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The Dangers of Xanax and other Benzodiazepines!

Xanax (alprazolam) is in the class of medications called benzodiazepines or Benzo's for short. These medications work through their ability to increase the presence and activity of the neurotransmitter GABA. The effect of this neurotransmitter is to produce a calming and sedated state. This effect is not without consequence in the human body, however.  My name is Doctor Terranella, naturopathic doctor in Phoenix Arizona. I have helped hundreds of people successfully and happily get off many different kinds of benzodiazepines, including Xanax. I can tell you that it is possible and the vast majority of people are better off getting off these medications. It is important to know that doing this without medical supervision can cause more harm than good. This article will explain the physiology behind these medications and some of the methods used to get people off the medication.  

Because of the constantly opposing physiological activities at work in the body, the benefits of these medications contain the seeds of addiction, dependency, more anxiety, and other health issues. It is these opposing activities that help us understand what creates the "Dangers of Xanax and other benzodiazepines."


How Xanax Works in Your Body.

We often think of the things around us as being static, when in fact, everything around us is in constant flux. We notice things are not static by noticing their opposites. For instance, we know dark by seeing light, heavy by feeling light, hot by feeling cold, quiet by dangers of xanaxhearing loud. As Aristotle pointed out many years ago, absolutes are more of cultural and language convention rather than observable truths that we experience. What we experience are things along the spectrum of heavy, light, cold, hot, quiet, etc. It is within this context of relational spectrums that we can truly understand how neuropsychiatric drugs like Xanax effect the brain and our mood. 

We know for instance that alprazolam works by binding to a GABA receptor which then causes release of GABA which turns on inhibitory actions in the central nervous system. It also causes down regulation of many hormones  at the hypothalamicpituitary-adrenal axis causing a decrease in cortisol and epinephrine. The actions of the drug come on quickly (10-45 minutes) and start to wear off relatively quickly too, within 6-8 hours. Because the physiology of the body is in constant flux, the inhibitory actions of this drug are also being mildly opposed by stimulatory neurotransmitters. The stimulatory actions start in conjunction with the primary action of the drug. It is the body's way to counteract the drug and seek balance. The more often the medication is taken, the more of the opposing neurochemicals are produced.

This habituation of the body to the drug creates tolerance to the drug. The resulting mental state of the person who develops tolerance to alprazolam become neutral, with less and less inhibitory and sedating action each time they take it. This means the person has to increase their dose to get the same relaxing effect. 


Xanax withdrawal and tolerance

In addition to the opposing neurochemicals created from ongoing Xanax use, as described above, the body also starts to decrease the amount of GABA receptors available for the Xanax to bind to. It also starts to decrease the amount of inhibitory neurotransmitters produced from the drug binding to the GABA receptor. 

Because of all this habituation described above, when the drug is not taken or a dose is missed most people will feel a heightened sense of stress, anxiety, and even panic. This occurs as the result of these stimulatory neurochemicals being produced to off-set the drug. As the drug wears off the stimulatory neurotransmitters have up regulated so much that the person can have more anxiety than when they started the drug.  In some cases the drug begins to wear off quicker and quicker as the body becomes more efficient at processing it. In these cases the person is forced to take the drug more often, otherwise they get Anxiety.

Is it real Anxiety though? If you begin taking this medication for a temporary situational life stressor (like an adjustment disorder) and you continue taking the medication for weeks to months and try to get off it, any "Anxiety" you have is likely Xanax withdrawal and not a true anxiety disorder. Xanax withdrawal can be very dangerous leading to seizures, restlessness, insomnia, excessive sweating, headaches, tremors, severe anxiety, changes in bowel movements, and even death. It is a serious medical issue and because of this, no-one should attempt to come off this drug without medical support.

On the other hand, if you do have a true anxiety disorder (see below for the criteria), it will probably get worse trying to coming off the xanax. This is temporary though and once your brain and body resets, it will get better. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes it takes weeks, but gradually the anxious state gets better. Not to say that the underlying anxiety disorder will go away but it will get better, more manageable. I have treated many patients coming off Xanax with a prior diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, and others. In many cases after a period of stabilization and some support, the anxiety went away all on it's own. This typically happens when the Anxiety disorder was misdiagnosed in the first place, but not always. Those with more severe anxiety disorders will need additional treatment with acupuncture, nutrient or herbal support, hormonal treatments, and/or medications. 


Anxiety disorder or Xanax withdrawal?

So how do you know if you have a true anxiety disorder or simply suffering from Xanax withdrawal?

Check out this blog article that describes various Anxiety Disorders and Acupuncture. It gives a more detailed explanation on this topic. One main thing to look for in trying to differentiate this is the pattern of anxiety. For instance, how long has it been there, is it worse at certain times during the day. Answering these questions not only helps determine whether you are suffering from an anxiety disorder or Xanax withdrawal, but also helps guide an effective treatment. 


What are my options to get off Xanax and other Benzodiazepines?

Nutrigenomics is the most common approach I use for mental health problems in general. This practice involves understanding how your body naturally (from genetics) makes and breaks down neurotransmitters like GABBA, Epinephrine, Dopamine, Serotonin, Glutamate, etc. By understanding what your "natural" balance is, we can reestablish balance by influencing the enzymes that create and breakdown neurotransmitters.  You can learn more about nutrigenomics and mental health approach here


Cognitive behavior therapy is a treatment used to help patients with anxiety and other mood disorders understand the thoughts and feelings associated with their moods. To dissect the things, people and events that trigger specific moods and behaviors. Through this aim the patient can alter their interpretation of the things, people, and events around them to positively improve their mood(s). 

Re-working neural circuits is a process to reprogram the information stored in the neurons that create the mood(s) associated with certain things, people, and events. Every experience we have is stored in our brains in neuron. Depending on how important the event is, the stored information can be relieved by environmental cues. For example, someone with PTSD from war may get anxious and hyper-vigilant with the sound of loud noises like fireworks. The act of re-programming the neural circuitry is to disassociate stress and fear with this noise. Using things like acupuncture and progressive relaxation techniques we can help people with PTSD, addiction, GAD, and OCD reduce the impact of these mood disorders on their life. 

Hormonal Imbalances

Many if not all hormones have neuropsychiatric effects and when they are imbalanced the neuronal firing and neurotransmitters will be too. For instance, progesterone and testosterone act like mood stabilizers the same way Depakote and Gabapentin do. 

Removing Toxins

The toxins in our environment enter in our bodies through the food we consume, air we breath, and water we drink. These can be stored in our body in various areas. The effect of these toxins on our nervous function can be very detrimental to some. For instance, heavy metals can disrupt the cell signaling between neurons and the absorption of nutrients at the blood brain barrier. The effect can be both hyperactive or sedated state depending on where the metals are being stored. 

Each person is unique in how they find themselves on Xanax and other benzodiazepines and so then will each treatment be unique. There is no standard protocol that works for everyone and multiple factors come into play to determine which approach will work best. Probably the most important one would be fear. Fear that, "I am going to have a seizure", "the withdrawal will never go away", I won't be able to sleep", "I won't be able to work or perform." These and many like these keep the benzodiazepines dependent person, in fear and chronically using Xanax and the like.


If you want to get off this medication talk to a doctor that can guide you through the process safely and effectively Or Get in touch with me by clicking below.


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