Benzodiazepines, known as “benzos” for short, are medications that depress the body’s central nervous system. Commonly known as sedatives or tranquilizers, they are prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and even severe withdrawal. Occasionally, benzos may be used as an anesthetic before surgery as well.
The benzodiazepine class of drugs includes:
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Oxazepam (sold under the brand name Serax)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
Benzodiazepines enhance the functioning of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is how this type of drug gets its sedative, hypnotic, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, and muscle relaxant properties. Benzos can be either short-acting, intermediate, or long-acting, making them a flexible type of medication for different treatment conditions.
Handle With Extreme Care
Despite their therapeutic use, benzos are dangerous drugs and should be handled with care. Benzodiazepine addiction is a cause for concern. Data from this April 2016 study shows that benzodiazepine prescriptions as well as overdose mortality have increased considerably in the US.
Benzo misuse and abuse is also an issue. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 5 million people age 12 and older in the US had misused benzos in the past year.
Prolonged benzo use can lead to physical and psychological dependence and addiction. This can be the case, whether the user was prescribed the drug by a doctor or abused it recreationally for its sedative effects. The more the drug is taken, the higher the tolerance is for it, and some users’ bodies will adjust to the higher doses.
Once dependence sets in, getting off benzos is difficult. Here are four things to know about the benzo detox and withdrawal process.
Benzo withdrawal can be dangerous
Strong or severe dependence on benzos is not safe. For those who wish to stop their use, be prepared to experience withdrawal symptoms. According to studies of benzo dependence, benzo withdrawal can range from mild-to-severe and can be relatively brief or protracted, depending on factors such as one’s dosage history, the length of time spent taking benzodiazepines, body size and type, medical history, and other characteristics.
Many of the symptoms that emerge during benzodiazepine withdrawal are similar to the symptoms for which they were initially prescribed. Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can include such symptoms as:
- Anxiety with or without panic attacks
- Body aches, pains
- Inability to concentrate
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Dizziness and disorientation
- Hot and/or cold flashes
- Muscle spasms
In the most severe instances of benzo withdrawal, individuals could potentially experience convulsions, a form of delirium tremens, hallucinations, psychosis, urges to shout or lash out, and suicidal ideations.
Benzo withdrawal rarely causes serious illnesses or death, but these medications can be dangerous and deadly if taken with alcohol or other substances. Life-threatening seizures are the biggest risk for people in benzo withdrawal.
Never quit benzos cold turkey
Regular benzo users who want to stop using are strongly advised to a) avoid quitting the drug abruptly, a process known as going cold turkey, and b) seek professional detox treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms.
Serious withdrawal can include rebound of the symptoms that made the person take the drug in the first place; those symptoms often return in greater severity, unfortunately.
Detox treatment under the care of licensed health care and mental health care professionals is highly recommended. A monitored withdrawal ensures clients are kept safe and comfortable and that their needs will be met throughout the process.
Tapering has helped some recovering benzo users
For those with a severe dependency, medical personnel might choose to gradually and slowly wean them off the drug, a process called tapering, rather than abrupt cessation.
Although it often takes longer than simply stopping the dosage, tapering allows one’s body to slowly adjust to the gradual decrease and elimination of benzodiazepines from the body without pushing recovering benzo users into immediate, severe withdrawal that could risk or even threaten their lives.
There are different kinds of tapering methods, and the length of the process may depend on how long the drug has been taken and whether the drug is short-acting, such as Xanax, or long-acting, such as clonazepam (Klonopin). Consult with your health professional to find the tapering schedule that is right for you or your loved one.
It can take years to work through benzo withdrawal
Some people who have experienced benzo withdrawal say there is nothing quick about it. It depends on the person, but post-acute withdrawal (PAWS) symptoms can last for years. These are the emotional and psychological symptoms some recovering users experience after withdrawing from a substance for a prolonged time.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing long-term benzo use include:
- Concentration difficulties
- Energy changes
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
Get enough rest and pay attention to your diet during this time because some foods can trigger withdrawal symptoms or make them worse. These foods include alcohol, artificial sugars, and caffeine, among others. Professional support, as well as support from friends and family, can help recovering benzo users as they manage these symptoms.
Don’t face withdrawal alone
We provide a secure and comfortable environment for detox, with medications to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal. If you or someone you know is suffering from benzo addiction, call Arete Recovery at (954) 893-2710 for a free consultation and assessment. We can walk you through your treatment options and help you start your recovery.