, and relaxation. As with most benzodiazepines, Xanax is usually prescribed for short periods because higher doses can lead to developing tolerance to the drug. 

Facts and statistics about benzodiazepine use

While Xanax can be effective at managing anxiety, panic disorders, and other conditions, taking it for reasons other than what it was prescribed for increases the risk of addictiona risk associated with taking any benzodiazepine. Given that Xanax can be easily crushed and snorted for a quick high, it makes it an easy target for abuse. 

Benzodiazepine use as a whole is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 30 percent of drug overdoses involving opioids also include benzodiazepine use. NIDA reported that between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) stated that benzodiazepines use is highest among 50-64 year olds. Men are more likely to misuse benzodiazepines than women.

Causes & risk factors of taking Xanax

The effects of long-term benzodiazepine use include depression, disinhibition, impaired memory and cognitive skills such as response times and coordination, brain damage, and increased risk of car crashes and even hip fractures. They are also prone to misuse. Continued use of Xanax (beyond two weeks) can lead to increased tolerance and dependence, causing the person to take more than is clinically indicated in order to feel the euphoric effects. Despite the negative consequences on work, home, and relationships, individuals will still continue to favor the drug. Once dependence occurs, patients will experience side effects, some of which are severe and even life-threatening.

The APA stated that the main reason for misuse is to relax or relieve tension, and to help sleep. 

Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke says that physicians “tend to overestimate the benefits” of benzodiazepines. “Long-term use can make insomnia, mood, and anxiety worse.” Those who take benzodiazepines regularly and for a prolonged period of time, risk “dependence, addiction, cognitive damage, more falls, and death,” Lembke contends. 

Due to its risk of physical and psychological dependence — especially in people prone to substance or alcohol use disorder — and how it works in the body, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings for Xanax. In particular, the FDA warns that doctors should be mindful of prescribing the drug in conjunction with opioids or other sedating medications. While the FDA also warns of the increased adverse effects of using any benzodiazepines with medication-assisted treatment drugs (such as buprenorphine and methadone), they concluded that the benefits of treating opioid addiction outweigh the increased risks of drug interactions. 

Symptoms & diagnosis of addiction to benzos

Prolonged use of Xanax can lead to increased tolerance and dependence, causing a person to take more than is clinically indicated in order to feel the euphoric effects. Sometimes, in the case of addiction, they can favor the euphoric effects over the consequences of taking an excess of this drug, for example to their home life and relationships. Once dependence occurs, patients experience side effects, some of which are severe. 

Side effects of continued Xanax use include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased salivation
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Changes in appetite
  • Nausea, constipation
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Joint pain

 

In some cases, severe side effects can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinating
  • Confusion
  • Problems with speech
  • Severe skin rash
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Memory problems
  • Changes to mood and behavior
  • Problems with coordination or balance.

 

If any of these effects are experienced, the person should seek medical assistance immediately.

Xanax detox & withdrawal

Once a person stops using Xanax, a period of adjustment called withdrawal follows. It can be distressing both physically and psychologically, as the body and brain need time to adjust and recover. During this period, it is recommended that a person detoxing seek help from medically trained professionals and a recovery support system. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be severe, even dangerous, if the drug is stopped too abruptly.

How long does Xanax withdrawal last?

Xanax has a short elimination or half-life (6 to 20 hours); therefore, withdrawal typically begins within six to 12 hours of the last dose. This timeframe is determined by the dosage, period of use, and whether a person has been taking longer-acting Xanax. Symptoms may include increased heart rate and blood pressure, agitation, insomnia, anxiety, and changes to appetite. 

The acute phase of withdrawal, known as benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, is said to last between five and 28 days. The person usually experiences a peak of severity around one to two weeks post-withdrawal, after which symptoms return to a pre-withdrawal phase. In some cases, the person may experience a protracted withdrawal (also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or “PAWS,” for short), which lasts for months and sometimes years. In most cases, Xanax withdrawal lasts up to three months.

What are the symptoms of Xanax withdrawal?

Stopping benzodiazepine medications without professional intervention, such as medical detox, can cause a number of unpleasant and prolonged side effects. Because of the nature of benzodiazepines, which alter the brain’s chemistry causing things to slow down, ceasing long-term benzodiazepine use can cause too dramatic a change in brain activity, leading to unpleasant side effects.

