Xanax (alprazolam) is a brand-name prescription drug that is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It is a benzodiazepine that is effective when used properly but physically and psychologically habit-forming when used in the long term. Xanax is indicated for short-term use that does not exceed 2-4 weeks. Taking Xanax in a higher dose than prescribed or for longer than one month can cause physical dependence and addiction.
If you have become addicted to Xanax and are exploring your options in regards to quitting the drug, you have two options:
- Stop taking Xanax suddenly and go through “cold turkey withdrawal” or
- Work with your doctor or a medical provider to come up with a tapering schedule that gradually lowers your dose, preventing severe and life-threatening withdrawal symptoms
Unfortunately, benzodiazepine tapers last for several weeks and sometimes even months. While a taper can reduce the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, you may be tempted to “pull the bandaid off” and get detox over with. But is it really safe to stop taking Xanax cold turkey?
What Does it Mean to Quit “Cold Turkey”?
The phrase “quitting cold turkey” is used to describe the abrupt cessation of a substance that someone is addicted to. Instead of slowly tapering off of an addictive substance, this method involves stopping all at once and going through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The term is also usually used in reference to people quitting using substances without any kind of medical supervision.
The phrase dates back to the early 1920s to describe individuals going through detox. The origin of the phrase comes from some of the most common symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal: cold chills and goosebumps. People who are detoxing often feel cold, clammy, and go through periods of time where they have goosebumps on their arms or legs–similar to a turkey that has been in the refrigerator.
Some substances, such as marijuana, are perfectly safe to quit using cold turkey. Others, such as Xanax, are more dangerous to stop using all at once.
Dangers of Quitting Xanax Cold Turkey
Xanax is addictive because it increases the reuptake of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for the central nervous system (CNS) and reactions to anxiety, fear, and stress. Psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety, major depressive disorder, and schizophrenia are associated with low levels of GABA which is why Xanax is an effective treatment. However, during withdrawal, the brain goes into overdrive as it tries to compensate for the sudden reduction in GABA activity. This is what causes symptoms of withdrawal.
The slower the pace of reduction of GABA in the brain, the less severe withdrawal will be. Stopping Xanax cold turkey causes an immediate loss of GABA activity, and therefore, causes severe symptoms of Xanax withdrawal.
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Symptoms of Xanax Withdrawal
Cold turkey Xanax withdrawal may cause painful and even life-threatening side effects. Symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle pain
- Panic attacks
- Lack of concentration
- Heart palpitations
While these symptoms are generally not life-threatening, the chances of experiencing potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms increase substantially when you do not taper off of the drug. Serious side effects of Xanax withdrawal are:
If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms while detoxing from Xanax, it’s crucial that you seek immediate medical attention.
How to Safely Stop Taking Xanax
The safest and most comfortable way to stop taking Xanax is to slowly taper your dose under medical supervision. Anyone who has been taking Xanax for longer than 30 days, especially those with co-occurring disorders, the elderly, or those who struggle with polydrug use. How long your taper will last depends on several factors, such as:
- How long you’ve been using Xanax
- What dose you take on a regular basis
- Your age, weight, and metabolism
- Co-occurring mental or physical health conditions
The first dose reduction usually ranges between 5% and 25% of the dose you have been taking. Then, every 1-4 weeks you will be evaluated by your doctor who will continue reducing your dose accordingly by between 5% and 25%. Overall, most Xanax tapers last between 8 and 12 weeks.
Other medications, like gabapentin (an anticonvulsant) or antidepressants may be prescribed to help treat rebound symptoms of anxiety, panic, or seizures.
You should never attempt to taper yourself off of Xanax or stop taking it cold turkey. Instead, you should consult with your doctor or a medical detox center about stopping the medication.
Find Treatment for Xanax Addiction Today
If you are thinking about stopping Xanax cold turkey, we sincerely hope you reconsider. Here at Woburn Wellness Addiction Treatment, our team can connect you with medical detox services and outpatient substance abuse treatment so you can stop taking Xanax safely and learn how to stay sober. Contact us today to learn more about how our benzodiazepine treatment programs can help.
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