Xanax Addiction: A Prescription For Dependence
Xanax: A Benzodiazepine
With the increased attention on opiates due to the epidemic of addiction to that type of drug, it itsn’t surprising that people are asking, “Is Xanax an opiate?” The answer to that question is no, but like opiates Xanax is a highly addictive drug. Xanax is a benzodiazepine, a class of central nervous system depressant drugs that are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders. Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, one specific benzodiazepine.
Other benzodiazepines examples include:
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Versed (midazolam)
Xanax (alprazolam) is an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine, with effects typically lasting between 6 and 11 hours. The drug has anxiolytic effects (reduces anxiety) and can also produce feelings of euphoria and disinhibition, which give it high potential for abuse and addiction. Other benzodiazepines side effects include:
- Memory problems
- Slurred speech
- Drowsiness & dizziness
- Poor balance or coordination
- Trouble concentrating
Xanax is prescribed in different doses and formulations. Xanax tablets range in dose from 0.25 mg to 3mg extended-release tablets (these triangular green Xanax pills are referred to as “hulk Xanax” on the street). 1 mg Xanax pills are typically blue and oblong, and are referred to as “blue footballs” on the street. 2mg Xanax pills are often called “bars” or “ladders” on the street and are white or yellow sticks with lines dividing 4 sections.
Xanax, and benzodiazepines in general, became the most-commonly prescribed drug for anxiety and insomnia precisely because of their low risk of overdose danger when compared to barbiturates. Xanax overdose is unlikely to occur when the medication is taken as prescribed. Even when it is abused, Xanax overdose rarely produces the life-threatening symptoms like respiratory depression. When Xanax is combined, however, with alcohol or other drugs like opiates overdose becomes much more likely and much more dangerous. Alcohol and Xanax overdose is a very serious medical risk that needs to be treated immediately.
In the case of a Xanax overdose, medical professionals may utilize a benzodiazepine antidote called flumazenil. Romazicon, the brand name for flumazenil, is the only benzodiazepine reversal agent available for treating benzodiazepine toxicity and is only available to medical professionals. Flumazenil does have side-effects, so medical professionals may opt to monitor a patient rather than administer the drug due to the Xanax’s relatively short half-life compared to other benzodiazepines half-life.
Whether taken as prescribed by a doctor or taken illicitly off the street, regular Xanax use can quickly turn into a Xanax addiction. Relative to other benzodiazepine addiction and dependence potential, studies have shown that Xanax has a higher “misuse liability”. In other words, Xanax is more likely to produce addiction than other benzodiazepines, and yet it is not only the most commonly-prescribed benzodiazepine – it is the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medication in the United States. “How long does it take to get addicted to Xanax?” is a complicated and frankly misguided question, but use periods as short as 1 week can produce discontinuation symptoms.
While long-term use of benzodiazepines like Xanax is not recommended, it is commonly practiced. Over long periods, even the lowest dose of one .25 mg Xanax a day can be addictive. One reason Xanax is so addictive is because it produces a more “complicated and, in some aspects, unique rebound anxiety compared with other benzodiazepine withdrawal” according to research. “Benzo rebound anxiety” is the temporary return of even greater anxiety symptoms after the discontinuation or reduction in dose of the drug. This rebound anxiety can last between 1-14 days.
Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
As mentioned above, Xanax does have some unique withdrawal symptoms, but it also produces all of the normal benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms that are listed. Many patients even complain of benzo withdrawal causing neuropathy. There are also several case reports of delirium and psychosis resulting from alprazolam withdrawal. As mentioned earlier, how much Xanax causes withdrawal depends on the period over which it is taken, but withdrawal symptoms can be experienced even when taken for periods as little as a week.
Many people ask, “How long do you have to take Xanax to have a seizure?” According to research, 15-44% of chronic benzodiazepine users experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms after as little as 3 to 6 weeks. Seizures would be considered a severe withdrawal symptom.
Because Xanax has a shorter half-life than many other benzodiazepines, withdrawals tend to come on quickly after cessation. The Xanax withdrawal timeline varies person to person, but the acute withdrawal phase will usually begin between 1 and 3 days after cessation and these withdrawal symptoms can last between 5 and 28 days. Many people also experience long-term effects known as protracted withdrawal symptoms, which can last 12 months or longer.
Complications from seizures like choking or head trauma pose the greatest risk for people trying to get off of Xanax. Although extremely rare, there have been reported cases of benzodiazepine withdrawal itself being fatal. So yes, you can die from Xanax withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms:
- Tremors and muscle spasms
- Increased heartrate and hyperventilation
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Hallucinations (auditory, visual, and tactile)
- Grand mal seizuers
Many times, those with no prior experience with detoxing from drugs will try to get off Xanax by asking their doctor to taper them off their dose. For lower doses and for people who have been taking Xanax for shorter periods of time, the manufacturer recommends a taper not to exceed 0.5 mg every 3 days. Even with tapers as long as 4 weeks though, 27% of patients reported rebound anxiety more severe than pre-treatment, and 35% had new physical withdrawal symptoms.
In patients where severe withdrawal symptoms are anticipated (patients on high doses, patients dependent on other substances as well, and patients who had high pre-treatment levels of anxiety, depression, or personality disorders) an inpatient treatment of 2 to 4 weeks or longer is typically recommended. Stopping Xanax cold-turkey or trying to figure out how to detox from Xanax at home are not suggested. The safest and most comfortable way to detox from Xanax is under the care of medical specialists at an inpatient drug detox. Give us a call to learn more about detox in Palm Beach.
Xanax Addiction Treatment
As discussed above, the first step to treating Xanax addiction is to provide a safe and comfortable medical detox. At an inpatient level of care, a doctor will begin to taper the dose of a patient’s Xanax or replace it with a more long-acting benzodiazepine and taper down off of that. During the taper, medical staff closely supervises a patient for adverse reactions. Most times, doctors will prescribe “comfort medications” that are non-narcotic but will help alleviate the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Some of these non-narcotic benzodiazepine withdrawal treatments include clonidine, carbamazepine, and gabapentin.
Because protracted withdrawal symptoms from Xanax can last months, after a drug detox is completed many patients step down to a residential treatment program. In a residential treatment program, patients are still monitored around the clock by medical staff who are ready to treat withdrawal symptoms, but they also can begin therapeutic sessions to begin undoing the psychological damage that the drug can do. At this point, patients will begin working on non-narcotic ways of managing the anxiety that they tried to treat with benzodiazepines. After stopping Xanax, doctors will often prescribe buspirone or other drugs like Xanax that are not addictive.
At 1 Solution Detox, we have the experience you need to stop Xanax addiction. Whether you were prescribed Xanax by a doctor or got it illicitly on the street, we are here to help you detox from Xanax and begin your recovery from addiction.