Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms, Medications, and Addiction Treatment
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are central nervous system depressants commonly prescribed to manage a variety of conditions, including anxiety, panic disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and insomnia.1
Benzodiazepines are manufactured and prescribed under several brand names, including Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam).2 While these drugs can be relatively safe when taken as prescribed, they have the potential to be both dangerous and addictive when they are abused.2
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is the result of ongoing benzodiazepine use and abuse, which often leads to physical dependence—a state in which a person’s body becomes hooked on a drug and has trouble functioning without it.
At the point that use is decreased or ended, the body goes through withdrawal. Symptoms of benzo withdrawal range from slightly uncomfortable to life-threatening.2
The severity of benzo withdrawal depends on the average dose of the drugs being previously taken and how suddenly their use is stopped.2 Users who abruptly quit benzodiazepines after a sustained period of use are at higher risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms than those who gradually taper their dose.
“Between 2004 and 2011, the number of benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits increased by almost 150%.”
In 2015, more than 5 million Americans over the age of 12 had misused benzos within the past year.3 This number is especially alarming given the serious medical complications that may arise from abusing this type of drug. Between 2004 and 2011, the number of benzodiazepine-related emergency room visits increased by almost 150%.4 Abuse of these drugs is also a major risk factor for potentially fatal benzodiazepine overdose. Between 2003 and 2009, the number of deaths due to use of Xanax, a popular benzodiazepine, increased by 233.8%.5
It is clear that benzos pose risks to those who misuse them. Quitting benzodiazepines can eliminate some of the short- and long-term dangers associated with these drugs; however, those attempting to detox from benzos should understand that it can be challenging because of the uncomfortable and serious withdrawal symptoms that may result. Understanding the withdrawal process and options for treatment can help ensure a safer recovery process.
Is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Dangerous?
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be dangerous, especially for users with severe dependence and those with pre-existing health issues. Serious symptoms caused by benzo withdrawal can include psychosis and seizures.6 Left unmanaged, withdrawal seizures may be progressive, difficult to control, and potentially lethal.
“It is important for those attempting to quit a benzodiazepine to get help for their benzodiazepine misuse from a program that can safely usher them into the recovery process.”
Suddenly quitting benzodiazepines may also cause a rebound effect, where old symptoms previously treated by the drug return with greater severity.7 Users may experience symptoms such as rebound anxiety and insomnia at a level of intensity similar to that which was was experienced before starting use of the drug.7
Benzodiazepine users who experience rebound symptoms may contemplate immediate relapse in an attempt to mitigate the unpleasant withdrawal syndrome. While many of the symptoms of benzo withdrawal are uncomfortable, treatment options are available to manage many of them—making it more safe and tolerable for those in recovery. It is important for those attempting to quit a benzodiazepine to get help from a program that can safely usher them into the recovery process. To find a program and get help now, call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free today.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Symptoms of benzo withdrawal may include one or more of the following:2,6
- Muscle pain and stiffness.
- Poor concentration.
- Sensory distortions.
- Heart palpitations.
- High blood pressure.
In cases of severe withdrawals from benzodiazepines, serious complications may develop, including seizures, delirium tremens, and psychosis.6 Users with a history of seizures and those who mix benzos with other prescription drugs and/or alcohol may be at higher risk for seizures during withdrawal.7
Some benzodiazepine users may experience a protracted (or prolonged) withdrawal, also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which may last for several months or more.2 Common symptoms of protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal include:2
- Chronic anxiety.
- Sleep difficulties.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines may vary in intensity and duration from person to person and is typically dependent upon several factors, including the detoxing individual’s health, the original dose, and the rate at which the medication is tapered down.
Can Medications Help Me Detox From Benzos?
Medications may be used in treatment for benzo withdrawal in order to taper users off of the drugs, treat withdrawal symptoms, and reduce discomfort.
Your doctor may gradually taper you off your benzodiazepine over a period of weeks or months, rather than abruptly stopping the drug.8 If you are currently taking a benzodiazepine with a shorter half-life like Ativan (lorazepam) or Xanax (alprazolam), your doctor may first prescribe one with a longer half-life—such as chlordiazepoxide or Klonopin (clonazepam)—to help ease your symptoms during detox and facilitate the tapering process.8
Other drugs that may be used in managing severe benzodiazepine withdrawal include:8
- Anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine and valproate.
- Sedating antidepressants such as trazodone.
- Antihypertensive medications such as clonidine or propranolol for those who experience severe autonomic consequences as part of the benzo withdrawal syndrome (e.g. racing heart, hypertension, profuse sweating).
