Benzodiazepines are a class of highly addictive drugs, so it can be hard to stop using them once you start. If you start looking for ideas on how to quit benzos, you will quickly start to come across the concept of “tapering.” Slowly tapering off benzos can be one of the safest ways to quit using these highly addictive drugs. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about reducing your benzo usage.
What Is Tapering?
Tapering is a technique for gradually discontinuing benzo usage. The whole idea is that quitting benzos “cold turkey” can be unpleasant and dangerous. If you taper, you gradually reduce usage over a period of days or even weeks. You still take benzos on a regular basis, but you gradually lower the amount you take each time you use benzos. By slowly lowering your dose of benzodiazepines, you can often avoid the severest withdrawal symptoms.
Tapering can be done in all sorts of ways. There is no specific recommended dosage for tapering off all benzo types, and there are no strict rules about how long tapering should take. It is possible to taper off benzos in a home setting. However, it can also be done in a professional setting with care from medical workers. When you taper off benzos in a clinical setting, you may be given specific types of low-risk benzos. However, you can choose to taper with the type of benzos you currently use.
Why You Need to Taper Benzo Usage
The whole point of benzo tapering is to avoid withdrawals. Benzos are a class of drug that quickly causes physical dependence. Once you have been regularly using them for a while, your body starts to rely on them. The brain adjusts neurotransmitter levels to compensate for the effects of the benzos. When you quit taking the drugs, your body then ends up with various chemical imbalances that make you feel ill.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is one of the worst types of withdrawal possible. For a couple of weeks to a few months after discontinuing benzo usage, you may experience benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
Benzodiazepines are one of the few types of drugs that can cause fatal withdrawals. Even if you are in decent physical health, the seizures from benzo withdrawal can be deadly. Though rare, these dangerous withdrawal symptoms are common enough that you need to be cautious. It is never a good idea to stop benzo usage suddenly without medical monitoring. Due to the nature of benzo withdrawal, tapering is almost always the safest way of getting clean.
When you taper off benzos, you slowly reduce your consumption over time. This allows your brain and body a chance to adjust. Instead of suddenly removing access to the extra chemicals from benzos, you give your brain time to start producing the chemicals on its own. By tapering, you may be able to either reduce or avoid withdrawal symptoms altogether.
Does Tapering Help You Stay Clean?
In addition to protecting your health, tapering may also have several other benefits. It turns out that tapering is more likely to help patients stay sober. Research has found that patients who use a tapering off process are five times more likely to discontinue long-term use of benzodiazepines. There are several different reasons that tapering is so useful for preventing relapses.
First of all, tapering helps simply by reducing withdrawal. When a person is withdrawing from benzos, they have intense cravings that can be hard to resist. By tapering, you may find it easier to withstand cravings. Tapering also helps with other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, like pain, fatigue, or anxiety, that could otherwise tempt you to use.
Interestingly, people who taper off benzos have higher long-term sobriety success rates, too. Even after the worst of withdrawal is over, tapering seems to provide some benefits to sobriety. This may happen simply because tapering involves more professionals in your journey, so you have more support and care. It is also possible that tapering may be able to reduce overall stress, allowing you to focus more on sobriety during those first critical months of recovery. Since benzodiazepine withdrawal can last for months at a time, tapering can also be an invaluable way of protecting your mental and physical health throughout early recovery stages.
Your Guide to Tapering Off Benzos
The basic idea of tapering is just to take fewer benzos over time. However, there are all sorts of variables that can affect your taper. You will need to consider things like the type of medication, length of the taper, and amount of benzo reduction. Ideally, tapering should be done with guidance from a medical professional since it can be fairly complex. However, even if you do not feel comfortable seeing a doctor, you can taper at home.
You will need to start by considering the type of medication you want to use for your taper. Patients have the option of using the same benzo they have been using or switching to another option. For some patients, using the same benzo is the easiest choice since they have a supply of the drug and understand its effects thoroughly. However, changing to a longer-acting benzo can be beneficial for some because it allows them to go longer between dosages. Many patients report that longer-acting benzos result in a more comfortable tapering experience.
Next, you will need to think about how long you want to taper overall. Medical professionals recommend at least eight to 12 weeks. However, people often pick far longer periods. Many taper down benzo usage over the course of six months, and some even take a year or two to taper down to quitting altogether. Generally, a short taper results in more withdrawal symptoms, but it can be simpler and less confusing to plan. If you are not sure how long of a withdrawal period you want, you can start with plans for a short taper and lengthen it if your symptoms become uncomfortable.
