What Is Rebound Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural human reaction that most people are relatively familiar with. For those with diagnosed anxiety conditions, rebound anxiety, or the return of symptoms after abruptly stopping the use of prescribed anti-anxiety medications, is a risk.

Categorized by intense feelings of unease, worry, and fear, coupled with an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and fatigue, anxiety is uncomfortable for anyone. Under certain circumstances, a normal amount of worry or discomfort is warranted: an impending deadline, a natural disaster, a loved one falling ill, etc. It becomes a problem when a person experiences anxiety frequently, during mundane tasks, and it interferes with their ability to function in daily life and negatively impacts their personal relationships.

In these cases, the individual is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and is often prescribed a medication meant to calm the mind and quiet the brain’s responses. Usually, doctors will prescribe a Benzodiazepine such as Xanax or Ativan because of their ability to activate the neurotransmitter, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). Because GABA is responsible for chemical communication that allows us to feel calmer, more relaxed, and at ease, the brain can develop a tolerance to the substances that increase it, like alcohol and Benzodiazepines.

Developing a tolerance results in the need for larger amounts or stronger versions of substances to experience the same relief. This might look like drinking an entire six pack of beer when before you’d only need two to relax, or taking more of your medication than prescribed.

Suddenly stopping the use of prescribed meds or the comedown from momentary forms of relief, like drinking alcohol for several days straight, can result in rebound anxiety. While someone is experiencing rebound anxiety, regular anxiety symptoms are worsened and amplified.

How Long Can It Last?

Symptoms of rebound anxiety can be comparable to various substance withdrawal symptoms. The timeline of symptoms looks different for everyone with some people experiencing symptoms between one to four days and others between 10 to 14 days. Just like any other substance withdrawal, symptoms are best managed with healthcare providers and facilities that are specially trained to safely manage these medical conditions.

It is important to be open and honest with your doctor about your original anxiety condition, medical history, and your history of using your prescribed medication. To best assess your situation, your medical provider might ask about the following:

  • Type of medication(s) used
  • How often medication was used
  • How long you’ve taken the medication
  • Severity of anxiety before and after taking the medication
  • How long the anxiety occurred prior to taking the medication
  • If there are other behavioral health conditions present
  • What/if any other coping strategies or systems are being utilized

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Is There Treatment For Rebound Anxiety?

Most people can work together with their doctor to create a treatment plan that aims to not only address the medication’s rebound anxiety side effects, but the initial anxiety disorder as well. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, a doctor might prescribe specific medications used for detox in cases of regular substance abuse withdrawal, as well as begin to taper the patient off the medication. Because the process can look so different from person to person, it is important to consult a professional who can help to minimize any risks and maximize the effectiveness of results. The goal is to help the body heal from its substance dependance without causing any residual physical or mental harm.

A medical provider may choose to prescribe a different medication that can assist with anxiety, without causing the side effects often found in Benzodiazepines. Usually, these medications are considered less “powerful” because their relief is not instantaneous, but they allow for more long-term success in managing anxiety. This process is effective and highlights the importance of working with a medical provider to ensure a safe resolution to an unfortunate circumstance.

For most, safely stopping the medication should help prevent rebound anxiety symptoms from developing, however the original anxiety symptoms often remain. The next step in safely managing anxiety is to work with a behavioral health professional in addressing the root causes and triggers of anxiety. Fortunately, there are many treatment approaches that are designed to help with anxiety disorders, and many have found significant success in managing their anxiety through psychotherapy as opposed to just medication alone.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with rebound anxiety, substance use issues regarding anti-anxiety medications, or alcohol, it is important to seek help now before the symptoms grow even worse. For information on detox at a licensed treatment center, contact a treatment provider today. 

Published:

Author

Travis Pantiel, LMHC, MCAP

Photo of Travis Pantiel, LMHC, MCAP
  • Travis Pantiel is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Board-Certified Counselor with specialized expertise in the co-occurring disorder treatment field.

  • More from Travis Pantiel, LMHC, MCAP

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