Anxiety keeps you alive. That tingle in your spine before your job interview, the sweaty palms that hit you on a first date, or the butterflies in your stomach before a big speech — they all help you perform at your very best.
But what happens when anxiety hits you for no reason? And what if it sticks around for weeks?
Prescription medications like Xanax promise to help. They dampen electrical activity in the brain, so that fire of nervousness won’t spread.
There’s just one problem.
Xanax can cause persistent changes to brain cells. When that happens, you may depend on your drug. When you try to stop, you’ll develop withdrawal symptoms.
It may seem unfair that you’ll need to feel sick to get well. The length of your withdrawal is especially cruel, as you may feel unwell for months.
But your doctor can help to soothe your distress, so you can focus on a future without drugs. Together, you’ll create a plan. In time, as you follow the treatment process carefully, you can kick your Xanax habit for good.
Understand Your Withdrawal Risks
Xanax works incredibly well. It’s so effective, in fact, that your brain cells can grow dependent on it. The withdrawal symptoms you’ll feel are directly related to your body’s dependence on the transformation Xanax delivers.
Xanax is sedating, and in time, brain cells become accustomed to a slow and easy pace. When the drug is removed, those sleepy cells wake up and grow overwhelmed. They’re no longer accustomed to a quick pace. They enter a state of semi-panic, and that can spread across your brain in a ripple of electrical activity.
The World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day organization estimates that 50 to 80 percent of people who take drugs like Xanax for months will develop withdrawal symptoms. That statistic suggests that withdrawal is not only common, but it’s also expected.
If you develop withdrawal, researchers say you’ll experience the following:
- Anxiety, including panic attacks
- Inability to concentrate
- Nausea and weight loss
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Heart palpitations
Look closely at this list. All the symptoms listed here could be categorized as symptoms of nervousness or jitters. These are the sorts of feelings you tried to avoid by taking Xanax. When the drug is gone, they come back. Often, they’re even more powerful than they were before.
These symptoms can last up to two weeks, and in some people, they fade away. In others, they intensify.
Electrical activity causes your discomfort, and like an electrical storm, it can sweep through your brain and pick up power with each cell it touches. As time passes, that storm can grow so powerful that it takes over your central nervous system. Your tremors can turn into seizures, and your anxiety can shift into paranoia and hallucinations.
It’s not uncommon for people to attempt a cold-turkey withdrawal from Xanax and end up in the emergency room with psychiatric disturbances. It doesn’t have to be that way. One simple solution could help your body to heal without causing such distress.
Tapered Doses May Help
Cold-turkey withdrawal from Xanax is dangerous, and it’s not the only way to heal. With the help of your doctor, you can taper your dose and allow your body to adjust to smaller doses of Xanax.
Just as your brain adjusted to Xanax over time, a taper allows cells to learn what sobriety feels like. A typical schedule involves reducing your dose by 25 percent over several weeks, researchers say.
If you’re enrolled in a medical detox program, your team will bring your medications to you and watch you take them. Each day, you’ll get a little less until you’re not using any at all.
If you’re healing at home, you’ll need a helper. That person will:
- Protect. You’ll be tempted to cheat. Your helper can lock up your drugs, so you can’t take more than you’re prescribed.
- Measure. Each day, your helper can determine how much you should take and when you should take it.
- Watch. If you develop withdrawal symptoms, the taper is moving too fast. Your helper can tell your doctor if it happens.
- Motivate. Even with a taper, you’re likely to feel a little uncomfortable. It’s helpful to have someone you trust rooting for your recovery.
You can taper with Xanax, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only benzodiazepine available. It may be the most common drug, as prescriptions for Xanax increased 23 percent since 2006, but it’s not the only one. It may not even be the best drug to use this way.
Xanax is effective in sparking abuse because it works quickly and wears off fast. Other benzodiazepines don’t work that way. These drugs may release into the bloodstream slowly and stay present for hours. That muffled approach might give you long-lasting relief during a taper that you can’t get from Xanax.
Whether your doctor shifts you to another drug or you keep taking Xanax, you’ll need to stay in touch. These drugs require a prescription, and street dealers can’t be trusted with your recovery. Only your doctor can give you the exact medication at the precise dose you need.
Other Therapies Your Doctor Might Try
Swapping out your Xanax and supervising a taper is one of the best ways to keep severe discomfort away. But these aren’t the only tools your doctor has available to help you overcome a Xanax addiction.
Your doctor may also try:
- Antidepressants. A lack of Xanax can leave you with a crushing depression that won’t lift. Researchers say antidepressants can help to correct the chemical imbalance that causes those sad feelings, and that could help you to feel better.
- Talking. You will spend time in therapy during the next stage of your recovery. But during withdrawal, a few sessions with a mental health professional can help you understand and cope with your symptoms.
- Yoga. Sore muscles, anxiety, and nausea may all benefit from gentle stretches and focused breathing. Some people find that a yoga habit is incredibly helpful as they wean from Xanax.
- Support groups. Again, you’ll lean on this solution quite a bit during rehab, but it’s useful to start during detox. You’ll find out how other people cope with the symptoms, and you could get insights on solutions you can try.
- Nutrition. If you let healthy eating slide during your Xanax use, you may have vitamin, electrolyte, and protein imbalances that add to your discomfort. Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian, nutritionist, or other health professional to help you feel better.
It can take time to overcome the discomfort that comes with Xanax withdrawal, and you might feel like the process consumes most of every day.
It’s important to remember that you’re fighting for your health and your future. Your time isn’t wasted. When you’ve achieved your sobriety, you’ll understand that clearly.