If you regularly take Xanax and abruptly stop, you’ll likely experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, a Xanax taper can help you avoid this risk.
Article at a Glance:
- There are several ways to stop using addictive substances like Xanax, including a slow taper.
- A taper involves gradually decreasing the dose, which helps prevent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
- If you believe you are addicted to Xanax, seek addiction treatment or talk to your doctor to begin tapering off the drug.
What Is Xanax Tapering or Weaning off Xanax?
A Xanax (alprazolam) taper slowly reduces Xanax doses to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Tapering is intended to accomplish two fundamental things: lessen withdrawal symptoms and readjust the body to how it was before the drug was used. However, this process does not occur overnight — it requires meticulous planning and structured guidance from a healthcare professional.
If someone regularly takes a benzodiazepine like alprazolam, abruptly quitting can lead to uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. A taper can help reduce these risks and make the withdrawal process safer and more comfortable.
Xanax Taper Plan/Schedule
The recommended taper is a 5%–10% weekly reduction in use. While not everyone’s Xanax taper schedule is the same, this offers a baseline approach to start the process. A more aggressive 25% reduction per week is possible, but only if recommended by your physician.
When starting with Xanax 8 mg, a taper chart may include:
- Week one: Reduce by 5%–10% (7 mg–7.5 mg daily)
- Week two: Xanax dose reduced by 25% (around 5.5 mg daily)
- Week three: Dose is reduced again by 25% (4 mg daily)
- Week four: Dose is reduced again by 25% (3 mg daily)
- Weeks five to eight: No change in dose for one month (3 mg daily)
- Week nine and beyond: A 25% reduction per week until cessation or desired Xanax dose is reached
Types of Xanax Tapering Methods
Different tapering methods can help you slowly lower your Xanax dose over time. Each tapering method can help ease you off Xanax, avoiding withdrawal symptoms. Experts generally recommend two different taper methods: direct tapering and substitute tapering. A third tapering method, titration tapering, is not recommended and should be avoided.
Direct tapering is straightforward. In this tapering method, your Xanax dose slowly decreases over time until it can eventually be discontinued. Your doctor can closely monitor you and may pause or slow your taper if you have withdrawal symptoms.
In substitute tapering, Xanax is switched to another agent, which is then slowly tapered. Because Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, experts recommend converting it to a longer-acting drug like diazepam or clonazepam. Since these drugs last longer than Xanax, your risk of withdrawal symptoms decreases even as the dose goes down.
Experts do not recommend titration tapering. In titration tapering, you dissolve Xanax in water to dilute it and then drink decreasing amounts of the water mixture daily. However, Xanax is insoluble in water, meaning it does not mix with water, and you cannot predict the amount of drug you consume daily.
Why Consider Tapering vs. Stop Xanax Cold Turkey?
Tapering Xanax is much safer than stopping the drug cold turkey. When you take a benzodiazepine like Xanax over the long term, your body acclimates to the drug’s presence. Therefore, suddenly stopping Xanax can throw you into withdrawal, which can be uncomfortable and dangerous, risking complications like seizures. Tapering the drug over time avoids these risks and weans you off Xanax in a gentler way.
Common Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms and side effects of alprazolam withdrawal can begin three to four hours after taking the final dose. Further, around 40% of people who take benzodiazepines for longer than six months will have moderate to severe withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Irritability: A person going through withdrawal may not act like themselves due to many other symptoms weighing them down physically and psychologically.
- Trembling or spasms: Withdrawals are often characterized by involuntary muscular movements or convulsions.
- Headaches and confusion: During withdrawal, the central nervous system is essentially rebooting itself like the organic supercomputer that it is. As a result, withdrawal brings dissociative and confused behavior along with it.
- Nausea and vomiting: Withdrawal symptoms commonly include nausea and vomiting, making it harder to stay hydrated.
- Insomnia: Disrupted sleep patterns may result from overactive neurological responses.
The list is only the beginning. More severe withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Panic attacks
Report any life-threatening reactions to the proper medical professional as soon as possible.
