Xanax Addiction and Withdrawal - My Story
What is Xanax?
Xanax, also called Alprazolam, is a commonly prescribed medication to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, panic, OCD, and sleep disorders.
Xanax is in a family of drugs called benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants. Xanax enhances the effect of the neurotransmitter "gamma-aminobutyric acid" (GABA). In the brain, GABA behaves as a natural, tranquilizing neurotransmitter. It slows down brain activity, resulting in a "relaxing" effect.
Xanax is one of the most prescribed—and also one of the most abused—benzodiazepines available. Dependence can quickly set in, even when you take it as prescribed.
My dance with Xanax
Normally, I don't give to much personal detail about my life when I write, but for this topic, I'm willing to make an exception. If it will keep someone from using a prescription of this medication, then it will be worth it.
I was on benzodiazepines for over 8 years. I've always walked the line with an addictive personality. Didn't really matter what the substance, I could find a way to abuse it. I'm naturally a type A personality: high strung, goal oriented, anal retentive, and OCD.
I was first introduced to benzos through friends in my early 20s. Valium mainly. I enjoyed how they made me feel, and I took them sporadically and for recreation. At no point during that time was I dependent on them.
I've suffered from parasomnias since I was 11 years old, as well as major sleep disorders; apparently this is hereditary. I still have these issues, decades later. Around the age of 25, my sleep issues, as well as anxiety, became unbearable. I tried everything to sleep like a normal person. White noise, melatonin, 5HTP, yoga, exercise, even alcohol—nothing produced the desired need for normal sleep.
After researching and reading as much as possible on sleepwalking and sleep eating, I stumbled upon a book in which a woman mentioned that Klonopin stopped her sleepwalking. I immediately contacted my doctor about this "wonder drug," at the time not realizing it was another type of benzodiazepine.
I was prescribed a very low dose of Klonopin to take daily, or as needed. At first it solved my problems. My crippling anxiety became a thing of the past, and so did my sleepwalking. Fast forward about 5 years, and suddenly that Klonopin just wasn't cutting it. I graduated to Xanax. Little did I know then the hellish torment that would ensue on my quest to get off of this drug! I've since been free of Xanax dependence since 2014, and I did not require medical detox.
Xanax is really interesting because it works so quickly. It also leaves the body very quickly, and withdrawal sets in rapidly. I remember the first time I took it—it was like a switch was flipped and I was a very HAPPY person. No stress, no worry, no over-active brain, and I slept like a baby!
Over a few months this effect also began to dissipate, and my desire for more to achieve the same effect crept in. There is nothing special about addiction. You may think that it varies by substance (and in some cases it does) but an addict is an addict. What varies is the drug of choice. Xanax was making an addict out of me, and I'm NOT okay with that.
Xanax withdrawal is unique in its own right—symptoms are nasty—and I often wondered what it would be like to be completely without a benzo in my life. But it was something I was determined to accomplish. I do consider myself a special person; by that I mean that I've always been an empath, my issues with sleep I feel now are spiritual in nature. I've seen auras on and off since I was 12, and have always (although not always admitted it) been connected to my higher power, what I refer to as Spirit.
Substances dulled my senses and took my attention away from what most consider "craziness." I wanted to function like an automaton, and be content with the daily grind. Xanax initially gave me the "mindset" to do this. When you ingest a substance to dull down what you feel, you need to be willing to welcome those issues back when the substance is removed. When battling any type of addiction you should consider going through recovery, a treatment program, behavioral modification, or whatever works for you to become a "whole" and "clean" person. Coming off benzo's is no exception, but you get to add in the nasty physical side effects too! Yay!
What prompted my attention to begin my elimination of this drug? Well for starters, I was extremely angry when I missed a dose. I mean over the top full blown rage. My animals became afraid of me (yes animals are highly aware of altered states of consciousness) it was so bad that my cat would no longer sleep or be anywhere within my proximity, my sex-drive did not exist, and I was having EXTREME muscle pain in my neck. So horrific that I actually saw doctors for muscle pains only to be told I was "completely normal". No one ever suspected benzo side effects. Okay...enough was enough!
Signs of too much Xanax
What might make you think you're taking to much Xanax? Here is my short list.
- You find you cannot deal with every day life without taking a Xanax to take the edge off.
- Sometimes you just want your Xanax in your pocket, even if you're not taking it, you don't want to leave home without it!
- "Doctor shopping" to get your script.
- You start increasing your dose to achieve that initial relaxing effect, like chasing a ghost.
- You start mixing it with booze—a very bad idea.
- Your sex drive is in the toilet or non-existent. Xanax will kill your desire, and for males may physically stop your functioning ability all-together.
- When you miss a dose, you become agitated, anxious, extremely moody, irrational, aggressive and prone to fits of rage. Life seems "off" and surreal. You also become an insomniac, may feel cold symptoms, and have excruciating muscle pain, and spasms.
- If your addiction is really bad, you may become psychotic, and begin having seizures.
- Xanax withdrawal, much like withdrawal from heroin, can be life-threatening
Consult Your Doctor
Depending on how long you've used, how much, and if you've also been using other substances, the best recovery strategy will vary. All of these variables will greatly affect your recovery, detox, and withdrawal.
If you notice any of the first 3, please contact a medical professional.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Weight loss
- Blurred vision
- Aggression, nervousness, anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle cramps, pain, aches
- Sensory irritations (to light, sound, etc.)
How to get off Xanax
Please consult your doctor or medical professional before taking my advice. Depending on how long you've used, how much, and if you've also been using other substances, the best recovery strategy will vary. All of these variables will greatly affect your recovery, detox, and withdrawal.
This is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional.
DO NOT quit cold turkey, Xanax withdrawal will set in rapidly. This is NOT the kind of drug you want to suddenly stop, especially if you have used for an extended time period (6 months or more).
- Start tapering off your dose. It seems you can safely reduce weekly by .25 daily. If you find that you can only reduce say .25 a week, or month then do that. Monitored detox under medical supervision can take months. If you find you're developing withdrawal symptoms to fast, then maintain your regular dose and stretch out the reduction time. Again, be patient. It took me 3 months to get off of this garbage, it may take you longer.
- Drink tons of water daily, this is important to do even when you're not using any type of prescription medications. You need to keep toxins flowing out of your body.
- Stop putting other toxins in, don't drink, try not to smoke if you are a smoker.
- Use Melatonin for sleep. 3-5mg will keep you sleeping pretty well, melatonin is safe, natural and cheap. L-Theanine will also help to relax and is perfectly safe.
- As long as you are not drinking, you can take 500mg of vitamin B3 during the day to manage anxiety. An added bonus with B3 it also helps with depression, and clears the skin.
This is not an exact science. You are going to notice that some days are harder than others. If you notice extreme withdrawal symptoms, contact your doctor asap. Give yourself plenty of time to relax while going through this process. You will notice symptoms through the duration of tapering off; this is normal. By the time you successfully reach 21 days Xanax-free, most of your symptoms should be gone. Reach out to support groups if needed, and be patient. You can get off this medication, you just need to allow yourself time to do so.
Best of luck to you on your Xanax-free life!