Going Off Xanax – My Experience

Going off of Xanax cold turkey has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it takes a while.

Going off of Xanax has been a life-changing experience. My psychiatrist prescribed it for anxiety, and I mostly used it at nighttime to help me sleep. I wasn’t abusing it per se, but I took it nightly. I was on the 2MG tablets, which is the highest dose.

Why Were You Taken Off Xanax?

For starters, let’s get into why I was taken off Xanax in the first place. For those who do not know, I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with tendencies to go manic or depressive if I am not on proper medication. My nighttime meds, which consisted of Zyprexa, knocked me out in the mornings. I was foggy, couldn’t get out of bed, and just wanted to sleep.

I explained my predicament to my psychiatrist and he agreed to put me on an upper: Ritalin. The Ritalin helped me wake up in the morning, and for the most part, I was productive.

However, after almost a year on both Ritalin (in the mornings) and Xanax (at night), my psychiatrist warned me that mixing uppers and downers is not a good long-term solution. He said I should go off Xanax, which I begrudgingly accepted. I wasn’t prepared for what was to come. I thought getting off of Xanax would be easy.

The Withdrawal Symptoms

The first few days I was taken off of Xanax, I was able to sleep normally. However, I had very lucid and vivid dreams. I would wake up in sweats, with occasional shaking of my hands during the daytime. As the third day approached, I had unbelievable anxiety. I have to admit I self-medicated because of how bad it was. I tried over the counter sleep medication, which only worked temporarily. I also tried alcohol, which is a big no-no if you know me well. I had sworn off alcohol because it destroyed so many friendships of mine and it caused my health to decline.

This was about when I started reading up on Xanax withdrawal. Every article I read said that you shouldn’t go off of Xanax cold turkey as it can be life-threatening. For example, it could cause seizures, flu-like symptoms, and intense psychological effects. Most articles I read agreed that the physical withdrawal symptoms will ease after four days. I looked forward to that fourth day and hoped the psychological effects would be a non-issue.

Day four came and went. I was still having terrible anxiety and I started to have racing thoughts. I felt I was in danger of going manic since racing thoughts are a symptom of mania. I also was having trouble sleeping due to the intense anxiety and racing thoughts. I would put on music, and every song triggered a memory. With each memory, I would go down a rabbit hole of thought. I could not relax, nor could I sleep. On top of that, I was having short-term memory issues (I’d have blank patches) and my work was affected due to the mental stress I was under. I had minor hallucinations, was extremely paranoid, and my senses seemed to be on overdrive.

As each day passed, it felt like I was doing worse. I sought help on Twitter and Facebook. Everybody I talked to said it would get better. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. My brain synapses seemed to be firing on all cylinders and it felt like my brain was on fire. I didn’t want to go to rehab. I figured the worst was over and I would just have to wait it out. I decided to take double my night time meds in order to help me sleep. It worked. When I woke up the next morning, my brain was no longer on fire. But I still felt like I was outside of my body watching myself. I couldn’t think clearly. My memory was off. It was as if my brain wasn’t quite there yet or that I had lost something. Now it was a wait-and-see game.

3 Weeks After Quitting Xanax

I went and saw my psychiatrist and lectured him that taking me off Xanax cold turkey wasn’t the best idea. He apologized for not weaning me off slowly. He upped my Zyprexa and have been able to sleep on the new dosage.

I had to take a week off of work, which isn’t ideal for a freelancer barely scraping by. Thankfully my clients have been very understanding of my situation and wished me a quick recovery.

My brain still isn’t quite there yet. It’s like I have a tingling feeling on the top of my head that prevents deep thought, which is crucial for a web developer. I have lingering anxiety. It’s a low murmur, but I can feel it in my stomach. It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to sleep.

Am I Fully Recovered?

Not really. Going off of Xanax has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It affected me physically as well as psychologically. I would highly recommend, in hindsight, rehab for those addicted to Xanax the way I was. Without the support of my friends and family, I would never have made it. I now know and respect how addicted I was to Xanax. And since I don’t want to start over the recovery process, I have added it to my list of drugs to never take again.

A New Normal

Without Xanax, my body needs to figure out new coping mechanisms and I can almost feel my brain rewiring itself as time goes on. Thankfully I didn’t go manic with the stress and pressure of the withdrawal. I feel that if I wasn’t on Zyprexa and Depakote, things would have been much worse (Depakote helps prevent mania, as well as seizures).

I’m getting better day by day, but it’s still hard. I cherish sleep when I can get it, even if it’s a cat nap in the afternoon.

Any Advice?

Feel free to comment below if you’ve been through the same thing or have any advice to give. Thank you for reading.

unsplash-logoHaley Lawrence

4 thoughts on “Going Off Xanax – My Experience”

  1. I think you are confusing addiction with dependence. It sounds as if you were simply dependent on the Xanax rather than addicted. Dependence is a physiological response to taking a medication as directed. When you abruptly stop taking it, your brain doesn’t know what to do, thus the withdrawal symptoms you experienced. Addiction is a behavioral issue where a person has irrational cravings for a drug, takes more than necessary, takes it for recreation and not for a condition, and goes to extremes to obtain the drug, get more of it, and experience its effects. Taking Xanax for anxiety and related symptoms is not addiction. Experiencing physical symptoms and discomfort after missing a dose or suddenly stopping it is dependency. Wanting to have some after experiencing bad withdrawal symptoms is not an addiction. Also, just choosing to stop taking it and not taking another dose is a very big indication that you are not addicted, as addicted people aren’t able to make the decision to stop and can’t voluntarily avoid another dose. It is possible to be just dependent on a drug, as it sounds like you were, both dependent and addicted, or just addicted.

