The Case Against Xanax

Hear me out before you get mad at me, k?

Xanax is one of the most ubiquitous medications in America when it comes to trauma fighters. It may be in other parts of the world, too. Because our nervous system is constantly on high alert, the anxiety we live with can feel unbearable. And Xanax or the generic Alprazolam are proven to soothe our frayed nerves.

I took Xanax for nearly 4 years. Sometimes I still miss the feeling of relief when a dose kicked in. But I realized something when I stopped taking Xanax in rehab:

Taking Xanax every day was making my anxiety worse.

The Half Life Problem

Compared to other benzodiazepams, Xanax has a short half-life. This means it leaves the body faster than other longer-acting medications. In fact, it is possible to have withdrawal symptoms even between regular proscribed doses.

It’s well established that Xanax or alprazolam can lead to a “rebound effect” when use is stopped. A rebound effect means that the symptom you were medicating comes back stronger than it was before medication. The short half-life of Xanax means that people often feel this rebound effect before their next dose is due. This is one reason why Xanax is so highly prone to misuse.

I’ll say it one more time: You can feel even more anxious than you were to start with in between regular doses of Xanax. This makes you want to take more, and certainly makes it hard to skip a dose. Even over a short period of use, even when taken as directed, Xanax naturally lends itself to addiction, or at least dependence.

Xanax Is A Short-Term Help, But Long-Term Hindrance

There’s a reason Xanax/ Alprazolam is the most prescribed medication for anxiety: it works, and it works fast. And since longer-acting medications take time to build up in your system it makes sense to proscribe Xanax in the short term until those medications take effect.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long at all for the brain to adjust to Xanax’s activity and build up a tolerance. With the rebound effect mentioned above, this can make it seem like your anxiety is actually getting worse, and you need even more Xanax just to function.

But even if that doesn’t happen to you, and you are able to use Xanax as proscribed, it’s still not helping you in the long run. Numbing yourself to your pain is tempting, and being able to function without anxiety when taking Xanax feels like progress. Unfortunately, what you’re actually doing is just kicking the ball up the street. You’re just ignoring feelings that have to be dealt with sooner or later.

The fresher and more severe your trauma, the more needed a short-term medication like Xanax is. When the pain is intense, by all means medicate it. You wouldn’t avoid bandaging a fresh burn just because the bandage may need to be changed later. But you also can’t use the same bandage forever and expect your burn to get better. It will need to be exposed to the air at some point.

Emotional trauma works the same way. If you keep your wounds bandaged up tightly, and never allow yourself to feel the feelings your body wants you to process, those wounds will never go away. You’ve got to feel in order to heal. As long as you’re numbing your feelings with Xanax or any other substance, you’re stuck in place. You’re not getting any better.

Xanax Withdrawal Is No Joke

As I write this, it has been almost 4 months since I took my last dose of Xanax, the morning I checked into rehab. I am still feeling withdrawal symptoms. I am extremely tired no matter how much I sleep, and I am lightheaded to the point I think I’m going to pass out when I stand up. I originally thought this was a side effect of the Vivitrol shot, and that may be contributing. But it’s more likely I’m suffering from Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.

And these symptoms can last a year or more.

Still, I will gladly accept the dizziness and excess sleep as opposed to the withdrawals I experienced short-term. I’ve delivered two children and yet I have NEVER been as miserable. Sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety – all at level 10 – lasted into my 3rd week clean. Believe it or not, I was lucky.

Since I didn’t know any better, I wound up quitting Xanax cold turkey instead of tapering it down before I went to rehab. Had I done this without medical supervision I likely could have had seizures and even died. During my stay in Wilmington, we saw several people have those seizures. My room overlooked the admission office, giving me a front row seat as paramedics would frantically work on someone who had just shown up for treatment. Sometimes the other patients would watch with me, and we’d all hold our breath to see if the patient’s head was covered when loaded into the ambulance or if they were still alive.

Quitting. Xanax. Can. Kill. You.

Staying on it will trap you in a wounded state. So talk to your doctor for the love of all the gods, and safely stop taking it. It’s time.

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