Sedative Detox and Withdrawal
Sedatives are a class of drugs that depress, or slow down, the central nervous system. This substance class encompasses a wide variety of drugs, the most common of which include:
- Benzodiazepines (treats anxiety and seizures).
- Barbiturates (historically used for anxiety and insomnia; today use is largely reserved as an anti-epileptic drug).
- Prescription hypnotics or sleep aids (insomnia).
While conceptually it may be left out of this broad category of substances, alcohol also has a similar sedating effect on the brain.
Abuse of these substances – either independently, or in combination with each other – can lead to serious health problems and medical complications, so getting help for a sedative abuse problem is very important. Detoxing from sedatives can give rise to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Professional medical monitoring is often necessary in order to ensure the patient’s safety and improve the chances of successful detox completion.
Signs of Sedative Withdrawal
Sedatives reduce and slow communication throughout the brain. As an individual withdraws from a persistent period of sedation, a much higher level of neural stimulation may be experienced. This can lead to symptoms like:
- Muscle shaking.
- Excessive sweating.
- Nausea or vomiting.
In extreme cases, the user may experience hallucinations, delirium, and potentially fatal seizures.
Every sedative has a different half-life (the time it takes to completely break down in the body), so withdrawal onset and symptoms will vary in length. Slowly eliminated sedatives, such as diazepam and phenobarbital, have withdrawal symptoms that begin after about 7 days and can last as long as long as one month or longer. Short-acting sedatives, such as alprazolam, tend to break down faster, producing earlier withdrawal symptoms that don’t persist as long 1.
What Happens During Sedative Detox?
Withdrawing under medical supervision is the safest way to detox from sedatives.
Someone entering treatment for a sedative addiction will usually begin by meeting with a professional to determine the best treatment plan to fit their needs. By tailoring each treatment plan to the individual, every patient receives the specialized care that will work best for their personal course of recovery.
Once a treatment plan is arranged, detoxification begins. Detox involves eliminating the sedatives from the body through sustained abstinence. Because an immediate drop-off of sedatives can have fatal consequences in some situations, most detox programs will taper a person’s dose, reducing the amount little by little until the body is entirely clear of the drug 1. Withdrawing under medical supervision is the safest way to detox from sedatives.
During medically assisted detoxification, medical staff will generally do a taper, which means they will gradually decrease the amount of the sedative over a set period of time. This gives your body a chance to adjust to the lower levels of the drug in your body and minimizes the risk of complications like seizures that may be brought on by abrupt cessation of use.
In some cases of severe sedative abuse, the recovering patient may forego a tapering of their own abused drug and instead be administered benzodiazepines with relatively long half-lives to manage the more serious symptoms associated with the acute withdrawal period. These longer-acting benzodiazepines will help to stabilize the patient and mitigate the risk of severe rebound agitation and seizure. They will then be tapered over the course of a several days to weeks as detox progresses, and eventually stopped altogether once the withdrawal period is completed.
Once detox is complete, treatment will ideally continue in the form of therapy and counseling in both group and individual settings. Therapy helps those in addiction recovery learn how to cope with cravings and relapse temptations when they arise. Depending on a person’s treatment plan, they may engage in addiction education, family counseling, and aftercare as well.
Why Should I Enter a Sedative Detox Program?
Attempting to detox from sedatives alone and without medical support can be a deadly mistake. Abusing certain sedatives for as short a period of time as two weeks may already prompt the onset of a severe withdrawal syndrome should the drugs in question be abruptly scaled back on, or stopped altogether. Medical monitoring is often necessary during detox from sedatives to keep the person safe.
Withrawal from sedatives poses a risk of seizures, which can be very dangerous if not treated immediately. Professional detox and treatment programs have experience managing and providing care in the event of a serious medical complication like a withdrawal-induced seizure. The safest option is to enter a program that offers medically monitored detox and withdrawal.
Every person will experience slightly different withdrawal symptoms during detox, so it is important that care be tailored to each patient. Most programs will take these individual differences into account and work to address each person’s needs during treatment.
How to Find a Sedative Detox Program
Many treatment programs incorporate detox into the treatment course.
The first question to ask yourself is whether you want to work through treatment from home or in a sober facility. Some people find that escaping the original environment in which they abused their drug(s) of choice and staying in an abstinence-focused facility that is free of all substances offers them the best shot at recovery. Other prefer to work through treatment while living in the comfort of a familiar home environment.
Another question to ask is whether you want to involve your family in treatment. Some programs emphasize family therapy, while others do not require the involvement of family members. While some users want to have the support of family members throughout the process, others may not have ideal familial relationships that will support their recovery efforts. It’s important to understand, however, that if distressed relationships are contributors to your substance use, the repair of those relationships may be integral to your success. So while incorporating family into your treatment may not seem ideal, consider whether you can stay sober after treatment if your relationships suffer continued strain.
Also ask whether you can take time off from work to get treatment. If taking time away from work is not a possibility, then consider entering a luxury or executive program. These programs allow patients to continue working while staying at a treatment facility, providing meeting rooms, Internet access, and allowing you to address business needs.
The main concern for sedative detox and withdrawal is that the program incorporates professional medical monitoring to ensure the safety of recovering patients. When looking for a program, be sure to clearly communicate your needs so that all of them can be met and you can follow the best recovery course. For help finding the right care for you, call 1-888-744-0069Who Answers?.
- Sellers, E. M. (1988). Alcohol, barbiturate and benzodiazepine withdrawal syndromes: clinical management.
- Canadian Medical Association Journal, 139. 113-118.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
- Petursson, H. (1994). The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Addiction, 89. 1455–1459.
- Salzman, C. (1997). The benzodiazepine controversy: therapeutic effects versus dependence, withdrawal and toxicity. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 4. 279–282.