If you’ve ever struggled with high anxiety, panic attacks, or insomnia, then you understand how debilitating such conditions can be. Fortunately, there are prescriptions like benzodiazepines that can help those who struggle with such.
Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed psychiatric medications for a variety of mental health issues like anxiety disorders, as well as medical conditions like insomnia and seizures.
Commonly known as “benzos”, the FDA has approved 15 various types of benzos, with the following being the most common:
Benzos work by increasing the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which depresses the central nervous system. Essentially, they work by cooling off the “fight or flight” reaction, bringing a sense of calm and peace. They’re supposed to only be used as a short-term solution for medical conditions, as long-term use can turn into a high likelihood for dependence and addiction.
Addiction may set in as well, which can make it challenging to come off the drug due to the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may arise. Stopping benzos abruptly is very dangerous, and should always be done slowly with a taper method under a physician’s care.
When someone becomes dependent on a benzodiazepine, withdrawal symptoms occur when trying to come off of the drug. The following are typical benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms:
More serious symptoms commonly associated with those on high doses of benzos are:
Not everyone experiences withdrawal in the same way or in the same time frame. The duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on various factors like:
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The worst of withdrawal symptoms will occur within the first week coming off of them. Physicians state that a taper or weaning off the benzo should always be conducted, as abrupt cessation is dangerous and can be deadly.
Those that are taking short-acting benzos like Xanax, Ativan, or Restoril, may begin to experience symptoms within as little as eight hours. For the longer-acting benzos, like Valium, symptoms usually present within one to two days. The first couple days there may be some “rebound” anxiety and insomnia that occurs. This means that the anxiety or sleeplessness that was first treated may surface again. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea.
Some withdrawal symptoms will peak during these days, with the severity oftentimes depending on the type of benzo and strength of the dosage. Common withdrawal symptoms include mental and emotional confusion, increased anxiety, nausea, insomnia, irritability, cravings, and sensitivity to sound. Cravings may be intense in the beginning of this phase, so it’s important to have support to help one not give in. By day four or five, some of the symptoms will be letting up.
By the time week two comes around, most people report the worst is over. Some symptoms will linger on through the second week, especially for those who have become dependent on the longer-acting benzos. Rebound anxiety can certainly be present in this stage, but overall, by the end of two weeks, most, if not all, of the withdrawal symptoms will be better or gone.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) may linger on past two weeks up to several months. These tend to be more psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, and continued cravings and insomnia. It’s important to continue to seek professional support during this time to keep from falling prey to relapse.
It is dangerous to quit taking benzos cold turkey, as the brain has become dependent on the drug and can have a hard time coping without the drug at first. The brain chemistry is actually altered while taking benzos regularly, so the most safe and comfortable way to get off of them is to wean off. This is one reason it is imperative to detox under the care of a physician or addiction specialist, so that a taper schedule can be implemented. If one tries to stop taking them abruptly at home, the dangers include seizures, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis.
Long-term benzo users that have become dependent or addicted are recommended to attend a medical detox treatment center with licensed medical professionals. Around-the-clock monitoring by substance abuse professionals can help patients manage the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
The detoxing from the drug is simply the first step toward recovery. During the detox phase, a patient will undergo a taper schedule created by a physician, lowering the dosage incrementally to manage withdrawal symptoms.
The next treatment step is to continue treatment at an addiction treatment center, where the patient can work with a qualified therapist to get back on track and learn valuable skills to remain free from benzo addiction.
For heavy benzo users or those who would benefit from a 24/7 supportive environment, inpatient treatment is recommended. This type of treatment allows individuals to live at the treatment facility to receive professional treatment. There you will be surrounded by medical and substance abuse clinicians who can provide the type of structured treatment and support that can help you get free from benzo addiction.
For those who cannot live at the facility during treatment, an outpatient treatment center is recommended. Much of the same treatment will be given, except the person will attend a number of sessions during the week and go home afterwards rather than spend the night. This is a great option for those who have family or work responsibilities. The number of sessions through the week vary depending on the needs of the individual, but oftentimes range from three to seven sessions per week.
Regardless of whether one chooses inpatient or outpatient treatment, specialized care will be given to include:
It can be tough to get free from benzo addiction, but it’s possible with the help of addiction specialists who can help you navigate the withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to choose a detox center that is familiar with the withdrawal symptoms from benzos. There, you will be able to get the physical and psychological help necessary to get free from benzo addiction. And, a medical professional can also help you find alternative forms of treatment if you struggle with high anxiety, insomnia, or seizures.
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U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Xanax. Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2011/018276s044,021434s006lbl.pdf
Drugs.com. (2019, January 21) Benzodiazepines: Overview And Use. Anderson, L.A. PharmD. Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/article/benzodiazepines.html
National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2018, March 15) Benzodiazepines And Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
Emergency Medicine News. (2001, December). . Benzodiazepine Withdrawal. Greenberg, M. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/em-news/fulltext/2001/12000/Benzodiazepine_Withdrawal__Potentially_Fatal,.13.aspx