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How Fast Does a Xanax Dependency Happen? What to Do

Xanax (alprazolam) is most commonly used to treat symptoms of anxiety and panic disorders. Less common uses of Xanax include for the treatment of depression, agoraphobia, and premenstrual syndrome. Doctors have been quick to prescribe Xanax in the past because it is highly effective, and most people respond well to it.

Xanax belongs to the benzodiazepine class of drugs, and these drugs are central nervous system depressants. Benzodiazepines work by increasing the amount of GABA, a neurotransmitter, in your brain.

GABA helps to regulate messages of excitability that are sent throughout your nervous system. As GABA is increased, neural excitability is reduced, and you experience a general sense of calm.

Despite the effectiveness of Xanax, there are many serious risks of taking it for extended periods of time that are causing people to think twice about using it. Side effects caused by Xanax range in severity from mild discomfort caused by nausea and muscle aches and pains to hallucinations, memory problems, and seizures. One of the greatest risks of using Xanax, however, is the likelihood of developing physical and psychological dependence on the drug.

overdose on xanax

Xanax Use in the United States

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has been focusing efforts over the last few years on raising awareness about the dangers of benzodiazepines. The country’s opioid overdose epidemic has been in the spotlight for quite some time. Many people, however, may not realize the significant role that benzodiazepines play in this public health crisis as well.

According to NIDA, more than 30 percent of opioid overdoses also involve benzodiazepines. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions being filled in the U.S. increased by 67 percent, reaching 13.5 million prescriptions filled in 2013. In 2015, 23 percent of the people who suffered from a fatal opioid overdose also tested positive for benzodiazepines.

As the number of prescriptions for benzodiazepines, of which Xanax is the most commonly prescribed, continues to increase, so do rates of prescription drug misuse. Unfortunately, a large percentage of this misuse results in fatal overdoses.

Signs of Xanax Dependency

woman on bed suffering from xanax hangover

The simple answer to how long it takes for Xanax dependency to happen is that it depends. Each person responds to drugs differently.

Some people may be able to take Xanax for months without becoming dependent on it, while others will start to show signs of dependence after just a few weeks or less. Being conscious of any signs of dependency that start to present themselves, however, is essential for maintaining safe use of the drug.

Even when used as recommended by your doctor, it is possible to develop a dependency on Xanax. Physical dependence on a drug is a sign that your body has become adapted to functioning with that drug constantly in its system. Dependence does not necessarily indicate addiction, though, and it can be an expected outcome to extended use of a drug, such as Xanax.

The clearest way to know if you are dependent on Xanax is to stop taking the medication and see if you experience any withdrawal symptoms. Someone who is dependent on Xanax will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they stop the medication. Do not do this without first consulting your doctor.

People with a severe dependency who suddenly stop taking their medication may be at risk for dangerous withdrawal symptoms that include suicidal thoughts and life-threatening seizures.

Studies have found that people who have been taking more than 4 mg of Xanax per day are at an increased risk for developing dependency. Likewise, people who have been taking this amount of Xanax for more than 12 weeks are likely to develop dependency and experience subsequent withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking Xanax.

Xanax Withdrawal

Once someone has become dependent on Xanax, they will face withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication. The severity of withdrawal with vary depending on how long you have been using Xanax and the size of your doses as well as your own mental and physical response to the drug being metabolized completely out of your system.

Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Panic attacks
  • Changes in perception
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sweating
  • Tingling throughout your body
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

You can expect any combination of the above symptoms to start to show up within one to four days after your last dose as it is slowly eliminated from your body. The total withdrawal process, however, will last much longer.

The most acute withdrawal symptoms may last for a week or so, but many people report going through withdrawal for six to eight months. Psychological withdrawal symptoms could potentially last for months or years after you stop taking the medication.

sign for rehabilitation

Safest Ways to Treat Dependency

Due to the severity of potential withdrawal symptoms from Xanax, it is important to be very mindful about how you treat your dependency. This begins by speaking with your health care provider about your history of Xanax use and allowing them to make a thorough risk assessment for your level of dependency.

Researchers have identified multiple methods for proper management of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Safe ways to treat Xanax dependency include:

  • Gradual withdrawal or tapering. After assessing your current levels of Xanax use to get a baseline, your doctor can help establish a tapering schedule to slowly reduce the amount of Xanax you take over time. Recommended tapering speeds are no more than a 0.5 mg reduction every three days.
  • Maintenance treatment. This is a harm-reduction approach to addressing dependency, where individuals are placed on safer, longer-acting benzodiazepines that have a lower risk of addiction and overdose.
  • Combined with gradually reducing the dosage of Xanax, therapy greatly improves the experience of the withdrawal process and one’s ability to refrain from benzodiazepine use in the future.
  • This involves using other medicines, such as anticonvulsants, to monitor and relieve particularly difficult or dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Pharmacotherapy has also been found to help patients stick with the withdrawal process and experience greater positive outcomes following treatment.

In most cases, a combination of the above techniques is the most effective way to treat Xanax dependency.

It is most important, however, not to attempt to withdraw from Xanax on your own. It is likely to be a mentally and physically challenging process that can present dangerous symptoms. Seeking proper medical assistance ensures that you safely and effectively treat your dependency.

The Urgency of Addressing Dependency

Xanax is considered to be one of the most difficult prescription medications to quit, so it is important to address signs of dependency as soon as they arise. There are many well-established risks of long-term use of benzodiazepines that include dependency, addiction, falls, and cognitive decline. Addressing signs of dependency early will reduce your likelihood of developing any such complications down the road.

SOURCES

Alprazolam. (September 2017). U.S. Library of Medicine: Medline Plus.

Benzodiazepines: Addiction and Dependence. (June 2016). Verywell Mind.

Benzodiazepines and Opioids. (March 2018). National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Management of Benzodiazepine Misuse and Dependence. (October 2015). Australian Prescriber.

Xanax. (March 2017). RxList.

Xanax (Alprazolam) Withdrawal Symptoms + Timeline. (April 2014). Mental Health Daily.