Finally, you will need to consider how often you want to lower your dosage and how much you want to reduce your dosage. Doses are usually reduced by somewhere from 5 to 30%. Most people do a dose reduction every one to four weeks, giving their body plenty of time to get used to the new dose before continuing. However, it is possible to reduce the dosage on a daily level. Typically, the less time you have between dosage reductions, the less you will lower your dosage.
The exact dosage and schedule you pick will mostly depend on how severe your benzo usage is. For those who have been taking smaller, therapeutic dosages, doctors usually suggest starting with a reduction of around 5 to 25% and then doing further reductions in the 5 to 25% range every few weeks. Patients who have been taking much larger doses may benefit from starting with a reduction of around 25% and then reducing by around 5 to 10% on a daily or weekly basis.
Does the Type of Benzo You Use Affect the Tapering Process?
Benzodiazepines are a very broad class of drugs that include substances like diazepam, lorazepam, alprazolam, and more. Regardless of what type of drug you use, the same basic process remains the same. You will still need to reduce your dosage by the same amount and use the same overall tapering period.
However, there are some slight differences depending on whether you regularly use long-acting or fast-acting benzos. Some benzos only last around three to eight hours while others may last around one to three days. You will need to pay close attention to the type of benzo you use while you plan your dosage schedule. For benzos with a shorter duration, you may need to take more doses in between each dosage reduction. Some people who take fast-acting benzos may prefer to have a slightly shorter time in between each dosage reduction as well.
Other Factors That Affect Tapering Off Benzos
There are all sorts of factors that may affect how well your tapering goes. Some people find that tapering is a fast, convenient process while others can end up feeling like tapering is stressful or complicated. Every person is different, and no tapering process will be identical. Depending on your needs, you may need to adjust your doses, tapering rate, or level of care during withdrawal. Here are some of the many things that can change the speed or ease of your tapering:
- Your overall state of health
- Your age, weight, and activity level
- How long you have been using benzos
- How much benzos you routinely use
- Whether you use any other drugs alongside benzos
- Your personal metabolism
- Stress levels in your life
- The severity of your substance use disorder
Is Inpatient or Outpatient Tapering Better?
Whenever possible, tapering should always be done under medical supervision. However, this does not mean you have to sit in a medical facility for weeks. Tapering can be done as either an inpatient or outpatient procedure. For inpatient tapering, you will live in a residential rehab facility. They will manage your medications for you and give you an appropriate dose each day. For outpatient tapering, your doctor will give you a prescription for benzos. You can live at home and manage your dosage on your own. Depending on the outpatient program, you may have some sort of accountability procedure like calling a therapist or visiting the clinic while you take your dose.
Each style of tapering has its own benefits. For those who have a lot of responsibilities to deal with, outpatient tapering can be useful. Since tapering is such a lengthy treatment, being able to live at home, go to work, and manage child care can be very helpful. However, it can be very difficult for people to stick to a tapering schedule. Especially for those with severe addictions, inpatient tapering can provide much-needed support and consistency. Having additional help with planning and managing your prescription can reduce stress and improve your chance of maintaining sobriety.
Get Help at a Professional Medical Detox Facility
Because benzodiazepine withdrawal can be so dangerous, it is a good idea to seek care from professionals. At a medical detox facility, you can get medical monitoring throughout the entire withdrawal period. Health care professionals will pay close attention to your health and assist with emergency care if any dangerous symptoms develop. They can also provide you with various medications to ease symptoms like headaches and insomnia. Medical detox is very helpful because it ensures you stay safe, and it also makes it easier to focus on rehab instead of your physical discomfort.
Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detox alongside a variety of other services. Once we help you through benzo withdrawal, our staff can also assist with the later steps of sobriety. Depending on your needs, you can live with us during rehab or visit us regularly as part of our intensive outpatient program. We can also help you find sober living options and assist you with aftercare following rehab.
While working with Granite Recovery Centers, you have access to a wide variety of treatment options. With 12-step programs, you get the chance to work alongside others and have support in a group setting. Our clinical psychotherapists use evidence-based practices like cognitive behavioral therapy. This support can provide you with healthier ways of processing and coping with past trauma and benzo cravings. To learn more about our treatment programs, get in touch with us today.