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Alprazolam Detox Guide: Timeline, Symptoms & Effects

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Stressed out woman looking at pills in front of herAlprazolam is the chemical name of the anxiolytic drug known more popularly by its trade name, Xanax. Alprazolam belongs to the benzodiazepine class and is a frequently prescribed medication useful in the management of anxiety and panic disorder.

In a dose-dependent manner, benzodiazepines can give rise to feelings of calm, sleepiness, and intense relaxation. Those using the drug may find these sensations intensely pleasurable, which may further increase the chances of misuse and abuse of the drug, as well as the potential for addiction.

A recent study determined that benzodiazepines not only target an area of the brain known as the amygdala, but also increase blood flow to an area of the brain that is part of the reward-processing region. This region is known as the nucleus accumbens. The activity of alprazolam (and other benzodiazepines) in this key brain area helps to explain why users keep coming back to the substance again and again despite their own best efforts to stop 2.

Formal treatment with professionals who understand how to safely detox from alprazolam is a key part of getting sober this drug, as the detoxification process can bring about dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Even short-term use of alprazolam often requires tapering and medical monitoring to minimize the risk of complications like seizures. Supervised, medically assisted detox programs can provide this type of care and facilitate safe withdrawal from alprazolam.

Effects and Symptoms of Alprazolam Withdrawal

Formal treatment with professionals who understand how to safely detox from alprazolam is a key part of getting sober this drug, as the detoxification process can bring about dangerous withdrawal symptoms.


Sudden discontinuation of alprazolam can result in what’s known as an acute benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Xanax withdrawal symptoms that are frequently experienced range from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening. Symptoms of alprazolam withdrawal include 4,10:

  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Irritability.
  • Sweating.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Twitching of the muscles.
  • Tremors.
  • Seizures.

Alprazolam withdrawal can also produce rebound anxiety and insomnia, meaning these symptoms that were lessened through Xanax use re-emerge once the medication is stopped. This can be significantly distressing for many people and may trigger relapse.

What is the Detox Timeline and Protocol?

According to the Treatment Improvement Protocol issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, the detoxification process consists of 6:

  • An intake evaluation. (Key info will be assessed from drug history, medical examination, and mental health status evaluation.)
  • A period of stabilization. (This may include a scheduled drug tapering as well as other medically-assisted treatment approaches to limit withdrawal risks throughout the detox duration.)
  • Determining and aiding in the patient’s readiness for the next step: substance abuse treatment.

Evaluation

Qualified medical staff at medically assisted detox programs will know how to help you detox off alprazolam as safely as possible and, beforehand, will do a thorough assessment to determine whether there are any factors that might complicate withdrawal, such as poly-substance use (e.g., regular use of Xanax and alcohol) 6.

A thorough medical examination can also help to assess the existence of any co-occurring mental health disorders that may require management alongside the detox and addiction treatment process.

Stabilization

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines requires medical management due to the inherent risk of seizure and delirium during withdrawal. The safest method for the discontinuation of alprazolam is to detox under supervision so that a physician can taper you off the drug in a controlled manner 6. The tapering time generally depends on the amount of drug consumed and the length of time it has been in the system. Detox can take anywhere from seven days to two weeks 6.

In some cases, you may be switched from alprazolam to a longer-acting benzodiazepine that will help to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms and minimize the risk of complications as the tapering process commences.

Determining the Next Steps for Treatment

It is important to understand that if you are suffering from an addiction to alprazolam, successful treatment doesn’t end with detox. Once you have cleared your body of alprazolam, you will be advised to take the next steps toward finding recovery from addiction.

Continued treatment can take place on an inpatient or outpatient basis and will include counseling and therapy to help you discover and attend to the reasons contributing to your alprazolam abuse and help you learn healthy ways to cope with cravings and triggers to prevent relapse.

Do I Need Detox for Alprazolam Abuse?

