How to Stop Using Xanax
Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam, a short-acting central nervous system depressant prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. Xanax is commonly abused for the feelings of wellbeing and calm it can provide.
Xanax addiction and abuse can have serious consequences, and withdrawing from the drug can produce severe and even life-threatening symptoms.1
Benefits of Quitting
Many people become psychologically dependent on Xanax to help them stay relaxed in social situations. Because people tend to rely on the drug as a coping mechanism, Xanax can be difficult to quit. While it may be tempting to continue to use Xanax to help combat anxiety, the benefits of quitting outweigh the perceived benefits of continuing to use.
Benefits of quitting Xanax include:
- Improved mental and physical functioning: Long-term abuse of Xanax can lead to memory loss, impaired coordination, depression, confusion, and agitation.1 Quitting can relieve these symptoms and allow the user to live life without constantly being under the influence of Xanax or recovering from its effects.
- No longer needing to rely on the drug to feel better: People who learn how to manage anxiety and stress without Xanax will not be dependent on the drug to cope with everyday life.
- Dramatic reduction or elimination of the risk of long-term consequences: Abusing Xanax long-term can lead to problems with relationships, employment, and finances. Quitting can lead to improvements in these areas while also preventing other problems such as accidents due to the drug’s side effects.
Addiction Treatment Center and Recovery Program Options
Quitting Xanax on your own can be extremely difficult and, during acute withdrawal, can even result in some life-threatening health complications. Attending a treatment program ensures that you are provided with quality mental and physical health care and greatly increases your chances of recovery.
Medically assisted detox, which can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting, is usually the first step in the recovery process. Your physician will help you slowly lower your dose over time to minimize withdrawal symptoms. In cases of severe addiction, your doctor may recommend 24-hour monitoring in a facility during the withdrawal period and may prescribe additional medications to help ensure a safe detox experience.
Following detoxification, it is recommended that you transition into a treatment program that includes therapy and relapse prevention. Treatment options for Xanax addiction include:
- Inpatient treatment: Many people choose to leave the comfort of home to stay in a residential treatment center on a 24/7 basis for a period ranging from 28 to 90 days or longer. Inpatient treatment is highly recommended for those with severe, recurring, and multiple addictions, since it minimizes the chance of relapse. Inpatient care is highly structured, and contact with the outside world is limited. Treatment typically includes medically assisted detox, counseling, therapy, support groups, 12-step programs and, in some cases, alternative therapies. Luxury amenities such as spa treatments, gourmet meals, and private rooms are also offered at some facilities.
- Outpatient treatment: Outpatient rehab takes place in on a part-time basis. Users attend support groups, educational meetings, and detox appointments at the outset of the treatment program, if necessary. People who participate in these programs do not live at the rehab facility and can still attend work or school during treatment.
- Individual or group counseling and therapy: Counseling and therapy are crucial to the recovery process. They help address the reasons a person became addicted to Xanax in the first place and enhance self-esteem and overall mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques are often used to help the user learn to cope with stress and triggers that may make them want to use. Motivational interviewing and stress-reduction techniques may be used as well. Group counseling is also important, as recovering users will be both supported and challenged by peers. Therapy can also help users address any co-occurring mental health disorders that may contribute to their addiction to Xanax.
- 12-step programs: Participants are provided with structure and support in these programs. They follow a step-by-step process to recovery with the support of the group and a sponsor.
Recovery is an ongoing process that does not end after initial treatment, and it is much more challenging to maintain sobriety outside of the treatment environment. Aftercare programs help people in recovery from Xanax addiction stay sober and avoid relapse. Some aftercare treatment options include:
- Sober living communities: Many people choose to live in a residential sober living community after treatment. This provides recovering users with a safe, supportive, drug-free environment where they are surrounded by peers who can relate to their struggles. These communities offer some of the same treatment approaches as initial rehab, along with other services such as job placement, recovery coaching, and social activities.
- Relapse prevention: Relapse prevention is perhaps the most important component of aftercare treatment. It helps users identify and assess high-risk thoughts and behaviors that may trigger a relapse and learn to effectively deal with them using specific techniques and strategies.
- 12-step programs: Twelve-step programs typically continue after treatment on a weekly basis to help users maintain sobriety.
- Outpatient visits: Many recovering Xanax users will continue to visit their physician on an ongoing basis to address overall physical health, stay clean, and treat any co-occurring mental health disorders. Other forms of outpatient addiction therapy may be beneficial well after completion of the initial treatment period.
- Counseling: Individual and group counseling may continue long after treatment to help users cope with the challenges on their continued path to recovery.
- Support groups: Many people continue to attend weekly meetings for years after initial treatment to help maintain sobriety through peer support.
