Need to Quit Xanax? You Are Not Alone
Xanax is an effective way to reduce anxiety for people suffering from a variety of psychological ailments. It is the most commonly prescribed psychiatric drug in America, with 44 million prescriptions written each year.
Xanax is also one of the most abused prescription drugs in the US. It is especially preferred by people who abuse more than one drug at a time, especially opioids and alcohol.
Because it’s one of the most-abused drugs out there, Xanax addiction is one of the best-understood in terms of knowing the right and the wrong way to get yourself free from its grip. Detailed withdrawal guidelines are well-documented in respected medical references such as the Ashton Manual.
Here are the most important things you need to know about how to stop using Xanax, for good:
You Must Taper-Down
Quitting benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Klonopin and Ativan after months of use is not something you should do too fast. Stopping cold-turkey can cause serious health issues, including:
- Seizures and hallucinations: these can develop within 12 to 24 hours after quitting. Seizures are potentially deadly.
- “DTs” (delirium tremens). Symptoms include including hallucinations, disorientation, irregular heartbeat, hypertension, fever and agitation.
Quitting cold-turkey sometimes works for other drugs like pot and cocaine, but the best way to withdraw from Xanax is to taper-down your use slowly, gradually reducing dosage over time. If you don’t do that, you risk serious injury or even death.
To eliminate or reduce Xanax withdrawal symptoms, many professionals also recommend replacing or augmenting your current medication with a longer-acting benzodiazepines like Valium while you wean yourself down your current drug. In a survey of BenzoBuddies.org members taken last year, 20% of people who tried to withdraw from benzos used Valium assistance. Of the ones who used Valium, 59% had successfully withdrawn.
Don’t Go Too Fast
According to DrugAbuse.gov, research indicates that most people suffering from benzodiazepine addiction need at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their drug use. The best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.
Another time-related issue that long-term users sometimes experience when they quit benzos like Xanax is a sudden, harsh withdrawal following their last, tiny dose. This is because they weaned themselves off too fast. It’s not good, because it almost guarantees relapse.
For example, consider what Carol Brainerd, 63, of Red Bluff, California went through right after she took her last Xanax pill:
“I did OK until I got to the very last bit, the last quarter milligram. I stopped taking it, thinking it was a very small dose, and the s— hit the fan.”
After 30 years on the drugs, she had experienced only insomnia and anxiety. Now an entire list of symptoms was plaguing her life.
“I was pretty much couch-bound. It felt like a 24-hour case of a bad flu, body aches, sound sensitivity,” she said. “Just the idea of leaving my house was difficult.” She was so sensitive to sound that someone coughing would make her jump. Fluorescent lights wreaked havoc on her eyes. Her thinking was so clouded, a phenomenon called cog fog, she didn’t realize it was withdrawal.
“After three days, I was ready for the emergency room,” she said. “I took a tiny bit of Xanax and all the symptoms went away. So I knew I wasn’t done.”
Patience is key.
Make sure you get professional medical advice regarding the time frame you’ll need to wean yourself off of Xanax.
Complete Recovery Takes Even Longer
While you should be able to completely wean yourself off of Xanax in a few weeks, ridding your mind and body completely free from the effects of the drug may take longer than you expect.
In a recent survey of almost 500 users who had successfully quit benzos, 96% report experiencing withdrawal symptoms for an average of 14 months after quitting.
Be prepared for this reality.
Why It’s Hard To Stop Taking Xanax
Most people who are dependent on Xanax avoid quitting because they fear what will happen to their life if/when the inevitable anxiety, sleeplessness and withdrawal symptoms kick-in.
In truth, it is reasonable to expect a loss of productivity and mood issues to appear when you quit Xanax. So, prepare your loved ones and co-workers for it.
But keep in mind, it only takes a few days for your brain to wean itself off of short-term benzos like Xanax (see chart), so most of the drug should be out of your system in days.
First withdrawal symptoms typically hit within hours of quitting and may last for weeks. The intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms depend on how long you’ve been using Xanax, your dosage, whether you are weaning yourself off of the drug or quitting cold-turkey, whether you are using a drug to assist with withdrawals, and your body chemistry.
In other words, determining the right wean-down schedule can be complicated. That’s why we suggest speaking with a medical professional to plan your exit.
Due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms and the likelihood it will disrupt your life, it is important to have a strong support network during withdrawal and to be as physically fit as possible.
If your family and friends have experience helping others through drug addiction recovery, then definitely ask them for help.
That said, support from family and friends may not be the best option for you. If so, there are three other places you can go for support.
Where To Find Support for Xanax Addiction Recovery
For some people, self-discipline and a good doctor is all they need to wean themselves off of tranquilizers.
But for many (most?) people, having a strong support network in place is critical to avoid relapse. There are three places they can find this support:
- Professional medical support: get the advice and support of your primary care physician; check in to an outpatient rehab program; or, admit yourself to an inpatient treatment facility. If you’ve been doing other drugs in addiction to Xanax, then you definitely need to speak with a doctor before trying to quit.
- Local support groups like Narcotics Anonymous are a great place to find a local support buddy who can help keep you straight when you feel an urge to relapse. N.A. is also a great resource for family and friends to learn how to support loved ones in recovery.
- Online support groups (like this site). Online groups are perfect for doing anonymous research and getting personal feedback on your issues. You can also help others through their struggle by sharing your own story. Here are the three best support groups we know of:
Benzo Buddies: with over 1.6 million posts in their forum, Benzo Buddies is by far the most comprehensive and active resource on benzo addiction and withdrawal on the web. Unfortunately, it’s not mobile-friendly.
Benzo Support: great site with tons of detailed information.
MD Junction: not very active, but lots of information.
3 Steps To Permanent Recovery
Once you have a support network lined-up, there are three basic steps every person suffering from Xanax addiction needs to go through to quit benzos and accomplish permanent recovery:
- detoxify the body
- recovery counseling
The detoxification process involves weaning benzodiazepines out of body in a safe manner. This is best done under the care of a physician trained to help quit benzos and/or prescription drug addiction.
Recovery counseling for addiction helps the patient relate their drug abuse to the damage it has caused to their lives, their careers and their relationships. It also teaches the user healthier ways of dealing with the emotional reasons behind their dependence. Generally speaking, you’ll get the best counseling from a trained mental health or addiction recovery professional.
Finally, self-help includes learning various life skills and tactics to help you avoid relapse.
When all three of these steps are done via a professional recovery program, the patient has a better chance of permanent recovery.
After you’ve ended treatment, in-person support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and online support groups like this one can serve as a sounding board to help you stay clean and sober, for the long term.