Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are all members of a class of drugs called benzodiazepines. Also called “benzos” for short, these are drugs that exert specific effects on the body’s central nervous system. Traditionally, benzodiazepines were used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. Unfortunately, Xanax has become a highly dependent drug over the years and easier to access. The symptoms of Xanax withdrawals are distinguishable although similar to Valium and Klonopin, which we’ll learn in this article.
How Does Xanax Work?
When the FDA first approved benzos such as Xanax in the 1960s, many people believed that they were an improvement over older medications called barbiturates. Barbituates could easily lead to fatal overdose if used excessively. Despite safety improvements, there has long been a concern in the medical community that such drugs can lead to debilitating addiction, ruining the lives of those touched by them.
Benzodiazepines come in a variety of potencies and are designed to treat different conditions. They work by specifically upregulating and downregulating neurotransmitters in the brain, causing a person to feel different from how they would normally. Benzodiazepines target receptors in the brain called GABA receptors, GABA-A, GABA-B, and GABA-C. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it blocks chemical signals that travel along the nerve.
Scientists believe that the reason benzos appear to have the action that they do is that they prevent neurons from getting into an overly excited state. The result is a kind of sedative effect, helping to treat conditions like panic attacks and anxiety.
There are, however, costs with taking benzos long-term, including addiction. After a while, the brain realizes that chemical signals are not getting through to their desired target and so, over time, it downregulates its own production of GABA to compensate. When a person stops taking a benzodiazepine drug, they can suddenly feel fearful, anxious, agitated, and a range of other symptoms, all thanks to the absence of this crucial inhibitory chemical.
The symptoms of Xanax withdrawal depends on a range of factors:
In general, withdrawal from a benzodiazepine can take anywhere from four weeks to six months, depending on the severity of the addiction. For those who have been using benzos for many years or decades, the withdrawal process can take over a year.
When it comes to benzos, the strategy is rarely to go cold-turkey. Instead, most physicians recommend that people come off the drugs slowly, reducing their dosage over many weeks and months.
- Length Of Exposure. The longer a person has been taking benzodiazepines, the more severe the withdrawal in general. Long-term benzo use can lead to significant changes in brain chemistry, which can be challenging to manage during the withdrawal process.
- Original Reasons For Using Benzos. The original reason for a person using benzos can affect the severity of withdrawal. People who live with anxiety, insomnia and a history of alcohol abuse may find it more challenging to come off these drugs than those who have them prescribed for seizures or procedural sedation.
- Intrinsic Ability Of The Patient To Handle Withdrawal. Every person has a different ability to cope with the effects of withdrawal. Some people can come off benzodiazepines rapidly, while for others it is a longer and more drawn-out process.
- Type Of Benzodiazepines. As we will discuss below, there are a variety of different types of benzodiazepines of varying potency. Benzos that more strongly inhibit GABA receptors in the brain and have a longer half-life make withdrawal more difficult.
Xanax, which also goes by the name alprazolam, is a highly addictive benzodiazepine that can create dependencies in people rapidly, often without them realizing it. It is also one of the most prescribed and best known of all the benzos.
Withdrawal from Xanax is difficult, but once people come off the drug, they often find that it is a life-changing experience. The initial phases of withdrawal are often the most challenging, but successfully coming off the drug allows people to live their lives to the full and improve their relationships with themselves and others.
Xanax has a relatively short half-life compared to other benzodiazepines. A short half-life means that the time it takes for concentrations of the drug in the body to fall by half is less than that for chemically-similar medicines.
Physicians do not recommend coming off Xanax overnight as it can lead to severe reactions, such as seizures which sometimes can be fatal. Instead, most prefer a tapered approach. Coming of Xanax without slowly reducing quantities over time can cause the brain to go into shock. Medical professionals have charts detailing the rates at which they can taper the amount of Xanax a person takes slowly over time. The aim is to get patients off the drugs as quickly as possible, but without inducing any of the dangerous side effects commonly associated with Xanax withdrawal.
What Are the Symptoms Of Xanax Withdrawal?
Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal can be split into both physical and psychological. Because withdrawal symptoms from Xanax can be so severe, medical professionals recommend that people undergo medical supervision at a rehab center during acute phases.
Physical symptoms of Xanax can be:
- Sore, stiff muscles
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Heart palpitations
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Increased menstrual bleeding for women
- Excessive sweating
Psychological symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include:
Ultimately, the physical and psychological experience a patient has of their body will return to how it was before they developed an addiction in due course. But that process can take a long time as the body reverses the effects of the drug.
Which combination of withdrawal symptoms a person experiences depends on their unique biology and response to the drug. Some people escape many of the psychological and physical symptoms, while others may experience most of them.
It should be pointed out that people who use Xanax for legitimate medical conditions in the dosages their physician prescribes tend to find coming off the drug easier than those who abuse it and take more than they need. Adverse effects are much more likely among those with a history of taking too much Xanax in a given period.