Stressed woman getting help from doctorMisuse of a prescription medication is characterized as not taking a drug as prescribed, such as taking the drug more frequently or in higher doses, using the drug via alternate routes (e.g., snorting, injecting) or taking a drug not prescribed to you. If you are misusing alprazolam in any of these ways, are feeling its negative impact on your life, and wish to stop, detox can help.

A professional detox program can provide the supervised assistance you need to detox safely and avoid the risks associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Risks of Continuing to Misuse

Many drugs can have long-term side effects. Long-term use, misuse, and abuse of alprazolam can be associated with the following symptoms:

  • Cognitive impairment.
  • Delirium.
  • Psychotic symptoms.
  • Aggression.
  • Depression.

How Does Supervised Detox Help?

Side Note Picture

Getting help in a medically assisted detox program allows you to fully clear your body of the drug slowly, safely, and in the most comfortable manner possible.

Varying levels of need for monitoring exist when detoxing from certain drugs. Benzodiazepines like alprazolam have a high likelihood of withdrawal symptoms, and detoxification generally requires some kind of medical oversight. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recommends that benzodiazepine withdrawal be medically monitored in a hospital or 24-hour medical facility, especially for patients who have used high doses for long periods of time. ASAM adds that, “Outpatient detoxification should be reserved for patients whose doses of benzodiazepines were mainly in therapeutic ranges, who do not have poly-substance dependence, and who are reliable and have reliable significant others to aid in monitoring and supervising their progress.” 6

Getting help in a medically assisted detox program allows you to fully clear your body of the drug slowly, safely, and in the most comfortable manner possible.

Finding an Alprazolam Addiction Treatment Program

A consultation with a primary care physician or prescribing doctor can help determine the best rate of tapering, as well as the required level of medical monitoring during the detox process.

Options for a more comprehensive treatment program are available to address alprazolam addiction. Often, detox programs will be part of or transition directly into a drug abuse treatment program (either inpatient or outpatient). These programs generally offer benefits such as:

  • Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Relapse prevention skills training
  • Support groups
  • Aftercare planning

Outpatient addiction treatment allows you to live at home while attending to your recovery by attending therapy and meetings during the day. This option offers a great deal of flexibility, but may not be ideal for those suffering from especially persistent addictions to alprazolam, or those with complicating factors such as poly-substance abuse or dual diagnosis conditions.


Inpatient treatment requires that you live at the facility and provides a completely abstinent environment for you to focus completely on getting sober. Amenities at residential centers will vary. Luxury facilities will offer a more spa-like environment with benefits like private rooms and massages. These programs tend to be at the higher end of the price range, but many more reasonably priced programs exist that provide the same core aspects of addiction treatment. For help finding a local detox program, visit our extensive directory here.


References:

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Treatment for Mental Disorders http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/mental-disorders
  2. Wolf, D.H., Pinkham, A.E., Satterthwaite, T.D., et al. (2013). Oral alprazolam acutely increases nucleus accumbens perfusion. Mol Psychiatry, 960–961.
  3. Wright, A., Neuroscience Online: An Electronic Textbook for the Neurosciences. Chapter 6: Limbic System: Amygdala_ http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s4/chapter06.html
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedlinePlus, Alprazolam. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a684001.html
  5. Drug Enforcement Agency http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/Benzodiazepines.pdf
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: A Treatment Improvement Protocol TIP 45_ http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA15-4131/SMA15-4131.pdf
  7. Klein, M. (2010). US Food and Drug Administration, Combating Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs: Q&A http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm220112.htm
  8. Drugabuse.com. (2015). Xanax Abuse http://drugabuse.com/library/xanax-abuse/#effects-of-xanax-abuse
  9. Federal Bureau of Prisons Clinical Practice Guidelines. (2014). Detoxification of Chemically Dependent Inmates
  10. Ries, R., Miller, S. C., Saitz, R., & Fiellin, D. A. (n.d.). The ASAM principles of addiction medicine.

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