Benzodiazepine detox is the process through which an individual withdraws from one, or multiple drugs within the benzodiazepine class. Benzodiazepines are sedative tranquilizers that can be prescribed for a variety of conditions but are most commonly used for short-term treatment of insomnia, and anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and their primary role is to enhance the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain.
When benzodiazepines are taken regularly for a period longer than four weeks, dependence can develop. Anytime an individual becomes dependent on benzodiazepines, he or she should undergo a detoxification process to ensure a safe withdrawal from the drug(s).
Why is Benzodiazepine Detox Necessary?
Because benzodiazepines have substantial effects on GABA in the brain, prolonged and regular use of these drugs can quickly lead to physiological dependence. While this is not necessarily equivalent to addiction, dependence on benzodiazepines can lead to severe and potentially dangerous withdrawal, when attempted without the consultation and supervision of a medical doctor.
Like most psychoactive drugs, benzodiazepines alter the function of the brain by enhancing GABA, an inhibitor neurotransmitter responsible for calmness and relaxation. Upon withdrawal from benzodiazepines, a rebound effect can occur, which mimics the very symptoms for which the drug is intended to treat. Depending on the individual, and the amount and length of benzodiazepine use, the rebound symptoms can vary from mild to very severe and life-threatening.
Some of these rebound symptoms can be:
- Increased anxiety
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Panic attacks
- Severe agitation
- Hand tremors
- Perceptual changes
- Increased tension
Typically, higher doses of short-acting benzodiazepines result in the most severe withdrawal symptoms; however, there has been little evidence to support consistency in all individuals who withdraw from benzodiazepines. Some individuals who withdraw from benzodiazepines can experience more severe symptoms, even with a short-term, low dosage of the drugs. Additionally, many people experience these symptoms in a wax and wane pattern of severity during several days and weeks of detox. This is unique to benzodiazepines, as withdrawal from most drugs reaches a peak, and decreases in intensity over the following days and weeks. Even with a gradual reduction of benzodiazepines, the effects and withdrawal symptoms can vary widely from one person to another, and this depends on the individual and the nature of his or her usage of benzodiazepines.
Process of Benzodiazepine Detox
Benzodiazepines detox is almost always completed in a gradual tapering manner, in which doctors slowly reduce the dosage of benzodiazepines over a period of several weeks. Typically, tapering is done at a rate of about 10% per week, although this can vary, depending on the individual and severity of his or her symptoms. It can also be difficult to gauge how to taper an individual since the symptoms tend to wax and wane. This could mean that one week, withdrawal symptoms may seem to be manageable, and the next week, an individual may be suffering from the most severe symptoms associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Also, depending on the type of benzodiazepine an individual has been taking, a longer-acting, and a less potent drug may be used for the tapering process. Some benzodiazepines are more powerful and short acting, such as Xanax (Alprazolam) and Klonopin (Clonazepam). For individuals who need benzodiazepine detox from drugs like these, medical professionals may prescribe a drug like Valium (Diazepam) or Librium (Chlordiazepoxide). Both of these benzodiazepines are long-acting, and remain active in the brain for several more hours than short-acting benzodiazepines, allowing for a gradual reduction without severe withdrawal symptoms.
According to the National Library of Medicine, benzodiazepine detox must be able to manage three major phases of the withdrawal process from benzodiazepines.
These phases include:
- One to four days after discontinuation of benzodiazepines often results in rebound effects, such as insomnia and increased anxiety
- Lasting an additional 10-14 days is the full-blown benzodiazepine withdrawal, which includes the symptoms mentioned above, although there are dozens of more potential symptoms an individual may experience. Some examples are:
- Blurred vision
- Mood swings
- Electric shock sensations
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Flu-like symptoms
- Chest pain
- The protracted symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, which are most notably a return of anxiety and insomnia once again, and until some alternative therapy is instituted. These prolonged symptoms can linger for several weeks or months, depending on the length and severity of benzodiazepine use.
