Xanax is a drug that doctors often prescribe for panic, anxiety or sleeping disorders. It makes people feel more calm and drowsy because it slows down signals in the brain. Because of these effects, people often take it recreationally in combination with stimulant drugs or other “uppers.” Once a person starts taking it, it can be hard to stop. Xanax can lead to dependence and addiction.
When a person is dependent on a drug, their body becomes used to having it around in order to function normally. When they stop taking the drug, they will experience withdrawal symptoms. Although these symptoms might be a little different for each person, many people will experience a similar Xanax withdrawal timeline in which the symptoms appear and disappear following certain patterns. People who take Xanax at high doses or for longer periods of time often develop a stronger dependence on the drug, have a harder time stopping or reducing their use and experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. If someone continues to take Xanax, they may become addicted and continue to take the drug despite having negative consequences.
When Does Xanax Withdrawal Start?
Xanax withdrawal starts as the drug is processed and removed from the body. The concentration of Xanax in the blood peaks 1-2 hours after it is taken. The average half-life in healthy adults is 11.2 hours, which means that half of the drug is gone from the body approximately 11 hours after it is taken. Xanax withdrawal symptoms may start occurring around this time, as the drug concentration in the body continues to decrease. The total length of time for Xanax withdrawal is different from person to person but often lasts for a few weeks.
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline
The general timeline of Xanax withdrawal symptoms often follows certain patterns:
- 6-12 hours: Physical symptoms of Xanax withdrawal may start during this period as the drug is cleared from the body. Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, so it is metabolized and removed from the body more quickly than some other drugs in this category.
- 1-4 days: Withdrawal symptoms most often appear 1-2 days after a person takes their last dose. Some people have flu-like symptoms during Xanax withdrawal, including muscle aches, sweating, nausea and loss of appetite. Other physical symptoms may include shaking, headaches, blurred vision, diarrhea and vomiting. An early and potentially dangerous symptom within the Xanax withdrawal timeline is seizures. These are most likely to happen within the first 24-72 hours. Seizures have been reported both for people who have been taking high doses as well as for those who have been taking low doses, and have occurred both when people have gradually tapered off of Xanax and when people have stopped using it suddenly.
- 5-14 days: Acute Xanax withdrawal symptoms usually continue during this period. In addition to physical symptoms, people will also likely experience mental symptoms such as increased sensitivity to sights and sounds, problems sleeping, trouble focusing, anxiety, irritability, aggression and depression. People are less at risk for seizures during this phase.
- Up to 1 month: Symptoms usually last for 2-4 weeks, although some people may have an even longer Xanax withdrawal time. Physical symptoms will generally decrease first, but people may continue to have problems with their mood and sleeping patterns.
- More than 1 month: People who started taking Xanax for a panic disorder or insomnia often have their symptoms return. Some may even have more frequent or more severe panic attacks once they stop taking Xanax. These Xanax withdrawal symptoms can last long-term, for several months or more.
How Long Do Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
Some patients who started taking the drug because of mental health issues experience lasting symptoms like panic attacks, tiredness, rapid heart rate and suicidal thoughts once they stop taking Xanax. In some cases, people have worse anxiety than they did before they started taking the drug. It’s not always clear whether these are withdrawal symptoms, or if they are an indication that the person’s original disorder is returning. Xanax symptoms may last several months. In these cases, taking a different benzodiazepine can help. Other medications in this category, such as diazepam, have similar effects but are less likely to cause abuse, dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms may not last as long if a person is making sure to take care of themselves while they are experiencing symptoms. People can eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. They can also talk to their doctor about ways to treat symptoms. For example, it may be possible to relieve pains and aches with over-the-counter painkillers.
Factors Affecting Xanax Withdrawal Duration
Drug withdrawal can be longer or more severe based on several factors. A person’s genetics and overall physical and mental health can play a role, as does their age, sex or race. Additionally, if a person has a history of substance abuse, or if someone in their family has struggled with drug or alcohol addiction, they may be more likely to form a stronger dependence on a substance and have a longer duration of Xanax withdrawal.
When people use Xanax at doses above 4 mg per day, or when they use Xanax regularly over a long period of time, the duration of Xanax withdrawal symptoms may be longer and symptoms can be more severe. More severe symptoms like seizures are also more likely for people who suddenly stop taking Xanax or who don’t taper their dose slowly enough.
Tapering Off Xanax to Reduce Withdrawal Time
Gradually tapering off Xanax, rather than suddenly stopping taking the drug, is the safest way to stop using Xanax. It reduces the chance that someone will have a seizure. Some medical professionals recommend that the daily dose should be decreased by 0.5 mg or less every three days. However, some patients may need to have their dose decreased even more slowly in order to reduce the overall Xanax withdrawal time and prevent symptoms from occurring.
Tapering should always be done with the help of a doctor who can manage symptoms and adjust the tapering schedule as needed. If patients experience withdrawal symptoms, doctors may recommend that the person go back to their previous Xanax dose until they become more stable.
If you are experiencing symptoms whenever you try to stop or reduce your Xanax use, it may be a good idea to talk to a medical professional about how to go through withdrawal safely. The Orlando Recovery Center can help people not only manage withdrawal but also learn how to develop new habits that can reduce the chances that a person will use again. Call us today to learn more!
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World Health Organization. “Withdrawal Management.” Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings, 2009. Accessed November 1, 2019.
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