    I used to be on 3mg Xanax XR daily and regular 2mg Xanax as needed. I took them for nearly three years. They made me very drowsy and sleepy all the time. I also didn’t like how in order to ease my anxiety my brain needed to be dulled and numb. I hated the way it made me feel. So I decided to stop taking it altogether, both forms. Once I was totally off the Xanaxes and my antidepressant, I felt so much better and had so much more energy. I simultaneously learned how to deal with daily, common anxiety issues using my own strategies, and I developed coping mechanisms for dealing with my depression and reversing it long-term. When there were times of extreme anxiety, like before a presentation or interview, I’d take a quarter of my leftover Xanax and no more. I would only do this no more than three or four times a year. The leftover Xanax lasted me a decade. Fortunately, I got to a point where I no longer felt like I needed anything to ease my anxiety before these events, as I realized that anxiety was a normal reaction to such situations, even though I knew I was more sensitive to it.

    I am incredibly shocked to hear that your doctor did not taper you off the Xanax slowly. Although Xanax is easier to wean off from than some other drugs, everyone responds differently. Your doctor should have taken caution and given you a schedule to follow a gradual decrease over weeks to months, depending on your dosage and response. I wish you would have called your doctor when you started experiencing withdrawal symptoms. You shouldn’t have had to go through that, and I’m sorry you did. It’s good to hear that you have come through it. Tapering from any drug should be smooth and without any discomfort.

    If you feel better now and can work and sleep, stay off the Xanax if that’s what you choose. You should also be aware that dependence can be psychological, so if you believe that you are worse off without the Xanax, then you will feel physiological symptoms, even if you’re no longer physically dependent, which after three weeks you should no longer be. This is not addiction. If there is no replacement mechanism for controlling your anxiety, whether it’s another drug or a mental strategy, then you may continue to experience uncomfortable symptoms. It’s the brain’s desperate way to control that anxiety as quickly and easily as possible, and the Xanax is the quickest, easiest way it knows how to do it since that is most familiar to your brain. That’s why it’s important to have a replacement to temper any anxiety. But you should know that it’s entirely psychological, so you are entirely in control of how you feel. If you believe this, then you can better control your anxiety. Of course, you know best what you’re capable of and what you can tolerate, so take my advice as a guideline. Just know that choosing to quit anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants is an indication that you have better learned how to control your anxiety, that you are in charge of it, and that you’ve come to a place where you realize you no longer need the medication to help you manage it.

    Best regards and take care.

    1. Lazuli,

      Thanks for the comment and encouragement. My anxiety is still pretty bad almost every day. I’m seeing my psychiatrist soon and am going to ask to be put back on Xanax knowing what’s in store for me. Wish me luck.

  2. Hey Ronald,

    I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps it’s just not the time for that. Do you see a counselor or therapist in addition to your psychiatrist? I ask because most times these days (particularly in America with the over-diagnoses and high prescription rates) psychiatrists take the role of psychopharmacologists. To put it simply, they treat mental problems exclusively with medication, no matter if they’re minor or major. To really help with your anxiety, you should consider seeing a licensed therapist so he or she can help you devise and utilize coping strategies and methods to reduce and control your anxiety, especially when most difficult. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been the most successful approach to this.

    I will also state that, unlike a physician or medical practitioner, a psychiatrist’s diagnoses are made using information that the patient gives him or her. In other words, psychiatrists make diagnoses based on subjective (i.e. patient’s input) data, unlike a physician who will make diagnoses based on objectivity, e.g. radiography, blood tests, urinalysis, etc. What I’m saying is that it’s possible you may not actually have bipolar disorder/manic depression.

    I think that if you started seeing a therapist, you could perhaps explore these questions and maybe develop some firmer answers. Perhaps mood swings do exist, but they’re not major enough to be a diagnosis of bipolar. Perhaps, or perhaps not. I’m not you and I’m not your psychiatrist, so I can’t say definitively. I only mention it as a possible avenue, just so you aren’t taking unnecessary medication, you know? I also think that seeing a therapist would really help, for anxiety and any other issues. I’d also like to say that, although you have a psychiatrist helping you and potentially (or presently) a therapist or counselor advising you, you are also an important individual in helping yourself. Actually, you are the most important individual. It’s great that you’re getting the help that you think you need, but it also sounds like you are very displeased and unhappy with the situation you are in currently. It’s because of that that I think you should know you have the most power in this situation. If you don’t like a particular doctor, you can see another one. If the advice you’re getting seems conflicting or ambiguous, get a second opinion. If you wholeheartedly disagree with something, let them know. You don’t have to do anything you feel is hurting you or making things harder.

    Anyway, I know a write a lot, so please forgive me. I really hope start feeling better. Something that really helped me get on the path to getting better was the idea of baby steps. Huge leaps and large succession aren’t required. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Just take those steps slowly and as small as you need to comfortably. Also, distraction, laughter, and routines are incredibly powerful remedies. They really help day to day.

    Take care.

    1. LAZULI,

      I’m definitely manic/depressive (aka bipolar) but I don’t try to let that stigma identify me.

      I talked to my psychiatrist today and he agreed to put me back on Xanax and suggested I go to therapy. I can’t afford therapy atm, but things are looking up on the job front, so I may be able to afford it shortly.

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