Xanax tolerance develops when the body starts adapting to having the drug around. This process means that a person needs to take a higher dose of Xanax to feel the desired effects. If someone feels like Xanax is not working like it used to, that is a sign that their body has built up a tolerance. Developing a drug tolerance can be dangerous because it tempts people to take increasingly higher doses. This development can lead to dependence, where someone needs Xanax to feel normal. In extreme cases, tolerance can lead to addiction.
Xanax tolerance can happen in as little as two weeks. The best way to avoid it is to only take Xanax as needed, as directed by a doctor. Unfortunately, Xanax is one of the most abused benzodiazepines. The drug was prescribed 45 million times in 2017.
Xanax Tolerance Symptoms
Xanax tolerance symptoms may include:
- Taking the usual amount of Xanax, but having anxiety symptoms return
- Feeling like the effects of Xanax are wearing off quickly
- Craving Xanax in between doses
If someone has been taking Xanax, and they start to develop withdrawal symptoms in between doses, this can be a sign of tolerance. Patients can talk to their doctor about taking smaller doses more frequently, as this can help.
Symptoms of tolerance become a problem when they turn into drug-seeking behavior. Signs that someone is dealing with dependence or addiction might include:
- Taking higher doses of Xanax
- Combining Xanax with other substances to feel stronger effects
- Switching to stronger drugs
- Using other methods of administration to get Xanax into the blood as quickly as possible
These behaviors are warning signs that someone is no longer in control of their substance use. People are more at risk of overdose when they start to partake in these activities.
How Fast Can Xanax Tolerance Develop?
Tolerance can be measured differently for each individual symptom. Some research has shown that, based on physical signs like reaction speed, people may develop a tolerance after only ten days. This means that while in the beginning, the drug has physical effects, it may stop producing these effects in less than two weeks. On the other hand, tolerance seems to take longer to develop for mental characteristics. How long Xanax tolerance takes to develop also can be affected by how often a person is using it and whether they are combining it with other substances.
Causes of Xanax Tolerance
Xanax activates certain proteins in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. These proteins release the GABA neurotransmitter, which has a sedative effect. It calms down other signals within the brain that lead to feelings of worry and panic and control the body’s response to stress.
Experts still don’t know exactly how Xanax tolerance develops. It seems that the GABA receptor becomes less active over time when Xanax continues to be present in the brain. This change means that the brain produces less GABA and the brain signals that produce anxiety become more active. Higher Xanax dosage levels are then needed to keep activating the GABA receptor. Xanax probably also causes other changes in brain chemistry by activating or repressing different signals. Some of these may be what causes withdrawal symptoms.
People who are prescribed Xanax for mental health reasons have a lower chance of developing tolerance if they take the medication exactly as prescribed by their doctor. On the other hand, if people are taking Xanax recreationally, their odds of developing tolerance, dependence and addiction increase.
Risks of Xanax Tolerance
Because Xanax tolerance often leads to withdrawal symptoms between doses, people are more tempted to take higher or more frequent doses. Taking more Xanax increases the chances that a person will develop Xanax dependence, which occurs when they become unable to function without the drug.
Another Xanax risk is becoming addicted to the drug and being unable to control substance use. This risk can lead to relationship problems, getting fired from a job, having financial problems and developing health issues because of harmful side effects.
When people become dependent on or addicted to Xanax, they will usually take increasingly higher doses. This can lead to an overdose. In 2017, benzodiazepines were involved in over 11,000 overdose deaths.
People trying to figure out how to lower Xanax tolerance may come across the concept of potentiation. Potentiation is when taking one drug increases the effects of another drug. This reaction is a common reason why people take Xanax. When combined with other substances, Xanax may increase the high of another drug, help someone come down easier from the effects of stimulant drugs or help reduce symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol or other substances.
Unfortunately, mixing Xanax with other substances is dangerous. Taking Xanax with alcohol or other depressants may potentiate Xanax, but it also increases the likelihood that someone will have negative side effects from Xanax. Some of these side effects can include:
- Being more likely to engage in risky behavior
- An increase in negative emotions like anger
- Shutting down lung, heart or brain function
- Increased odds of overdosing
- Elevated risk of becoming addicted
People trying to figure out how to potentiate Xanax may hear that grapefruit juice can make the effects stronger. While grapefruit juice can interact with and potentiate many other types of medications, there is not much evidence that it can do so for Xanax. People who think they have experienced this might be encountering a placebo effect.
How to Prevent Xanax Tolerance
The only way to completely prevent Xanax tolerance from developing is to stop taking Xanax. This medication is meant to be a temporary solution for a mental health problem, and taking it long-term or taking it for non-medical purposes can lead to tolerance. Taking a break or reducing the dose can reset Xanax tolerance. A health care provider can help people find other ways to deal with anxiety symptoms, including other types of medications, therapy and stress-reduction techniques.
People wanting a Xanax tolerance break should first talk to a doctor. Quitting or reducing Xanax needs to be done gradually to avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Stopping Xanax use cold turkey can lead to symptoms like seizures and psychosis that can be overwhelming and either cause lasting harm or lead to relapse. A health care professional can help someone manage a tapering schedule, where the Xanax dose is decreased gradually. This process allows the brain to slowly adjust and reset.
Getting Help With Xanax Addiction in Washington or Oregon
Going through detox may reset a person’s tolerance to Xanax, but it won’t address underlying dependence or addiction. People need to undergo substance abuse treatment to learn how to live without Xanax and prevent relapses.
Xanax addiction treatment may help someone learn how to manage stress better, develop new lifestyle habits and figure out how to avoid people or situations that trigger Xanax cravings.
If you or a loved one struggle with Xanax misuse, contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield to speak with a representative about how professional treatment can help you achieve the healthier lifestyle you deserve.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” January 2019. Accessed September 12, 2019.
Vinkers, Christiaan H.; Olivier, Berend. “Mechanisms Underlying Tolerance after Long-Term Benzodiazepine Use: A Future for Subtype-Selective GABA-A Receptor Modulators?” Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, March 29, 2012. 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.