Quitting Xanax: Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Last Updated: February 5, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Xanax is a benzodiazepine, which is a group of drugs that reduces over-activity in the brain and central nervous system. Xanax is one of the most popular and most commonly prescribed benzodiazepine in America. Unfortunately, benzodiazepine abuse is also the cause of close to 10% of pharmaceutically related emergency department visits. The reason for this widespread abuse is the fact that Xanax activates the pleasure cells in the brain, making users simply feel good. Therefore, it is often misused for its calming effect. It is most often prescribed to help people sleep, help anxiety and panic disorders, as a muscle relaxant and to relieve stress and tension.
The medication affects cognitive functions (memory, attention, thinking, speech) and motor skills. Those who abuse Xanax do so mainly for the effect that it has on the brain activating the pleasure centers, which in turn gives users a sense of happiness, euphoria, and calmness.

Why Is Xanax Addictive?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that prescribing Xanax can lead to dependence, especially if the patient is taking large doses for over a month. That is the risk when Xanax is used according to doctors’ guidelines, but when abuse occurs, the risk is even greater. It is so highly addictive due to its influence on the production of GABA (inhibitory neuron gamma-aminobutyric acid) which mutates our brain’s natural reaction to stress, slowing it down and sedating the brain.
This is a great feature of the drug and the reason why it is prescribed for example to fight anxiety. However, what has been discovered is that with prolonged use, Xanax may actually start affecting how our brain produces GABA on its own. Over time our brain may not be able to produce it at all without the drugs’ help. This is why many people experience withdrawal when Xanax starts leaving their system, because their brain can no longer do what it’s meant to, and successfully complete its calming process and restore balance. This is why it may be dangerous to attempt coming off of long-term Xanax use without medical supervision. In some cases, it may be life-threatening.

Xanax Withdrawal Duration

The Xanax withdrawal timeline begins very rapidly but also fades away relatively quickly. Withdrawal begins within 6 hours of quitting, and typically peaks within the first few days. In most cases, the worst of the symptoms completely dissipates within a week, though some may experience symptoms for up to two weeks.
Xanax is a drug primarily used for treating anxiety, depression and panic attacks. It can come as either a capsule or a bar. Effects are very fast-acting following ingestion. As one of the most addictive prescription drugs, Xanax abuse is extremely dangerous. Therefore, it cannot be used without a prescription. However, despite this and its adverse effects, Xanax abuse is not uncommon.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Xanax

Symptoms of Xanax withdrawal include both physical and mental pain. Headaches, vomiting, sweating, shaking, muscle pain and insomnia may be accompanied by anxiety and panic attacks. Due to these symptoms, the withdrawal process may put a strain on personal relationships.
Xanax is meant to relax the body, slow everything down and calm us. In technical terms, Xanax is a central nervous system depressant which means it slows down the heart rate, lowers our body temperature and our blood pressure as well as relieves panic, anxiety, and stress. It is also important to note that Xanax has been known to help with seizures. Now imagine the reversal of all that to have a broad idea of what Xanax withdrawal symptoms look like. All those functions rebound.

Xanax is a drug with a very short half-life. This means that the body can process it rather quickly and that the withdrawal symptoms become apparent very quickly after use ends. Symptoms of withdrawal may begin as early as six hours after the last dose, and within two days the drug will completely have left the body.
Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person addicted to Xanax suddenly stops taking the drug.
Panic and anxiety attacks are common among Xanax abusers attempting to fight their addiction. As a result, people dealing with Xanax withdrawal are often lethargic and may develop depression.
This grueling withdrawal process may also take a toll on personal relationships. Individuals battling withdrawal symptoms often become disconnected from their friends and family and stop going to work because of their lethargy and depression.