How To Get off Xanax Without Experiencing a Seizure
The best way to stop taking alprazolam without experiencing seizures or other severe withdrawal symptoms is to follow a taper schedule provided by your doctor or treatment team. If you are in a substance abuse treatment program, you may also be given additional medications to prevent dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Stopping alprazolam without a taper can increase the risk of seizures, especially in people who have had seizures in the past.
Why Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms Occur
Withdrawal symptoms occur because medications like Xanax alter how messages are sent between brain and nerve cells. Alprazolam increases the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA. Over time, the body makes less GABA in response to these abnormally high levels.
When someone stops taking Xanax suddenly, they have too little GABA. As a result, they may experience “activating” withdrawal symptoms like tremors and seizures.
Side Effects of Xanax Tapering
When done under medical supervision, Xanax tapering should have no side effects. In fact, if side effects occur with a Xanax taper, that is a signal that the taper may need to be stopped or slowed.
If your doctor has previously prescribed Xanax to treat a medical condition like anxiety, an alternative medication will likely be prescribed as your Xanax is being tapered. If that medication is not adequately controlling your underlying symptoms, you should speak to your doctor.
Xanax Withdrawal Timeline
Because Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine, withdrawal typically starts soon after the drug is stopped and continues for the next few days before improving. However, some withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, may wax and wane and persist for months after stopping Xanax.
- Onset of withdrawal symptoms: Within several hours of the last Xanax dose
- Peak withdrawal symptoms: Within two days of the last Xanax dose
- Improvement in withdrawal symptoms: Within four to five days of the last Xanax dose
- Complete resolution of withdrawal symptoms: Potentially several months after the last Xanax dose
Medications Used When Tapering off Xanax
Generally, Xanax is switched to a longer-acting benzodiazepine like diazepam during the taper process. For most people, that is sufficient to manage their symptoms during the Xanax taper. However, in some cases, specialized medications may be added to help support someone during their taper.
Anti-seizure medications are sometimes prescribed to help people control their withdrawal symptoms during a Xanax taper, specifically carbamazepine (Tegretol) and pregabalin (Lyrica).
While most antidepressants have no proven benefit in helping a person recover during a Xanax taper, some antidepressants like mirtazapine and trazodone are occasionally prescribed to help with mood and insomnia.
Experts do not recommend the anxiety medication buspirone during a Xanax taper because it has shown no benefit.
The benzodiazepine blocker flumazenil is not generally recommended for Xanax withdrawal. It has been researched in small studies and can worsen withdrawal symptoms like seizures.
Can Tapering Your Xanax Intake Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms?
A benzo taper can sometimes rid someone recovering from any withdrawal symptoms. This is because tapering allows the central nervous system to slowly adjust to the drug’s removal. It never gets the opportunity to enter a withdrawal phase.
On the other end of the spectrum, quitting cold turkey provides no such safeguard — withdrawals are at their worst, even deadly. For this reason, neither at-home detoxes nor stopping cold turkey are recommended by physicians. These outdated approaches lack support, guidance and safety measures.
Challenges of Cutting Down Your Xanax Intake
Weaning yourself off a benzodiazepine without medical supervision can be complex. If you accidentally taper too quickly, your doctor can adjust the schedule to ease breakthrough withdrawal symptoms. Also, make sure your doctor knows all other medications you are taking so they prepare the best plan for you.
Relapse Prevention Strategies
Xanax withdrawal symptoms can sometimes increase the risk of relapse, so avoiding them can help reduce this risk. Limiting withdrawal symptoms through a medically managed taper increases your chances of successfully staying off Xanax in the future.
Medically assisted detox is always your best option if you are trying to taper your drug or alcohol use. The Recovery Village provides 24-hour medical detox care at facilities nationwide, and each care plan can be customized to meet your needs. Contact us today to learn more about our medical detox programs and find a treatment program that works well for your situation.
How The Recovery Village Uses Xanax Tapering
Your doctor is an excellent resource for helping you wean off Xanax. They can help you design a taper schedule to decrease your Xanax use gradually over time. This may involve prescribing lower doses of your medication so you do not need to split up higher-dose pills. Addiction treatment programs like those offered at The Recovery Village can also help if you’re struggling to control your Xanax use or are misusing the drug.
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