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Can You Detox From Xanax While Pregnant?

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Many people take the drug Xanax, but what happens if you discover that you are pregnant while taking Xanax? Whether you were taking Xanax for anxiety under a doctor’s supervision and developed a dependence, or you were abusing Xanax and became dependent or addicted, you may want to consider quitting using Xanax while you are pregnant in order to provide the best possible outcomes for your child.

Although it may seem desirable to quit Xanax cold turkey, it can actually be risky for both you and your unborn baby; it is much safer to detox from Xanax under medical supervision, and especially critical to do so if you are pregnant. 

Xanax Abuse and Dependence

Xanax belongs to a class of sedative drugs known as benzodiazepines. Physicians prescribe them in the short-term to manage anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Even though Xanax is a helpful medication for many people, if it is taken for more than 4–6 weeks, it is likely to not only lose its effectiveness, but to result in significant dependence. The likelihood of physiological dependence grows the longer Xanax is taken and will be even more sure to develop if you abuse the sedative in doses that exceed what is prescribed.1

When you abuse Xanax, tolerance to its effects can occur quickly. Tolerance means that your body becomes accustomed to the action of the drug. The first time you take Xanax, you may feel the calming and sedating feelings of Xanax in a powerful way. Over time, however, your body may begin to have a diminished response to the initial or most recently effective dose of Xanax. So, to elicit the same desired effect as before, you need to take increased doses.1

In attempts to overcome the building tolerance, you may abuse higher and more frequent doses, which can hasten the onset and progression of dependence. Once you’ve developed Xanax dependence, you will experience unpleasant and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly quit or dramatically reduce your dose. In pregnant women, these withdrawal symptoms are not limited to the mother, as the unborn baby has also developed a dependence on Xanax. This is because Xanax crosses the placenta and enters the fetus’ bloodstream.7

Fetal Risks

When you abuse Xanax, you aren’t just harming yourself; there are many potential fetal risks associated with benzodiazepine use. Xanax has a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) category D rating, which means that there is some research confirming it can be hazardous to the fetus.3

Some fetal risks include:7

  • Congenital malformations (e.g., rare reports of cleft palate, heart wall defects, etc.).
  • Functional deficits.
  • Cancer.
  • Genetic mutations.
  • Poor intrauterine growth.
  • Miscarriage.

Stopping Xanax use can lower some of these risks to your unborn child; however, because of the dangers associated with abrupt withdrawal, if you are considering quitting Xanax, consult your physician first before suddenly stopping use.

Dangers of Detoxing Cold Turkey

Detoxing cold turkey is not advised due to the distressing and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms that emerge when you try to quit without detox treatment. Supervised medical detox can help to mitigate the distressing symptoms of withdrawal and keep you and your unborn baby safe while Xanax and any other harmful substances are eliminated from your body.

Common Xanax withdrawal symptoms that may emerge when you attempt to quit cold turkey include:2,6

  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Irritability.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Hand tremors.
  • Perceptual disturbances.
  • Agitation.
  • Seizure.

 The most dangerous Xanax withdrawal symptoms are grand mal seizures, which can be fatal, and withdrawal delirium, which can lead to injury due to hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior.2,6 Professional support can help to prevent these possible complications and keep you and your baby out of harm’s way.

Withdrawing Safely

If you have been taking Xanax therapeutically, you may be able to withdraw safely on an outpatient basis through your physician’s office. Your doctor will create a tapering schedule in which you gradually wean off of Xanax and allow your body to adjust to the decreasing doses in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

An example of a fast taper may follow a 2–6 week schedule like this:1

  • Switch from Xanax, a short-acting benzodiazepine, to a longer-acting benzodiazepine, such as Valium, for 1–2 weeks, twice daily.
  • Provide an anticonvulsant, such as gabapentin, to help manage withdrawal.
  • Add an antidepressant, sleep medication, or clonidine to help reduce associated withdrawal symptoms, if present.
  • After 1–2 weeks, the doctor will reduce Valium to once a day.
  • Valium dosing will gradually be decreased to ¼ the initial dose.
  • After another 1–2 weeks, the Valium will be discontinued.
  • The doctor may continue you on the anticonvulsant for another 2–3 months.

However, if you have been chronically abusing Xanax, a fast taper through your doctor may not be a suitable option. You may benefit more from a formal detox or addiction treatment program instead.

Detox programs provide you with close medical supervision while your body physically withdraws from Xanax. Usually, the doctor will provide a tapering schedule and/or give you medications to manage certain withdrawal symptoms that are known to be safe during pregnancy.

Once you complete detox, it is important for you to get continued treatment. Detox does not address the driving factors related to your initial Xanax abuse. Detox is only the first step, albeit an important one, and it should be followed up by attending an addiction treatment program, where you can learn new coping skills to help you avoid relapse. You may complete further treatment at the same facility where you received detox, if it is available. If the detox program does not offer substance abuse treatment, you will want to transfer to a recovery program.

If you are pregnant, detox and treatment are different than for someone who isn’t pregnant. There are detox and treatment programs that specialize in caring for pregnant women and may even have daycare services, should they be needed. This type of program can help you feel supported and understood throughout this challenging time.

Managing Anxiety Without Xanax

If you were taking Xanax to manage your anxiety or panic disorder, you may be concerned about how you will handle this anxiety without Xanax. There are many other ways to treat anxiety and panic that do not involve the use of drugs. Some of these techniques include:

  • Therapy: Therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is an evidence-based practice with numerous studies showing its effectiveness for reducing anxiety and helping make anxiety more manageable for people.4
  • Meditation and mindfulness: These are emerging practices that teach people to calm themselves and be present through a variety of thought exercises and other mental techniques.5
  • Yoga: This is also effective for many people, and its practitioners note its effectiveness in managing anxiety through the physical and mental aspects of the practice.5 You’ll want to double check with your doctor if yoga continues to be safe as your pregnancy progresses.
  • Breathing exercises: These can be used to reduce anxious feelings. These exercises include activities, such as learning to breathe deeply and exhale slowly to calm the body.5
  • Nutrition: Certain types of food have been found to reduce anxiety. For example, foods rich in magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and b vitamins are helpful in curbing anxiety.8 You’ll want to check with your doctor to make sure the foods you are planning to eat are safe to eat while you’re pregnant.   

If you’re using or abusing Xanax and want to get pregnant or already are, you should talk to your doctor about your options. Your doctor can educate you on the safety of Xanax use during pregnancy and refer you to an appropriate detox or treatment program, if necessary.

 Sources

  1. American Family Physician. (2014). Prescribing and Tapering Benzodiazepines.
  2. Petursson, H. (1994). The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal SyndromeAddiction89(11), 1455–1459.
  3. Kaltenbach, K. (2012). Benzodiazepines and the Pregnant Patient: Special Challenges.
  4. Otte, C. (2011). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Anxiety Disorders: Current State of the EvidenceDialogues in Clinical Neuroscience13(4), 413.
  5. University of Michigan. (N.D.) Relaxation Skills for Anxiety.
  6. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  7. Iqbal, M.M., Sobhan, T, & Ryals, T. (2002). Effects of Commonly Used Benzodiazepines on the Fetus, the Neonate, and the Nursing Infant. American Psychiatric Association, 53 (1), 39-49.
  8. Naidoo, U., Harvard Health Publishing. (2016). Nutritional strategies to ease anxiety.

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