In addition to the above side effects, withdrawal symptoms mimic that of benzodiazepine withdrawal, which include:

  • headache
  • anxiety
  • tension
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • restlessness
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • sweating
  • rebound phenomenon (where one loses control over a coordinated movement)
  • feelings of unease
  • dizziness 
  • derealization (feeling like one’s surroundings are not real)
  • depersonalization (when thoughts and feelings seem unreal, or not belonging to oneself)
  • hearing sensitivity 
  • numbness/tingling of extremities 
  • hypersensitivity to light noise, and physical contact/perceptual changes 
  • involuntary movements 
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite
  • hallucinations/delirium 
  • convulsions/seizures (more common in patients with pre-existing seizure disorders, or who are taking drugs, such as antidepressants, which lower the threshold for seizures)
  • tremor 
  • abdominal cramps 
  • muscle pain 
  • agitation 
  • tachycardia 
  • panic attacks 
  • vertigo
  • short-term memory loss 
  • abnormal body temperature

 

PAWS symptoms include depression, anxiety, insomnia, perceptual symptoms such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus), tingling, numbness and pain in hands and feet, motor symptoms (muscle pain, weakness, tension, painful tremor, shaking attacks, jerks, spasms), and gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps).

Risks of home detox

In this instance, detox is the process of stopping using substance and detoxifying the body, at home without medical intervention. Due to the number of health risks associated with home detox, it is not advised by medical professionals. It can be particularly dangerous to suddenly stop drinking or taking drugs cold turkey, rather than tapering off.

Home detox is rarely successful because the side effects of stopping are so unpleasant that the risk of relapse is high.

It is strongly advised by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to seek professional intervention, especially if the person has been using substances persistently, to ensure they overcome risks of home detox.

“For alcohol, sedative-hypnotic, and opioid withdrawal syndromes, hospitalization or some form of 24-hour medical care is generally the preferred setting for detoxification, based upon the principles of safety and humanitarian concerns.” SAMHSA Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment Improvement Protocol, TIP 45

Again, there are a number of risks with home detox—particularly in the cases of alcohol and benzodiazepines. Medically-monitored detox centers are a crucial aspect of the recovery process. They ensure that the person is treated safely and also reduce the risk of complications that might arise from the detox process. According to SAMHSA, almost 80 percent of professional detoxification uses medication to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Xanax addiction treatment 

There are various types of benzodiazepine detox, depending on the severity of use. Medical experts advise that for any kind of Xanax dependency, people should not discontinue the drug too early. Instead, a successful withdrawal strategy should be implemented, including a medically-monitored detox. Ensuring sufficient medical and therapeutic support and effective withdrawal management reduces the risk of protracted withdrawal. 

A medically supervised detox occurs in an inpatient medical detox center or hospital. The benefits of admission are that medically trained professionals are able to closely monitor a person’s progress, administer any medications when necessary, and provide a safe and comfortable environment for the often painful and difficult process of withdrawal.

The Gallus Method of Xanax detox

Gallus Medical Detox provides the comfort of a residential facility, but with clinical expertise that is far superior to most detox facilities. We offer safe, effective, and personalized treatment. In fact, we are so proud of our proprietary method that we named it The Gallus Method.

The key features of Gallus Medical Detox include:

  • Individual treatment plans, with a focus on personalized sobriety
  • Psychological, physical, and social assessments
  • IV Therapy Program
  • 24/7 medical supervision
  • Cardiac telemetry and video technology
  • Ongoing adjustments to treatment plans in order to suit our patients’ needs
  • An individual aftercare plan identifying resources and next steps toward a long-term recovery

 

Gallus also offers a unique outpatient benzodiazepine taper support program with medical supervision, MD visits, and individual therapy.

We have addiction treatment centers in Arizona and Colorado, with more opening in coming months.

What our patients say about Gallus Medical Detox

Our patients are the best judge of the quality of our care. Here is what they have to say:

“This place is nothing short of exceptional!”

“I can’t be more pleased, impressed, and grateful with the entire Gallus team.”

“I cannot express in words my deep appreciation for the kindness and very individualized care delivered by motivated and professional caregivers.”

“My stay in this facility was by far the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced. The staff was extremely thoughtful, warm, and informative. Thank you very kindly, everyone.”

Next steps

While detox is usually the first step in recovery, it’s not a cure for addiction. Immediately following detox, behavioral therapy and other addiction treatments should occur while the person is ready to engage in recovery. You might find our blog Vital Steps to Take After Detox helpful. 

For more information on benzodiazepine treatment, click here.