Withdrawal Symptoms and Side Effects
Xanax can cause physiological and psychological dependence, especially in those who abuse the drug. Recreational users are significantly more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, and the risk of withdrawal increases at doses higher than 4 mg per day. The risk of psychological dependence is also increased in those with other substance use disorders or a family history of addiction and mental illness.1
Withdrawal symptoms usually begin to appear within 6-8 hours after the user’s last dose of Xanax. The symptoms peak in intensity on the second day and start to improve by the fourth or fifth day.6 The psychological symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can be difficult to distinguish from general anxiety.
The most common symptoms of Xanax withdrawal are:1
- Impaired concentration.
- Dysphoria (sense of unease) ranging from mild to severe.
- Muscle cramps and twitches.
- Decrease in appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Heightened sensory perception, often to the point of discomfort.
- Clouded senses.
- Blurred vision.
- Abdominal and muscle cramps.
- Pins-and-needles sensation on the skin.
- Rebound anxiety and panic disorder symptoms.
- Depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Seizures (usually only in those who abruptly stop using).
Because withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life-threatening, medically supervised detox is recommended. In cases of severe addictions and long-term use, 24-hour monitoring and supervision by a qualified medical team may be necessary. Some withdrawal symptoms will typically occur even when a person is purposely tapering as the body adjusts to lowered amounts of the drug in the system.
Tips for Quitting
- Get some form of professional help: Quitting Xanax is difficult to do alone and can be dangerous due to the symptoms of withdrawal. Once you’ve made the decision to quit, seek the help of a medical professional or rehabilitation facility as soon as possible.
- Address the reasons you became addicted to Xanax: Many people begin using Xanax to treat or self-medicate their anxiety. To improve your chances of recovery and long-term sobriety, you’ll need to seek treatment for any co-occurring mental health disorders.
- Learn to cope with triggers and stress without Xanax: See a psychologist or counselor to help you learn coping skills to manage stress and triggers that may make you want to use Xanax. If you know that certain people, places, or experiences will make you more likely to use, avoid them whenever possible.
- Seek support when needed: Quitting Xanax may prove to be one of the biggest challenges of your life. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your family or friends for support when needed.
- Attend support groups: Support groups can provide encouragement from other people who can empathize with your situation.
- Practice healthy habits: Practicing healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet and exercising daily, can help reduce the physical and psychological effects of withdrawal and help decrease the risk of relapse.
- Try natural and alternative treatments for anxiety: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends the following alternative treatments for anxiety: yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, massage therapy, art and recreational therapy, biofeedback, and dietary supplements and herbs.4
How to Help Someone Quit
If someone you care about has a problem with Xanax, you can try the following approaches to help get them into a recovery program:5
- Be compassionate and supportive: Address the person in a kind, loving manner that shows your genuine concern.
- Urge the person to seek professional help and medically assisted detox: Recommend that the person taper off Xanax slowly with the help of a physician, rather than attempting to quit cold turkey.
- Never approach the person with blame, guilt, judgment, or anger: This will only isolate you from the person. Instead, be as compassionate and supportive as possible. Avoid preaching or lecturing.
- Stay involved and be supportive throughout the recovery process: Understand that recovery is an ongoing process, and the person will need your help before, during and after treatment.
- Stop making excuses or taking responsibility for the person’s behavior: Be as supportive as possible without becoming so involved that it affects your emotional and physical health.
Can I Quit Cold Turkey? Is It Dangerous?
Seizures can occur during withdrawal, especially when people rapidly decrease the dosage.
Quitting Xanax cold turkey is dangerous because withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life-threatening. Seizures can occur during withdrawal, especially when people quit abruptly or rapidly decrease their dosage. People with epilepsy or those with a history of seizures should never attempt to quit cold turkey.
Withdrawal is both psychologically and physically unpleasant, which causes users to crave the drug to alleviate the symptoms. Even the most determined people trying to quit Xanax may relapse during the withdrawal period. Those trying to quit Xanax, regardless of the severity and duration of the addiction, should consider doing so in a recovery center under medical supervision.
How Hard Is It to Quit?
Xanax can be very difficult to quit. The withdrawal period can last weeks and even months.
The psychological effects of withdrawal can also lead many people to relapse. Most people start using Xanax to help cope with anxiety and deal with stress, so it may be difficult to take part in everyday activities without the drug. Rebound anxiety and insomnia typically occur during withdrawal, too, so many people may start using again to stop these symptoms. Some people may also experience depression and suicidal thoughts during withdrawal.1,2
Quitting Xanax may not be easy, but it is achievable. The first step to recovering from Xanax addiction is recognizing that you need help. The second step is to ask for it. People should never try to quit Xanax alone. If you or someone you love is ready to quit using Xanax, contact an addiction treatment professional or rehab facility immediately to begin treatment.
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2011). Xanax: Reference Guide.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Treated?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide. Behavioral Therapies.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Complementary and Alternative Treatment.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (2015). Helping a Family Member or Friend.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.