Woman with headache
“You should calm down. Here, take a Xanax.”

Generally, this isn’t said in a way that’s meant to be harmful. Whether it’s a friend or a loved one saying it, the goal is obviously to help a person calm down, to get past a distressing time. Like other drugs, however, Xanax should only be taken when prescribed because of how it can affect each person differently.

But prescriptions are only one way the drug has become so well-known and ubiquitous. Obviously, doctors prescribed Xanax enough for the public to begin equating its name with certain words and/or feelings, most prominently the idea of being “calm.”

Diversion of Xanax is another way it has become popular and well-known. Diversion — when a prescription is written for one person who then sells or gives away the medication to others — has led to a much wider audience taking the drug. That also resulted in a much larger audience developing a tolerance for Xanax, which is only one step away from addiction.

How prevalent has Xanax become? A study published by the United States National Library of Medicine classifies Xanax as one of the most prescribed medications in America. Because of this, Xanax has moved into the lives of many Americans in a way that seems normal to them. If someone is having a stressful day, struggling with a panic attack, or maybe even suffering from overpowering sadness from a tragedy they’ve experienced, a Xanax can give temporary relief.

What happens when that temporary relief goes away, though? Xanax is affecting a person’s brain and body in significant ways and can lead to troubling side effects. When taken as prescribed, in a controlled manner, Xanax can be perfectly safe when under the guidance of a medical professional.

In order to understand the risks, let’s first look at what Xanax is and how it works.

Knowing Xanax Front To Back

Xanax is a brand name for the medication known as alprazolam. It is classified as a benzodiazepine, which is occasionally shortened to the slang “benzo.” Benzodiazepines interact with specific portions of the brain that control normal functions like memory or energy levels.

Our brains possess many receptors, which are essentially like switches that interact with our body’s central nervous system and control the functions already mentioned, plus many more. One of these receptors is known as GABA-A, which is the one benzodiazepines in general, and alprazolam in particular, interacts with.

One of the key functions GABA-A controls in our brains is memory. This is one of the reasons why Xanax can occasionally lead to blackouts or memory loss. Along with this, Xanax — and benzodiazepines in general — produce other sedative and depressant effects in the body and brain by either amplifying or dampening natural functions of the brain and its receptors.

Since Xanax is interacting with a person’s brain it is also interacting with their bodies and can therefore lead to side effects. What are some of Xanax’s possible side effects?

The Side Effects Of Xanax

There are quite a few possible side effects from taking Xanax, some of them dependent on a person’s biology and whether they are also consuming other drugs or substances. Because of this, everyone will not react the same to a medication, even if they are taking the exact same dose for the exact same length of time.

Some of the most common side effects from Xanax are 

  • drowsiness
  • lethargy
  • fatigue

These three side effects are seen most commonly for smaller dosages of Xanax and will most likely happen to everyone who has consumed any amount of the medication. Other side effects, however, are only seen when a person has ingested larger doses. These side effects include

  • impaired motor coordination
  • dizziness
  • vertigo
  • slurred speech
  • blurry vision
  • mood swings
  • euphoria
  • hostile or erratic behavior

Another aspect of Xanax (and other benzodiazepines) that can lead to side effects is how slowly they leave a person’s system. If someone is taking the medication repeatedly, and particularly over a longer period of time, their body can actually begin to experience a buildup in their fat cells. When this happens another set of side effects are possible:

  • impaired thinking
  • disorientation
  • confusion
  • slurred speech

Xanax Tolerance And Overdose

Man in xanax therapy
What exactly is tolerance? The National Institutes of Health describe it as: “…the diminished response to alcohol or other drugs over the course of repeated or prolonged exposure.” That means if a person is ingesting a substance repeatedly over time their body begins to get used to it. When the body gets used to the substance it starts to produce weaker versions of the substance’s function or stops producing them at all.

In the case of Xanax, tolerance means a person would begin to experience less of its sedative effects, but could also potentially experience less of other effects, such as its ability as an anticonvulsant. Some studies have found Xanax tolerance can happen incredibly quickly, showing up in only seven or 10 days.

Those same studies also struggled to find an explanation for why Xanax tolerance happened so quickly. A person who is taking Xanax each day could end up experiencing tolerance in a week, which could then easily lead to them increasing the amount of Xanax they are taking.

That is why tolerance is often seen as the first step toward addiction. If a person’s body grows tolerant of medication they could potentially start down the path of addiction by continually searching for the initial experience and feelings they had when beginning the medication or drug.

Along with the possibility of tolerance, an overdose is another concern. With Xanax, an overdose is usually characterized by reactions that seem very similar to extreme alcohol intoxication. That is when a person has taken only Xanax, however. If they have combined it with other drugs or substances, the outcomes could be much, much worse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that 16% of all overdose deaths in 2019 involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines. Remember, Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, which is a benzodiazepine. One of the reasons for this is that opioids and benzodiazepines both act as depressants and can both affect a person’s breathing.

Yes, it can be dangerous to take Xanax without a prescription, but remember it is also possible to take it safely in the right conditions, with medical guidance. Tolerance may still be an issue, however, based on the research we’ve presented; it all depends on the person.

One other thing that has to be taken into account is the potential for Xanax withdrawal symptoms.

