Anxiety disorders affect more than 300 million people in the world. And Benzodiazepines are relaxants that can be used to treat anxiety attacks, stress, spasms, seizures and can even be used in sedation and hypnosis.
Unfortunately, many people get addicted to Benzodiazepines and get used to the relief associated with taking these drugs. Most of these patients were actually prescribed Benzo drugs, like Xanax and Valium, to treat a medical condition since these drugs are only available by prescription.
A Benzo detox can be really challenging because when people quit these drugs, they become irritable and suffer from painful spasms and cramps. As a matter of fact, research shows that almost all patients taking these drugs become somehow dependent and will experience withdrawal effects when they quit them.
This article will explain what happens when you misuse Benzo and the detox options available. So, let’s learn more about this topic.
Table of Contents
- 1 Understanding Benzodiazepines
- 2 Why is Benzo Detox Necessary?
- 3 Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal
- 4 Methods of Benzo Detox
- 5 Holistic and Alternative Approaches
- 6 Challenges During Benzo Detox
- 7 Post-Detox Steps
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 References
Later on, other versions were available, including Ativan, Halcion, and Klonopin. Shorter-acting drugs later developed to be used before anesthesia and in sedation. These drugs include flurazepam, estazolam, and triazolam. They’re also used to treat insomnia.
Benzos, commonly known as downers, direct the brain to produce gamma-aminobutyric acid, slowing down brain activity. The reduced brain activity can help in cases of spasms, seizures, and severe anxiety. Moreover, it can facilitate hypnosis and sedation.
If you take Benzodiazepines irregularly and only when needed, there’s a slight risk of dependence. Unfortunately, many people who are prescribed Benzo drugs tend to misuse them. They get used to the relief sensation associated with taking the drugs, so they abuse them and become addicted. This can also lead to overdose.
Benzos can substantially affect the brain’s activity when taken for extended periods. First, they cause dependence, so patients either have to take higher doses or take the drug more frequently to experience the same level of relief.
They also have several physical and mental effects when taken for long periods.
- General deterioration in cognition abilities. Patients experience a shorter concentration span, a decline in learning memory, and decreased motor skills.
- In elderly patients, Benzo drugs can accelerate the decline in cognitive functions.
- Although they’re mainly used to treat insomnia, these drugs can reduce sleep quality in the long run by reducing sleep time and REM sleep, which in turn affect brain activity. They also affect breathing while sleeping.
- These drugs have similar long-term side effects to the ones patients experience with alcohol dependence, including depression, insomnia, PTSD, sleep disorders, psychosis, and sexual dysfunction.
- By worsening sleep and reducing its quality, Benzos cause moodiness and irritability.
- These drugs can cause hallucinations.
- Due to psychological pressure, the long-term use of Benzo drugs can be linked to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
- Earlier studies tried to prove a link between cancer and the long-term use of Benzodiazepines, but these didn’t prove to be true. However, these drugs affect the immune system and can worsen the quality of life of cancer patients.
- As patients become less relieved with the regular drug dosage, there’s a high potential of overdose, which might lead to slurred speech and mood changes. Higher doses of Benzos can lead to respiratory depression, but death is a rare side effect.
Benzodiazepines change the way brain cells function. So, when the patient tries to stop taking them abruptly or reduce the dosage, they can experience some annoying withdrawal symptoms.
The severity of the symptoms depends on the patient’s overall health, their history of using these drugs, if they combine Benzosiazpines with other medications, the dosage, and how frequently they use the drug.
Some Benzodiazepines are more addictive than others. Klonopin, Xanax, and Valium are associated with the worst withdrawal symptoms when the patient tries to quit them. Taking any of these drugs for a few weeks can lead to dependence.
The acute withdrawal symptoms are the ones the patient will experience several hours after quitting the drug. If you take a long-acting Benzo, you might experience these symptoms three weeks after the last dosage.
- Anxiety and panic, which might lead to breathing difficulties, sweating, and fast heartbeats.
- Sleep problems and nightmares
- Feeling detached
- Dizziness and concentration issues
- Loss of appetite
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Sensitivity to light, noise, and touch
- Loss of sexual desire
- Muscle spasms
- Burning sensation in the skin
These are the symptoms related to the psychological dependence on Benzos. They’re usually more severe and will last for a more extended period. They include the following.
- Overall confusion and a deterioration in cognitive functions
- Severe depression
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
The time of Benzo withdrawal depends on the type of medication you take and how long you’ve been taking it. In most cases, the earliest withdrawal symptoms start within hours after taking the last dosage of the drug. Some symptoms can last for days, weeks, and even years after quitting the drug.
If you take Xanax, for example, you might start experiencing some withdrawal symptoms after 10 to 12 hours. The symptoms can also be more intense than the ones you might experience with Valium.
The acute symptoms usually last for one to four days. They reach their peak after two weeks. After that, they begin to decline. At the same time, the patient will start experiencing the same annoying symptoms that led them to consume Benzos in the first place, like insomnia. After that, the rest of the acute symptoms will follow, usually several ones simultaneously.