Physical withdrawal symptoms of Xanax include:

  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Seizures
  • Shaking
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Numb fingers
  • Respiration problems
  • Teeth pain
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Muscle cramps

Factors that can affect Xanax withdrawal are:

  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • History of mental illness
  • Physical condition
  • Other health problems
  • Dosage of the medicine

Xanax Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms kick in very rapidly, but they also fade away relatively quickly.
Due to this fact, withdrawal symptoms can be felt the minute the drug stops being active. This can be anywhere from 6-12 hours after the last dose. Throughout the first 1-4 days, one experiences the “boomerang” symptoms, where everything one took Xanax to suppress comes back with a vengeance. The next phase of withdrawal can last anywhere from a couple days to a month but usually averages at about two weeks. This is the acute withdrawal, where all symptoms can occur. After the two week mark, most symptoms will start to get better.
For most, the worst will have past, but some may still experience what is called protracted withdrawal. It consists of prolonged impairments, including intense drug cravings and some psychiatric symptoms. This can last anywhere from weeks to years if left untreated.

Users who took Xanax for a longer period, and especially those who were taking larger doses, often suffer more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Recovery from Xanax Withdrawal

Due to the possibility of adverse Xanax withdrawal symptoms, breaking an addiction from the drug should be carefully monitored. Quitting “cold turkey” is not recommended because it can cause grand mal seizures, which may be fatal. Heart rate, breathing and blood pressure should also be monitored.
Needless to say, a hospital or a detox center is the best and safest solution, where the patient can gradually get clean without facing life-threatening issues or long-term damage.

Xanax Detox Centers

Due to the severity of Xanax withdrawal symptoms, it is wise to not attempt this feat alone. The medical community is in agreement that the safest and best way to conduct a Xanax detox is through the joint efforts of slowly weaning off the drug and therapeutic methods. This is best done in a professional environment, with constant monitoring so that medical help can be administered when needed. That is where Xanax detox Centers come into play. Not only can they offer the medical assistance often needed, but they can also provide the emotional support necessary throughout this difficult time. When a Xanax detox is planned out and scheduled by a medical health professional over a long period of time the majority of the severe symptoms can be avoided.

All of the options mentioned above, paired with therapy sessions give the best chance for a successful Xanax detox. In therapy, one will learn a variety of mechanisms and skills to help cope following the initial physical detox. A tool often used is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where one learns the correlation between thoughts and actions, allowing to create new and healthy habits.
It is imperative that one takes care of general health during this process, especially since often people experience a change in appetite or weight loss during the detox process. Clean eating and exercise are important for a well-rounded recovery.

Overall, Xanax is one of the most addictive prescription drugs and can cause serious damage to a person’s physical and mental health. The withdrawal symptoms of Xanax are very severe, and can even be life-threatening if not treated correctly.

Page Sources

  1. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2011/018276s044,021434s006lbl.pdf

Published on: October 20th, 2016

Updated on: February 5th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


Leave a comment

  • Erin
    I have been prescribed xanax for most of my life for an extreme anxiety disorder. At several times I was prescribed 120 2mg bars a month and I always got to the point of talking more than prescribed and running out early. Every single time this happened I suffered several grand-mal seizures that caused bilateral shoulder dislocations, traumatic brain injury caused when falling on my face at the onset of the seizures and subsequent loss of my front teeth. EMTs and hospitalization were necessary to save my life. Extreme caution should be used to come off benzos! The long term pain and injury can and will turn life upside down if not kill you. My sincere prayers of well-being go out to all those suffering and also family members of those suffering. May God bless you and comfort you through this most challenging time
  • Roderick Bartrug
    I have taking Xanax for over 7 years now and have asked my Doctor to please get me off of it cause it hasn’t helped me in years. He would just up my dose until I was taking 2 mg 3 times a day. I recently stopped taking it cold Turkey. This is the end of my first week without Xanax… The withdrawals are terrible..I feel such tightening in my muscles and just hurt all over…When will it stop…
  • salazar
    I know I have had anxiety and panic attacks all my life, I was diagnosed until I ended up in the hospital with the feeling of having heart attack and could not breathe, all they found out that I was stressed out, gave me Xanax and pain meds. the Xanax truly changed my way of feeling thinking and now I feel normal when I feel like I’m about to go crazy and I take a Xanax. I thank God I was helped and given meds for my disorder. Xanax did save my life. But I do not abuse them, I take as directed and needed. stay true.
  • olga
    jumped from xanax at 0.03mg , tapered 2 yrs from .5mg. having headaches now off pn oct 3 2019. i pray this goes away soon. Tapering i had over 100 sxs. im done
  • Ryan rupoli
    I’m addicted to Xanax and alcohol as well as other pills and need help.