A Guide to Xanax Detox and Withdrawal

Alprazolam or Xanax is a medication doctors prescribe to treat anxiety. However, the drug is commonly misused on the streets with often dangerous health effects. The drug is addictive, and high-dose or long-term users can experience severe symptoms if they try to detox from it without professional medical help. 1

How Does Xanax Work?

Xanax belongs to a family of medicines called benzodiazepines. Some people call them benzos for short. Other medications in this category include Valium, Klonopin, and Ativan. 1 The FDA approved Xanax for prescribing in 1981. The drug was originally intended for short-term use only. People can find themselves physically dependent upon it if not taken as prescribed or if they must remain on it for longer than a few weeks.

Xanax works by acting on the central nervous system to increase the amount of brain-slowing chemicals known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The increased amount of GABA has sedative/hypnotic effects on the brain and body. The results can be relaxation and an overall calming effect.

As a central nervous system depressant, Xanax may also reduce the likelihood that a person will have a seizure. Some people who abuse the drug also mix it with alcohol to increase its sedative effects on the body – an action that can have dangerous health consequences. Also, people mix Xanax and other benzodiazepines with opioids (painkillers). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 23 percent of the people who died of an opioid overdose in 2015 also tested positive for benzodiazepines.2

Xanax Detox Symptoms

When a person has taken Xanax for some time or abused it in higher amounts, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. Quitting the drug “cold turkey” will cause detox symptoms because the brain and body are accustomed to having the drug present. Examples of detox symptoms associated with Xanax include:

    • anxiety
    • headaches
    • irregular heartbeat and palpitations
    • irritability
    • muscle pain
    • trouble sleeping

In rare instances, a person who withdraws from Xanax can experience a seizure. This is because the sudden withdrawal of Xanax from the body induces an excitable state in the brain that can lead to seizure. These “brain storms” can have deadly consequences, including coma and death. 3
People going through Xanax detox have also reported symptoms such as psychosis and hallucinations, or seeing and hearing things that are not physically present.

Treatments for Xanax Detox

The potential for dangerous Xanax detox symptoms means most addiction experts don’t recommend detoxing from Xanax on one’s own. According to the Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, those who abuse Xanax is high doses should consider going to a hospital or inpatient treatment setting for Xanax dose tapering. 3 Doing this allows medical professionals to be nearby and quickly treat patients who could experience a seizure as a result of Xanax withdrawals.

If a person is taking therapeutic (prescription) dosages of Xanax, the journal’s authors recommended at the very least participating in an outpatient treatment program to help a person identify a safe tapering withdrawal plan.

Seeking medical help for Xanax detox is not only to minimize potential risks for seizures and other adverse side effects, but also to help a person treat and target the reasons they were taking the medication in the first place. Those with panic disorder and anxiety understandably need to address the emotions and feelings that may accompany stopping taking Xanax. Often, a rehabilitation facility will provide behavioral counseling to help a person establish new ways to cope with their anxiety.

These and other rehabilitation efforts can be important steps in keeping a person who struggles with Xanax addiction safe.