Xanax Withdrawal Symptoms

Like many other medications that affect the brain and/or central nervous system, doctors stress that you should never stop taking Xanax suddenly, which includes quitting “cold turkey.” This is because the body has gotten used to a certain level of the substance and the sudden absence of it can result in withdrawal symptoms.

Doctors almost always encourage a gradual tapering, which means you would slowly decrease the amount of Xanax being taken. By doing this it allows the body time to naturally shift its own chemicals to the previous levels from before Xanax was being taken.

Some of the possible withdrawal symptoms from suddenly stopping Xanax can be very serious:

  • seizures
  • shaking of a part of your body that you cannot control
  • headache
  • blurred vision
  • increased sensitivity to noise or light
  • change in sense of smell
  • Sweating
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • difficulty concentrating
  • nervousness
  • depression
  • irritability
  • aggressive behavior
  • muscle twitching or cramps
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • pain
  • burning sensations
  • numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • a decrease in appetite
  • weight loss

Whether someone is taking Xanax with or without a prescription, the dangers of suddenly stopping are very real. Doctors should provide extensive information about possible interactions with other medications as well as what to do if tolerance increases.

Break Free From A Tolerance Or Addiction To Xanax

Taking Xanax without a prescription is incredibly dangerous for several reasons, as we discussed above. Not only does your body grow tolerant to it very quickly, which can lead to increasing the dose in order to achieve the same results a lower dose once produced, but this can also then lead to potential overdose and/or withdrawal symptoms.

This means a person who has decided to take Xanax without a prescription is walking into a scenario that can spin out of control at any moment. If a person thinks they should just stop taking Xanax and everything will be fine, as you just saw, they could end up experiencing horrible side effects.

Getting professional help is the best way to ensure the recovery from Xanax tolerance and/or addiction is as safe and comfortable as possible.

Medically Supervised Detox

Finding professional help and treatment for Xanax means taking many things into account, and staying safe during the whole process is one of the most important. Vertava Health has many locations throughout the United States that offer comprehensive and medically supervised detoxification (detox).

The road to full recovery from addiction or mental health can have many stops. If a person needs to detox from Xanax then the first step may need to be detox. In order to reach the other steps of rehabilitation, outpatient services, and aftercare programs, the drug or substance in question will need to be completely out of someone’s system.

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Vertava Health utilizes professional and individualized treatment options during the detox phase, which is medically supervised by qualified and experienced professionals. All clients enrolled in detox will be monitored and have 24/7 access to medical care in the case of emergencies. This includes administering any medications that may help with the process of recovery.

Xanax And General Benzodiazepine Detox

As scary as it is to know, a person going through withdrawal from Xanax or another benzodiazepine can in fact experience horrible side effects, including death. The detox program for Xanax could last as short as two weeks or as long as eight, it really depends on many factors related to the individual in treatment, such as the length of their addiction and how much Xanax they were taking.

Along with that, Xanax withdrawal symptoms can in fact last for weeks or even months. The first withdrawal symptoms a person will experience when ceasing to take Xanax can last for anywhere between one and four days. More severe withdrawal symptoms, such as the ones experienced by a person who has been taking Xanax for much longer, could last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month.

All of these reasons are why the medically supervised detox offered at a professional treatment center like Vertava Health is so important. Not only is medical staff available to help keep a person safe and comfortable during the process of detox, but qualified doctors are as well. They can appropriately taper a person’s Xanax dose safely.

After the Xanax has been completely removed from a person’s system they can begin the next stage of their treatment, which will include certain forms of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). The combination of these therapies with medically supervised detox will help set up a successful recovery, one that is focused on long-term health and wellness, rather than simply fixing the current situation.

Knowing that quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous, even deadly, means if a person is struggling they should ask for help. That isn’t always easy, however. The good news is there are people who will listen, who are always ready to talk and extend a hand to help guide someone through addiction and into long-term recovery.

Vertava Health Can Help

Finding a recovery program that is dedicated to helping overcome each obstacle may seem daunting. Vertava Health is here to show you how strong you are and help you find the path through those obstacles, all the way to lifelong recovery. We treat substance use and mental health disorders and do so in a professional, medically supervised environment.

Our individualized treatment plans are available at our on-site facilities and online through telehealth options, so care is available when and how you need it. We employ evidence-based treatment methods that have been researched for years and are supported by results. Along with that, the resilience and dedication of each person we see plays a massive role in their recovery. If you have any questions or would like to speak to someone about beginning treatment, please give us a call at (615) 208-2941. Today can be the first day of your recovery!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Fast Does Xanax Tolerance Build?

According to some studies, tolerance can build “quite quickly,” in some cases after taking the medication for only seven days, in others 10 days. Tolerance can also build for only one of Xanax’s effects independent of the others. So a person may find their body no longer reacts to the sedative effects of Xanax but does react to the anticonvulsant effects. Tolerance can also happen without showing any signs of physical dependence, such as withdrawal symptoms. Also, unfortunately, research has yet to figure out exactly why this tolerance can happen so quickly.

What To Do When Xanax Stops Working?

If you are taking Xanax as prescribed and find that it’s no longer working, consult with your doctor for the next steps. As stated above, tolerance to Xanax can develop quickly, so be sure to stay aware of how it is affecting you.

How Long Does It Take For Xanax Tolerance To Go Down?

There is no general timeline for Xanax tolerance going away. Because each person reacts to the medication differently, and tolerance can develop quickly (along with for specific functions of the medication, rather than all of them at once) it will be different for each person.