What to Expect When Detoxing from Benzodiazepines
Often used to treat anxiety and similar conditions, benzodiazepines – or “benzos” for short – such as Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin, are often thought of as relatively safe for regular use. However, this perception ignores the potential dangers of these substances. Many health officials believe that benzodiazepine abuse constitutes a hidden epidemic of sorts, noting the danger of benzos in terms of fostering dependence, addiction, nasty withdrawals, and even deadly consequences when taken alongside opioids or other substances. There were 8 times as many overdose deaths involving benzos in 2016 as there were in 2002. Benzodiazepine detox and withdrawal; however, does not have to be unsafe.
Benzos are commonly abused – and sometimes even prescribed – in combination with opioids. One study found that “more than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines“. With benzodiazepine prescriptions on the rise despite these dangers, anyone who is at risk for developing a dependence, or who is already abusing these substances, needs to be aware of the potential consequences of their continued use.
The Difficulty of Quitting Benzodiazepines
Quitting benzodiazepines, once a person develops a dependence is a difficult process. In an NBC article on benzodiazepines, Stanford’s chief of addiction medicine, Dr. Anna Lembke, stated that trying to quit benzos “cold-turkey” by one’s self is highly dangerous. She notes that quitting cold turkey with a serious benzodiazepine dependence carries risks of life-threatening symptoms such as seizures or even death. Tapering off of benzos slowly is a better solution, but still difficult. One woman described in the same article noted phases of intense withdrawal symptoms every time she lowered her dose.
The Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal
Given these challenges in getting off benzodiazepines, a structured detoxification setting under medical supervision is highly advised. Medically-supervised detoxification allows care providers to pay “careful attention to the prevention of seizures, withdrawal delirium, and treatment of chronic withdrawal symptoms” that can accompany a serious benzodiazepine dependence.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines occurs in phases, the duration and severity of which depend on the patient’s history with the given drug. Typically, the first phase of symptoms starts anywhere from 10-12 hours to a few days from last use, depending on the drug. The onset of anxiety and insomnia are common. From there, the acute phase of benzo withdrawal sets in, which can include:
- muscle twitches and spasms
- weight loss
These benzo withdrawal symptoms typically peak around 2 weeks in before they decrease in intensity, though individual cases vary.
Lingering Symptoms and Post-Detox Care
As with other substance abuse cases, individuals who struggle with a benzodiazepine dependence will not always recover from all symptoms after those first weeks of detox. A minority of individuals may experience protracted symptoms, such as cravings, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cognitive issues that can take months, or even years to fully resolve.
Post-detox care is vital for those who struggle with benzodiazepine abuse, as it can provide the individual with the support network and personal skills to healthily cope with challenges instead of abusing substances like benzos. Therapy can teach clients how to manage anxiety and other co-occurring disorders and give them strategies for confronting fears that lead to powerful personal change. A support network can provide comfort, meaning, and direction for an individual as they begin the personal changes necessary for recovery.
The substance detox center at Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham, NH if the first step to a full recovery from benzo dependence. Granite Recovery Centers continuum of care combines an engaging 12-step curriculum with evidence-based clinical care to provide a comprehensive treatment program for individuals struggling with substance abuse. If you or someone you know is dependent on benzodiazepines, we can help. Granite Recovery Centers can be reached at 603-339-4194.