Xanax Detox: Can I Do It Myself?
Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and convulsions. Xanax works rapidly and has a relatively low level of toxicity on the human body when used in the short-term. Xanax ceases to be effective after just a few weeks or months of use and is incredibly addictive.
Although the duration of the noticeable effects of Xanax can be as short as a few hours, the drug can remain in the body for some time and influence body functions. These more subtle influences become apparent when a patient attempts to withdraw from taking Xanax. All benzodiazepines enhance the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which slows or ceases neuron firing, or will actually replace GABA at the neuro receptors. GABA is the body’s own natural tranquilizer and, when enhanced by Xanax, acts to reduce alertness, memory, muscle tone and co-ordination, anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure.
When too much Xanax is taken, however, the body becomes over-sedated and drowsiness and poor concentration can result. Too much of the drug can also impair memory and can actually increase anxiety, insomnia and irritability. Long-term users of Xanax often develop depression, most likely due to a decrease in the amount of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain.
Like all benzodiazepines, tolerance develops with prolonged use – the original dose has less of an effect and a higher dose is required. Withdrawal symptoms can occur even if the patient continues to take the drug. Long-term use may actually exacerbate anxiety disorders, resulting in panic attacks or agoraphobia, due to the development of tolerance to the anti-anxiety effects of the drug.
A patient who is addicted to Xanax cannot stop cold turkey. Rather, he must be gradually weaned off the drug. Unfortunately, primary care physicians are typically not properly trained in addiction medicine; they often add to the problem by prescribing Xanax for anxiety without understanding how addictive it can be.
Because each person will experience different, and potentially life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms, withdrawal from Xanax should be supervised by a trained addiction specialist. Once a person has acknowledged the need for Xanax detox, he must then decide what level of help he needs in order to be successful. The addiction specialist plays an important role in helping to identify the pros and cons of different treatment options. Although many Xanax users will benefit from a residential drug rehab program, not all users will have the time or resources necessary to embark on such a journey. However, other options do exist such as short-term detox in a detox facility or adherence to a Xanax detox tapering plan drafted by an addiction specialist. In addition to Xanax detox, a course of behavioral therapy may help deal with the underlying issues that initially caused the patient’s anxiety.
If detox will not occur in a supervised setting, the most successful self-detox tapering plans involve asking a trusted friend or family member to maintain control of the medication in order to avoid increasing the dosage again if uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms do occur. However, this unsupervised tapering method has many risks and a very low chance of success due to the intense nature of cravings and the many ways an addict can obtain the drug regardless of how well friends and family can monitor them.
No matter what type of Xanax detox is chosen, the first step is taking an honest inventory of both the amount of Xanax and the rate at which it is being consumed. From this inventory, a schedule of slow dosage tapering must be created, as abrupt withdrawal can lead to convulsions, psychosis, and severe anxiety. The withdrawal could take several months in order to gradually reduce the amount of Xanax in the blood and tissues, allowing the brain to return to its pre-Xanax state. Since Xanax has actually taken the place of GABA to some extent, these receptors must be allowed to regenerate as GABA inactivity can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. Just how long it will take to withdraw from Xanax depends on dosage, length of use, personality, lifestyle and the body’s rate of healing. Many long-term users can take over a year to successfully stop using Xanax, although initial detox can happen much more quickly.
Withdrawal from Xanax can cause serious injury or death if not done correctly and a consultation with a trained addiction specialist is absolutely essential at the outset of detox. Tapering by very small amounts over a prolonged period of time tends to have the most long-lasting results as patients are less likely to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that often result in abandonment of the detox and reverting back to larger doses. Only a trained professional can determine the appropriate amount of tapering for a particular patient.
Many addiction specialists recommend switching to a long-acting benzodiazepine (such as Valium) during Xanax withdrawal. This allows the body to experience a smooth and gradual reduction of benzodiazepine in the blood, reducing the occurrence of withdrawal symptoms. The switch to a longer-acting benzo happens in concert with the Xanax tapering schedule so that when Xanax levels decrease Valium levels increase. Once the patient has withdrawn from Xanax, a tapering schedule must be created to help the patient withdraw from the Valium. Again, only an addiction professional familiar with the relative potencies of these drugs is qualified to develop the dosage and tapering schedules.