Benzodiazepines (benzos) are CNS (central nervous system) depressants typically prescribed to treat medical and mental health conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
There are several commonly prescribed benzos. They include lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax). Although these medications are considered relatively safe when used as directed, they still have the potential for dependence and addiction and can be dangerous when misused or abused. Benzos can pose significant hazards to individuals who abuse them, and tapering off use early on can reduce some of the short- and long-term risks associated with the use of these drugs.
What Happens During Benzo Withdrawal?
Prolonged benzodiazepine use or abuse often leads to physical dependence—a condition in which a person’s brain and body grow used to the presence of a substance and can no longer function as usual without it. When an individual is dependent on benzos, and use is decreased or discontinued, the body will experience a variety of uncomfortable, painful, or sometimes life-threatening effects known as withdrawal syndrome.
Symptoms of benzo withdrawal can range from mild to severe. The intensity of withdrawal is typically related to the average dose previously used and how rapidly use is discontinued. After an extended period of use, users who abruptly quit benzos are at increased risk of severe withdrawal symptoms compared to those who are weaned off steadily.
Is Benzo Withdrawal Dangerous?
Benzo withdrawal can be hazardous or even deadly, particularly for persons with severe dependence and/or co-occurring mental health disorders. Serious symptoms caused by benzo withdrawal may include both psychosis and seizures. If left unaddressed, seizures may become progressive, increasingly challenging to control, and potentially fatal.
Moreover, those attempting to stop benzo use should receive help from a doctor, an addiction specialist, or a treatment program for substance abuse that can comfortably and safely guide them through the detox and recovery process.
Suddenly discontinuing benzo use can also lead to rebound effects, in which symptoms previously managed by the medication return with a fierce intensity. Users may experience symptoms, including rebound anxiety, insomnia, movement disorders, and seizures at a level of severity similar to or even higher than those encountered before the person began using the benzo to address such symptoms.
Benzo users who develop rebound symptoms may be driven to immediately relapse in an attempt to relieve the unpleasant and sometimes painful or dangerous effects of withdrawal. Although many of the symptoms of benzo withdrawal are uncomfortable, treatment options are available to address many of them. This makes the process safer and more tolerable for those who are seeking long-term recovery.
Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of acute benzo withdrawal may include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Heart palpitations
- Irritability and agitation
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Impaired concentration
- Sensory distortions
In cases of particularly severe withdrawal, dangerous complications can occur, such as seizures and psychosis. Individuals who previously experienced seizures and/or have used benzos in conjunction with other prescription medications or alcohol may be at a heightened risk for experiencing seizures during withdrawal.
The intensity of the withdrawal process depends on multiple factors, including the individual’s overall health, the dose most commonly used, and the speed at which the drug is tapered off or discontinued.
Can Medications Help During Detox from Benzos?
Medications may be administered in the treatment of benzo withdrawal to help users wean off of the drug, reduce withdrawal symptoms, and relieve discomfort. A health provider may gradually taper a person off benzos over a timeline of weeks or months, rather than abruptly discontinuing use.
For instance, if a person is currently using a benzo with a relatively short half-life such as Ativan, the doctor or addiction specialist may first prescribe one with a longer half-life, such as Klonopin. This change can help mitigate symptoms during detox and serve to facilitate the weaning/tapering process.
Other drugs that may be used to assist in the management of benzo withdrawal include the following:
- Anticonvulsants (e.g., carbamazepine and valproate)
- Sedative antidepressants (e.g., trazodone)
- Anti-hypertensive drugs (e.g., clonidine or propranolol) for persons who experience severe autonomic effects as a component of benzo withdrawal (e.g., high blood pressure and accelerated heart rate)
Of note, the use of these medications will not wholly offset the risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures. Individuals should be closely supervised during detox by medical or addiction professionals to ensure safety and reduce the risk of complications.
Although medications may be helpful and even vital during withdrawal, it is crucial to understand that recovery from addiction requires more than the administration of more drugs. Instead, medication is just one beneficial therapeutic component that should be employed in combination with psychological treatments, such as psychotherapy, counseling, and group support.
Benzo Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment
Detox is a medical process that involves eliminating toxic substances from the brain and body. Because benzo withdrawal is associated with both unpleasant and potentially severe symptoms, medical supervision is typically the safest, most effective course of action.
Benzo detox can be performed in a hospital environment or a rehab center. Medical professionals who specialize in addiction in a detox facility start the process by evaluating the severity of the individual’s condition and determine the best treatment plan for the person.
Medical providers may also:
- Monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
- Gradually taper down the dose
- Prescribe medications to minimize discomfort
- Prescribe medications to decrease the risk of seizures
- Encourage participation in further treatment
Although a safe detox is a critical step in the treatment process, long-term, sustainable recovery requires that the individual learn coping skills to better deal with a life free from substance abuse.
Programs offered by Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery include the following:
As mentioned, detox includes around-the-clock supervision by medical and mental health professionals who can administer medication and offer emotional support through the process, which typically lasts for 5-7 days.
Residential or Inpatient Treatment
Persons who undergo inpatient treatment stay at the center 24/7 for several weeks while they benefit from a variety of therapeutic activities and services, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Individual and family counseling
- Group support
- Art and music therapy
- Health and wellness education
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning
Partial-Hospitalization Programs (PHP)
PHP is an option for those who have either completed residential treatment or require time away from the center to attend to life obligations. Our PHP offers intensive and comprehensive treatment comparable to an inpatient program and is set in a comfortable clinical setting during the day. Patients have the option of going home to a relaxing, safe residence in the evenings.
Psychotherapy can be facilitated by an addiction therapist, counselor, or psychologist. Persons will attend individual therapy sessions at least once a week. For example, CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) is a common and extremely effective strategy used to treat benzo addiction.
The theoretical foundation for CBT is the belief that there is a connection between an individual’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. CBT was designed to help people identify and understand the thoughts and beliefs that contribute to adverse emotions, such as anger, depression, and anxiety. CBT further allows people to understand how these emotions factor into the development of negative and unhealthy behaviors, such as substance abuse, to promote positive lifestyle changes.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery are dedicated to providing people with the tools and support they so desperately need to begin experiencing the fulfilling and healthy lives they deserve, free from the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Contact us today to find out how we can help!