- Difficulty sleeping
- A short temper or irritability
- Social isolation
- Panic attacks
- Worsening anxiety
- Worrying about things that don’t matter
What Are The Stages Of Xanax Withdrawal?
People coming off Xanax tend to filter through several stages of withdrawal. When exactly;y a person transitions from one step to the next depends on their biology and history with the drug. In general, the timeline tends to progress like this:
Stage 1: Initial Detox
The term “detoxification” is a medical phrase for the process the body goes through to rid itself of toxins which prevent it from achieving balance or homeostasis. The initial detoxification stage for Xanax begins in the first six to twelve hours, thanks to the short half-life of the drug. As the body processes and removes the drug, people can start to experience feelings of anxiety and find it difficult to sleep.
Stage 2: The Return Of Past Symptoms (“The Rebound”)
People often medicate with Xanax to fend off anxiety and insomnia. But as withdrawal continues, these old feelings can start coming back, making the patient feel irritated, nervous and tired. Typically, “rebound” symptoms begin on the second day of withdrawal and last until day four. Withdrawal symptoms can also lead to flu-like symptoms, such a feeling sick, loose bowel movements and vomiting.
Stage 3: Steady Alleviation Of Symptoms
The first four days are usually the worst for symptoms. From day five until around day fourteen, things improve, and anxiety goes down. For the first two weeks after withdrawing from Xanax use, it’s perfectly normal to experience insomnia and anxiety.
Stage 4: Return To Feeling Normal
After about two weeks, most people feel like they did before they went on the drug. For some, however, coming off the drug entirely means the return of the anxiety (or other conditions) they experienced before. After two weeks, Xanax will have left the body, and any effects of the drug will be minor.
Valium, also called diazepam, was once one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the US. It was given for all kinds of conditions, from restless leg syndrome to anxiety. But, just like other benzos, Valium is addictive and can lead to episodes of abuse.
One of the most dangerous characteristics of Valium is the fact that it can be mixed with other drugs to produce a euphoric high, something which the drug by itself does not do. People who engage in polydrug use – using two or more drugs in combination with Valium – can often suffer more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Valium withdrawal symptoms include:
- Panic attacks
Just like Xanax, Valium also leads to a host of psychologic withdrawal symptoms:
Many of the withdrawal symptoms of Valium are similar to those of Xanax. Again, it’s caused by the lack of GABA – the inhibitory chemical that helps to calm the activity of the neurons. Over time, the brain comes to depend on Valium to produce GABA and eventually, it may not be able to create its own without the help of the drugs. When GABA levels in the brain decline following Valium withdrawal, a person can experience many of the same symptoms as those coming off Xanax.
The symptoms of Valium withdrawal, unfortunately, tend to last longer than those of other benzodiazepines. Valium has an unusually long half-life, meaning that it takes the body a long time to detox the chemical from the system and return to normality.
Symptoms of valium withdrawal tend to arise soon after coming off the drug and last for a long time. It can take up to six weeks for symptoms to fade. During that time, the severity of symptoms can both rise and fall.
- Mood swings
Factors Contributing To The Severity Of Withdrawal From Valium
Three factors affect the severity of withdrawal symptoms after coming off Valium.
Pre-existing Psychological And Physical Conditions
If you have a history of mental health issues, then coming off Valium tends to be more difficult. Often removing Valium from the system leads to the return of things like anxiety and insomnia, making the withdrawal process more taxing.
Combining Valium with other drugs, like alcohol, can make it more difficult to stop using Valium.
People who heavily rely on Valium tend to suffer longer-lasting and more intense withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve been taking Valium for many years in large quantities, then you will find withdrawal more difficult than a light user.
Klonopin is the tradename for the benzodiazepine, clonazepam. Again, physicians usually prescribe the drug for severe episodes of anxiety and insomnia. But like the other benzos we’ve discussed so far, it can lead to changes in the brain that foster addiction.
According to data from the Drug Abuse Network, there were more than 61,000 people admitted to hospital for non-medical abuse of Klonopin in 2011.
Klonopin, unfortunately, has a relatively long half-life in the body, meaning that withdrawal symptoms can last for a long time. The first symptoms generally appear between one to three days of reducing the dosage and continue to worsen until around two weeks. Peak symptoms occur at fourteen days and then slowly subside for several weeks or months.
Physical symptoms of Klonopin:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle fatigue
- Impaired breathing
- Stomach cramps
Klonopin is also well known for its debilitating psychological side effects. These can be:
A range of factors can influence how difficult withdrawal is.
- Panic attacks
- Craving for drugs
- Problems concentrating
- Rapid mood swings
- Genetics and personal physiology (things which increase an individual’s propensity to become addicted to drugs) play a role (for instance, if another family member struggles with addiction).
- Environmental factors can also make coming off Klonopin more complicated: for example, if a patient has a difficult family life or stressful job.
- Withdrawal can also be affected by age, the amount of the drug that a person took, and whether they abused other medications at the same time as Klonopin.
If you or someone you know need to safely withdrawal from Xanax or other benzos, we are here to help.
If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.