What is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Benzodiazepines are a class of often-prescribed yet highly addictive tranquilizers. Often referred to as “benzos,” these drugs are sometimes legally prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Familiar benzodiazepine names include Xanax and Valium. Unfortunately, they are frequently abused by people and lead to substance use disorder. This is a big problem because they can be quite dangerous, with benzos being one of the most common causes of prescription overdose deaths.
If you’ve been regularly taking benzodiazepines for a while, you may face withdrawal when you quit using. Whether benzodiazepines are your primary or secondary drug, withdrawal can be very unpleasant. Understanding how withdrawal works can help you treat your symptoms and work toward overcoming the addiction.
Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Not everyone with a benzodiazepine addiction experiences the same symptoms. While some mainly have mental symptoms, others may experience intense physical effects. If you go into withdrawal, you may encounter one or more of the following symptoms:
• Extreme sweating
• Intense benzodiazepine cravings
• Stiff or sore muscles
• Heart palpitations
• Elevated heart rate
• Extreme anxiety
• Panic attacks
• Trouble sleeping
• Difficulty concentrating
• Suicidal thoughts
In addition to the primary symptoms of benzo withdrawal, you may also experience rebound effects. Rebound effects often happen if you’ve been treating an underlying condition, like an anxiety disorder or insomnia, with benzodiazepine abuse. When you quit taking the drug, you may find that these conditions come back more intensely. This can last two to three days before you return to your previous levels.
What Causes Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?
Benzodiazepine addiction is common due to the complex way that drugs interact with your brain. They tell your brain to release extra amounts of certain neurotransmitters that make you feel good. However, the brain is always trying to balance all these chemicals to reach a sort of stable equilibrium called homeostasis. If your brain is constantly handling altered levels of neurotransmitters due to benzodiazepine use, it could start producing too much of certain chemicals and too little of others.
Withdrawal happens because your brain sees having benzos in your system as its new normal. When you quit taking benzodiazepines, you then end up with highly irregular neurotransmitter levels in your brain. Since these chemicals are responsible for all sorts of mental and physical functions in the body, without them you end up feeling very sick.
Understanding the Benzo Detox Timeline
Several factors can affect just how long a benzodiazepine withdrawal lasts. Generally, it will be more severe and last longer if you’ve been taking large amounts of the drug for a very long time. Keep in mind that benzos can become addictive in just a few weeks, so you may encounter withdrawal even if you haven’t been using the drug for years. Those who have been using longer-acting benzodiazepines may take longer to go into withdrawal. Your body’s metabolism also plays a role. People with a faster metabolism may start withdrawal earlier.
Here is what you should expect during the four stages of withdrawal:
• The First 6-8 Hours: In the first few hours after you quit taking benzos, you may not notice much of a difference. However, some light anxiety and trouble sleeping might start to occur.
• Days 1-4: On days one and two after withdrawal, your symptoms will gradually get worse. You can end up experiencing extreme sweating, nausea, an increased heart rate, and heavy breathing during this time. These symptoms will usually peak a couple of days in and then gradually improve. However, keep in mind that those who take long-acting benzos may not reach the peak for a week or two.
• Days 10-14: In the first week or two after you quit taking benzodiazepines, withdrawal can continue to be quite uncomfortable. Though the peak of intense symptoms will probably be gone, you may still have some lingering issues like irritability, cravings, mood swings, and anxiety.
• Weeks 3-4: By a month after taking benzos, most people will be out of withdrawal. However, those who use long-acting benzos may still be having some anxiety, insomnia, and other lighter symptoms of withdrawal.
Is Benzo Withdrawal Fatal?
For many types of drugs, withdrawal is unpleasant but not deadly. Unfortunately, this is not the case for benzodiazepines. Since withdrawal may include seizures, death is possible in extreme cases. Another problem with benzo withdrawal is that it greatly elevates the heart rate. If you have any sort of underlying heart condition, this sudden rise in heart rate and blood pressure can also be deadly. Because benzo withdrawal is so dangerous, it is usually not a good idea to try quitting cold turkey on your own. You need to be in a medical environment, where professionals can monitor your condition and provide treatment if your vital signs reach dangerous levels.
Ways to Reduce Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms
The idea of dealing with withdrawal can be quite unpleasant. If fact, many addicts say that fear of withdrawal keeps them from getting sober. However, you do not have to let withdrawal stand in the way of your sobriety. It is possible to either prevent or greatly lessen the severity of benzo withdrawal.