According to one study, about 10% of users who experience PAWS will continue to experience them for months and even years after quitting Benzo drugs. In some cases, some patients will have to be hospitalized if they experience severe PAWS.
Some doctors and healthcare providers report that quitting Benzodiazepines and alcohol is the most challenging detox process because of the high relapse possibility. Moreover, since patients usually take Benzos to treat underlying medical conditions, they still need something to help them overcome these problems.
Several detox methods might be followed if you’re trying to quit Benzos. Each one has some pros and cons.
Quitting cold turkey refers to the sudden quitting of a drug, regardless of why you took it, the dosage, and how frequently you took it. This detox method isn’t recommended for quitting Benzos because patients have their nervous system used to the effects of the drug, so they might experience a shock.
Patients will suffer from withdrawal symptoms, and at the same time, the brain tries to reset itself, so it will be stressed, which in turn results in more fatigue. They can experience some severe side effects like seizures, paranoia, convulsions, and even psychosis and mania, in addition to several painful symptoms like muscle pain, body stiffness, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and tingling.
Medically-assisted detox or MAT refers to quitting the drug under the supervision of a doctor or healthcare supervisor. The patient might be able to quit the drug at home, but in some cases, they might have to be hospitalized.
MAT involves paying attention to the patient’s overall health, including the condition for which they were prescribed Benzodiazepines. In some cases, patients are prescribed several medications to help them overcome the withdrawal symptoms.
Anticonvulsants are often administered under the supervision of a doctor. These include carbamazepine, topiramate, and gabapentin, and they can stabilize patients during the withdrawal phase by preventing seizures and cramps. These medications are also administered when patients try quitting alcohol because they have a lower addiction and abuse potential than Benzos.
This detox method allows users to keep using Benzos while reducing the dosage. This helps the brain adjust to the decreased dosage, so patients can be able to stop taking the drug without experiencing severe side effects.
A healthcare provider or doctor will prepare a Benzo withdrawal tapering schedule based on the patient’s condition. Sometimes, the doctor might prescribe a longer-acting Benzo like Valium to help patients wean off their Benzo abuse. Such medications can keep withdrawal effects under control and still treat the medical condition that the patient is taking a Benzo drug for.
Tapering is the most recommended detox method if you’re abusing Benzodiazepines. In most cases, the doctor will reduce the dose by 5% to 25%, depending on the initial dose. The doctor will monitor the patient’s condition and see how they respond to the dosage reduction. Then, depending on the patient’s response, they will start reducing the dosage by 5% to 25% every one to four weeks.
Holistic and alternative detox approaches aim at dealing with the patient as a whole by addressing their underlying health issues while helping the body and mind overcome the addiction. Whether alone or combined with other detox methods, these holistic and alternative methods can reduce the chance of relapse.
Regardless of the detox method used, patients should stick to healthy nutrition as it helps with fatigue and loss of energy, which they might experience while attempting to quit Benzodiazepines.
Mindfulness-based therapies, yoga, breathing exercises, massage therapy, and acupuncture have proven helpful in treating sleep disorders and insomnia. As a result, they can be used while the patient is following a tapering detox technique to help manage the withdrawal symptoms associated with a lower drug dose.
Other alternative therapies, like animal-assisted therapy and counseling, can help patients who deal with depression, anxiety, and panic.
Patients face various challenges while quitting Benzos because these drugs usually help them manage several annoying medical conditions. This is why there’s a high risk of abuse and dependence.
Most patients suffer mainly because of the disorders that Benzos treats. So, they must be given other medications with a lower abuse potential to be able to function.
- Some patients suffer from severe and annoying withdrawal symptoms like seizures and convulsions. Although Benzo withdrawal symptoms are rarely fatal, they can be extremely uncomfortable, and in some cases, patients have to be hospitalized.
- Benzo abuse can lead to mania and other mental disorders that are extremely challenging to deal with.
- Most Benzos are consumed with other drugs or alcohol. This presents the risk of poly-drug abuse. This can lead to an increase in the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
After becoming drug-free, there are a few things you can do to overcome your Benzo abuse.
- Benzodiazepine rehabilitation programs can help you stay off the drug while managing any other health conditions. There are several programs available for those who take higher doses of Benzos or fail at quitting on their own.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT will help patients improve their cognitive, behavioral, and lifestyle choices that should be changed or reinforced to remain drug-free.
- Patients must find better coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and stress instead of abusing the drug one more time.
A safe and medically supervised Benzo detox is the best approach to quit abusing these drugs. Benzos have a high tolerance and abuse potential, although they’re prescription medications. This is why you’ll need a doctor with enough experience to help wean you off the drug.
Many people managed to quit Benzos without suffering from severe side effects Some were even able to treat the underlying medical conditions that made them abuse Benzos in the first place.
If you’re a patient, quitting Benzos on your own and without medical supervision can be extremely challenging. Moreover, the relapse risk is pretty high.
Do your research and contact a doctor today. Medical professionals and healthcare providers will design the best detox program to help you gain control of your life once more.