Tapering Off Xanax
Xanax is an anti-anxiety medication that can cause relaxing feelings. Many people who take the drug recreationally or who use it for longer than a few weeks become dependent on it. This development often leads to people taking increasingly higher doses and experiencing withdrawal symptoms once they try to stop or reduce their dose.
For people who have become dependent on Xanax and want to stop using it, Xanax detox is the first step toward recovery. Detox is the process of flushing the drug out of the body. Many times, people who decide they want to give up Xanax will want to stop using it right away. However, the best method for stopping Xanax use is tapering off Xanax, which is when a person takes increasingly smaller doses over the course of many weeks. Tapering off Xanax safely and effectively is best achieved with the help of a medical professional. When people try to stop cold turkey or when they try to taper too fast, they are much more likely to have harmful Xanax withdrawal symptoms, which can cause serious damage and lead to a setback in sobriety.
How to Taper Off Xanax
People should never try to taper off Xanax on their own. There are many factors that are calculated into a tapering schedule — whether to switch to a long-acting benzodiazepine, the starting dose of the long-acting drug, the dosing schedule, how much time to wait before reducing the dose throughout each phase of the schedule and symptom management. People who have medical training and experience treating people with substance use disorders are best equipped to handle each of these decisions. If a person who is Xanax-dependent attempts this on their own, their risk of serious health consequences and setbacks in sobriety drastically rises.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms like delirium, depression, high blood pressure and seizures can be dangerous. Benzodiazepine withdrawal resulted in death for over 11,000 people in 2017. Those who attempt withdrawal on their own are also much more likely to use Xanax again. People who started taking Xanax for mental health issues are particularly at risk. Xanax withdrawal often causes severe anxiety and panic.
People ready to detox from Xanax should speak to a healthcare provider who knows how to taper off Xanax. People going through withdrawal can also make the detox process easier by drinking plenty of water, eating nutritious meals and avoiding other substances, including alcohol.
A direct taper is when the dose of the drug is gradually reduced over time. For people tapering off Xanax, side effects are a big concern. Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, meaning that its effects wear off quickly. If people decrease their dose of Xanax directly, they may have rebound symptoms, where the brain’s activity will suddenly speed up once the drug is gone. This effect can lead to symptoms like seizures. A direct taper may also be difficult to manage because Xanax pills come in fairly high dosages. Decreasing a dose by 5%, for example, may lead to difficulties in accurately splitting pills into smaller doses.
Instead of directly reducing a person’s Xanax dose, many doctors will recommend a substitution taper, in which people first switch to a longer-acting benzodiazepine and then gradually reduce the dose of this drug. Longer-acting medications last longer in the body and will lead to fewer withdrawal symptoms in between doses. People using this method will usually have fewer cravings, which reduces the chance of a setback. Additionally, if they are less distracted by symptoms, they can have a more productive time in therapy.
One common technique is to use Valium for Xanax withdrawal. This drug, also known as diazepam, creates many of the same changes in the brain that Xanax does. Other physicians may prefer to have a person taper off Xanax using Klonopin. People interested in tapering should talk to a medical expert to learn more about which type of long-acting drug might be able to help them through Xanax withdrawal.
Xanax Taper Schedule
Physicians will usually start a taper by giving patients an amount of Valium based on the person’s typical Xanax dose, and then slowly decrease the dose and frequency over the course of several weeks. The World Health Organization provides a Xanax taper chart as an example for people who are using the equivalent of less than 40mg of Valium per day:
- 1st Phase: 5 mg of Valium, taken in the morning, noon and night before bed
- 2nd Phase: 5 mg of Valium in the morning, 2.5 mg at noon and 5 mg at night
- 3rd Phase: 5 mg of Valium in the morning and at night
- 4th Phase: 5 mg of Valium at night
- 5th Phase: 2.5 mg of Valium at night
- 6th Phase: no Valium
Each phase lasts at least one week, although the total amount of time people stay in one phase before moving to the next depends upon how bad their withdrawal symptoms are. Experienced healthcare providers can judge when it is safe to further reduce a person’s dose.
Doctors don’t follow this exact schedule for each person, but will instead adjust a schedule to meet an individual’s needs. They may also use a different schedule altogether — some experts recommend decreasing the dose by 5% to 10% every one to two weeks. Physicians will likely design a Xanax taper schedule based on how severe a person’s dependence is, or whether they also need to detox from other substances. Based on a person’s typical Xanax dose, physicians will likely recommend higher or lower doses of Valium. People shouldn’t attempt this schedule on their own. Valium is even more addictive than Xanax and comes with its own set of side effects, so people shouldn’t switch unless directed to do so by a doctor.
Medically Assisted Xanax Detox
Going through withdrawal can be very challenging, but medical detox centers provide a way to withdraw safely and successfully. Medical detox programs usually offer 24/7 medical attention and are staffed by substance abuse experts who can help monitor participants and intervene when symptoms become severe. People who go through medical detox can have a tapering plan that is designed to meet their individual needs and is adjusted, as needed, based on withdrawal side effects.
Finding a Detox Center in Washington
A good medical detox center should be staffed by a team of experts who know how to address a person’s physical and mental health needs. These facilities can guide a person through the detox phase safely and start providing addiction treatment as a person tapers off Xanax. Detox centers should also be able to evaluate and treat co-occurring disorders, which are other mental health disorders that a person may be dealing with. This treatment may be important for people who initially started using Xanax to help with anxiety. As they reduce their Xanax dose, symptoms of restlessness, agitation or panic may return. A detox center can help address these issues with other forms of treatment, including counseling.
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MedlinePlus. “Alprazolam.” September 15, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2019.
Mehdi, Tauseef. “Benzodiazepines Revisited.” British Journal of Medical Practitioners, March 2012. Accessed September 12, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What classes of prescription drugs are commonly misused?” Misuse of Prescription Drugs, December 2018. Accessed September 12, 2019.
World Health Organization. “Chapter 4: Withdrawal Management.” 2009. Accessed September 12, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.