The Taper Method
Tapering is the medical term for gradually cutting back on the amount of benzodiazepines you take. This gives your brain time to adjust to the reduced level of drugs. Tapering instead of going “cold turkey” does have the benefit of almost entirely avoiding withdrawal. That’s why it’s a safer option for those detoxing at home. However, it takes a high level of will power and dedication to properly taper without falling back into old habits.
When you are trying to get clean, it can be difficult to continue taking the drug. Using the taper method to detox from benzos is best done in a medical setting where a professional can administer the medication and help you find the proper dosage. In some cases, it’s possible to use other medications, like buspirone, during the taper period. This drug gradually replaces benzos, so you can avoid withdrawal without having to regularly take a drug that triggers your addictive behavior.
Medically Managed Detox
You do not have to resign yourself to an uncomfortable detox just because you do not want to taper. There are a whole host of therapies that can help you deal with withdrawal symptoms. These methods let you focus on your sobriety instead of feeling miserable. Some options for detox are medications that directly affect how your body processes benzodiazepines. Flumazenil can be administered to help speed up withdrawal from long-acting benzos, and some other medications can help with cravings.
In addition to changing how your body reacts to benzos, medical detox can treat some of the symptoms of withdrawal. When you’re in a medical setting, professionals can carefully monitor your vital signs and assist if you experience dehydration or dangerously high blood pressure. There are also various non-addictive painkillers you can take to deal with aches and pains as well as anti-nausea medications to soothe queasiness. For those dealing with intense anxiety and insomnia, doctors may prescribe certain medicines.
An important aspect of medically managed detox for a benzo addiction is that it provides constant support and monitoring. Due to the mental effects of benzos, withdrawal tends to come with a high risk for anxiety, depression, psychosis, and other mental health disorders. During this difficult time, being alone is not ideal. It can be very helpful to have access to trained mental health professionals who can provide you with some coping skills for dealing with these intense withdrawal symptoms.
Do People With a Benzo Addiction Get Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms?
Once withdrawal is over, you’ve passed the worst part of the physical symptoms. However, this does not mean your body has entirely recovered from a long period of abuse. Benzodiazepines are one of the classes of drugs that may result in post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This is a type of long, drawn-out withdrawal that happens because your brain may need months to adjust to your new normal. Though it is not as severe as typical withdrawal, PAWS lasts much longer.
The type of PAWS associated with benzo withdrawal tends to be characterized by trouble sleeping, mild fatigue, and mental fogginess. People with PAWS from benzo may also feel a little more nervous, anxious, or irritable than usual. They may react more intensely to stress, have trouble focusing, and still get benzo cravings. Some may have depression. Symptoms from PAWS will come and go. You may notice them for a while, think they have gone away, and then encounter them again. It can take more than six months for this type of withdrawal to go away.
Dealing With Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
Getting through PAWS is all about being gentle with yourself and finding coping strategies. There are always good days and bad days in recovery, and sometimes PAWS can make things seem worse than they really are. You’ll need to remind yourself that you won’t feel like this forever. Even if things seem hopeless, it’s important to be patient while you recover. Having a trusted counselor who can provide psychological care may help you manage the mental symptoms of PAWS.
In general, some lifestyle changes to improve your health can also lift your mood and combat the fatigue of PAWS. Many people find that gentle exercise can help, especially if it involves getting some fresh air in nature. You should also pay attention to your diet and try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables while cutting back on processed foods.
Get the Help You Need to Overcome Benzo Addiction
The only truly effective way of managing benzodiazepine withdrawal is getting sober. Once you kick your addiction to benzodiazepines, you won’t end up in the constant cycle of being high and going through withdrawal anymore. Fortunately, there are some excellent New England rehab centers to choose from.
Green Mountain Treatment Center is a lovely rehab facility nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This residential rehab allows you to leave behind your old surroundings and focus on your health. With a blend of 12-step therapy and evidence-based clinical therapies, Green Mountain Treatment Center gives you the tools you need to overcome a benzodiazepine addiction. In addition to our licensed counselors, we have fully trained medical professionals who can assist you with a medical detox.
New Freedom Academy is another excellent rehab to consider in New Hampshire. This smaller rehab center gives you a personalized environment. Our high staff-to-patient ratio ensures there are always caring and compassionate people around to help you. After going through a medical detox, you can take part in various therapies and classes designed to help with addiction. Our holistic-based rehab center provides chef-prepared meals, yoga, meditation, and other therapies designed to heal your mind and body.
Help is available if you’re struggling with benzodiazepine abuse. Contact us today to get started on your path to recovery.