Administration of these medications does not altogether negate the risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms like seizures.8 In order to reduce your risk of complications, you should be carefully monitored during benzo withdrawal by medical professionals to ensure your safety.
While medications may be beneficial and even necessary during withdrawal from benzos, understand that addiction treatment does not solely entail the use of medication or stop when the withdrawal period is completed. Medications are, however, an important therapeutic adjunct when their use is combined with psychological treatments like cognitive and behavioral therapies. Treating benzodiazepine addiction involves both detoxing users from the drug and treating the underlying addictions.
Detoxification, or “detox,” is the process of safely removing substances from the body. Because benzo withdrawals are associated with distressing and dangerous symptoms, it is often the safest course of action for those detoxing from a drug in this class to be treated under close medical supervision. Many people addicted to benzos also abuse other drugs and/or alcohol,8 which can increase their risk for complications during withdrawal—so it is even more important for those using multiple substances to seek professional help.
Benzodiazepine detox may take place in a hospital setting or a treatment facility. Medical and mental health professionals in a detox facility may:
- Evaluate the severity of the problem.
- Monitor vital signs like pulse, temperature, and blood pressure.
- Gradually taper the dose of the drug.
- Prescribe medications to reduce discomfort.
- Prescribe medications to reduce risk of seizures.
- Encourage participation in further treatment.
While safely detoxing from benzos is an important step in the treatment process, long-term recovery requires learning how to cope without the drugs. Treatment programs available after completion of detox include:
- Residential or inpatient treatment, which offers intensive therapy and temporary housing in a drug- and alcohol-free environment. Residential treatment often takes place in a home- or dorm-like like facility and may offer other amenities, such as exercise programs, skills training, and day trips.
- Outpatient treatment, which offers weekly individual, group, and family therapy with time outside of treatment to work, go to school and adjust to living life without drugs.
- Psychotherapy, which can be provided by an addiction counselor, therapist, or psychologist. Individual psychotherapy sessions may be attended once or more per week.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common approach to treating benzodiazepine addiction. CBT assumes that there is a relationship between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal of CBT is to help people identify the thoughts and beliefs that contribute to negative emotions like anger, sadness, and worry, and to understand how these emotions contribute to negative behaviors such as drug use. CBT also helps people develop a plan for coping with negative thoughts and feelings without turning to substances for relief.
Benzo withdrawal can be an uncomfortable and risky process, but receiving the proper care can set the stage for long-term recovery. To find a program that will help you get off benzodiazepines for good, call AAC free now at .
American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your health insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.
Tips to Handle Benzo Cravings
Cravings are strong urges to use that are common when first trying to quit benzodiazepines, but they may last for months after using. Some people experience intermittent cravings even years after quitting. While cravings can feel uncomfortable, they are a normal part of the recovery process.
Cravings can involve thoughts, feelings, and/or physical symptoms. Cravings can sometimes lead to unhealthy thoughts like “these cravings are unbearable” and “the only way to cope with these cravings is to use.” Cravings cannot make you use drugs, however, and plenty of people cope with cravings each day without using. Falsely believing that cravings can make you use drugs can set you up to relapse.
Another common false belief is that cravings will last forever. Many people in recovery experience cravings that come and go. At times they may feel strong, but they do not remain at a high intensity forever.
Coping with cravings involves having realistic beliefs about what cravings entail. Keep in mind that cravings are normal—uncomfortable but not unbearable—and they are time-limited.
To manage your cravings:
- Know your triggers. Having an idea of what people, places, events, and feelings trigger your cravings can help you make a plan for managing them. Sometimes triggers can be avoided—these include certain people or places. Other times you cannot escape your triggers. This is often the case with emotions like stress and sadness. When it comes to unavoidable triggers that cause cravings, having a plan is important.
- Accept, rather than fight, cravings. Often cravings are thought of as bad, which causes people to resist or fight them. This can create more tension and distress. Instead, try accepting that you are experiencing a craving. Recognize that the craving is there, that is it is normal, and that it will remain for a period of time (but not forever).
- Seek support. Reaching out to get sober support is helpful, especially in early recovery. Support groups—such as 12-step programs—are based on the philosophy that sober support is important for preventing a relapse. Seeking support from others provides an opportunity to talk about the struggles of early recovery.
- Use healthy distraction. Cravings can feel uncomfortable for the period of time that they are present. Finding healthy distractions can help delay time until the craving passes. Healthy distractions can include exercise, reading, journaling, playing sports, listening to music, taking a bath, or spending time in nature.
How to Find Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Treatment and Rehab Programs
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional treatment can start anyone battling a substance use problem on the path to a happier and healthier life. Rehab programs are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted facilities across the country. To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options with AAC, please contact one of our caring admissions navigators free at .
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