Many individuals who go through a benzodiazepine detox will experience this vast array of symptoms, which may seem to have a roller-coaster effect, changing from mild to severe within weekly periods of time.
Dangers of Benzodiazepine Detox
Benzodiazepine detox does not always result in life-threatening physical symptoms, such as seizures. However, without medical supervision, an individual who is attempting a benzodiazepine detox may become a danger to him or herself, and others as a result of some of the mood and perceptual distortions associated with the withdrawal symptoms.
For example, the increased agitation, anxiety, and paranoia that many individuals experience during benzodiazepine detox are often too unbearable for them to abstain from acting aggressively, and violently towards themselves or (more commonly) others. Although increased aggression and agitation does not require one to be bound or sedated, it does necessitate the gradual tapering from benzodiazepines to prevent these severe acute withdrawal symptoms.
Another common danger associated with benzodiazepine detox can occur with individuals who become addicted to benzodiazepines and do not comply with the detoxification instructions. Since benzodiazepine detox is often a long, multiple-week-long process, most people complete it on an outpatient basis, checking in with their general practitioner regularly throughout the process.
However, some people are addicted to benzodiazepines, and cannot complete the detox process without constant supervision because, on an outpatient basis, benzodiazepine addicts are likely to:
- Engage in doctor shopping and obtain prescriptions for benzodiazepines from multiple physicians, eliminating any chance for the completion of detox.
- Obtain more benzodiazepines from overseas online pharmacies, which can be very dangerous. Online pharmacies operate overseas, where lax drug standards and enforcement may allow the sale of benzodiazepines with dangerous drugs in them that are not allowed in the benzodiazepines sold in the United States.
- Lie about the severity of symptoms to the point of which a doctor may feel obligated to slow the tapering process, or prescribe dosages of benzodiazepines not intended for detoxification.
In cases of benzodiazepine addiction and abuse, many people experience paradoxical effects, in which they have increased energy and lowered inhibitions. Although rare (less than 1%), this can result in self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Benzodiazepine Detox Resources
Whether benzodiazepine addiction or long-term medical use, cessation or drastic reduction of the use of these drugs requires medical consultation and a personalized benzodiazepine detox. The process of benzodiazepine detox is not a short one, and it can be very severe, even life-threatening.
Additionally, depending on the individual, and the nature of benzodiazepine use, it may be necessary to enter into a detox facility as a part of a drug rehabilitation program. It is important to ensure a safe and stable benzodiazepine detox, and have a plan in place before beginning the process, as the nature of withdrawal symptoms varies, and can be unpredictable depending on the individual circumstance.
If you or a loved one are dependent on benzodiazepines and ready to begin a benzodiazepine detox, please contact us to speak with a certified counselor about your situation. We will talk with you about the nature and length of benzodiazepine use, and work with you to determine the most effective form of detox to maintain safety and sustained sobriety from benzodiazepines after the completion of detox.
In most cases of benzodiazepine detox, an alternative form of treatment may be necessary to manage symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. There are some exercise regimens that have proven to be very effective for individuals who seek relief from the symptoms for which benzodiazepines are most often prescribed.
At A Forever Recovery, we understand how difficult it can be to live with anxiety and insomnia, and we also know the dangers and unmanageability of dependence on benzodiazepines. This is why we develop a personalized and individual approach to each person in need of assistance, regardless of the nature of the problem. We are here to empower individuals to live vibrant and healthy lives without the need for pharmaceutical remedies. Our evidence and results-based treatment plans have given countless people the ability to overcome their ailments and continue life with the complete elimination of benzodiazepines and other addictive pharmaceuticals.
Help is available and within reach. Sobriety does not have to be a sacrifice, and in fact, should be liberation. At A Forever Recovery, we can make that possible, so please contact us now, and find your path to freedom from benzodiazepines and all addictive drugs.