Awareness of the deadly opioid epidemic in the United States has increased a great deal, especially since the deadly drugs have claimed thousands of lives in recent years. But there’s another class of drugs that has earned a place on the dangerous medications list to watch out for, and they’re called benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos” for short, are medications that are prescribed for anxiety disorders, panic disorders, sleep disorders, insomnia, seizures, and severe alcohol withdrawal. They depress the central nervous system and attach to the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric-acid (GABA) receptors, making users feel calm or relaxed.
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More than 2,000-plus benzos have been produced, but only 15 have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ativan (generic name lorazepam), Valium (generic name diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam) are among the most popular ones that are misused and abused.
Other commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:
- Klonopin – a medication that is prescribed to treat anxiety and seizures.
- Librium – a slow-acting benzodiazepine commonly used to treat people who are in alcohol withdrawal.
People who are prescribed benzodiazepines range in age, from teenagers to the elderly. Data from one study showed that benzodiazepine prescriptions seemed to increase with age. The known risks are believed to be higher for senior adults. “In older people, research has shown that benzodiazepines can impair cognition, mobility, and driving skills, and they increase the risk of falls,” says a news release from the National Institutes of Health.
These highly addictive drugs are ripe for misuse and abuse. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than five million people age 12 and older in the U.S. had misused benzos in the past year.
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Benzo Abuse Can Lead to Dependence, Addiction
The addictive nature of benzos makes it easy for one to develop a dependence on them, so they typically are advised for short-term use. Their misuse and abuse have hooked both recreational users and those who have legitimate prescriptions, and their effects can be deadly. Benzo abuse can mean:
- Taking benzodiazepines without a prescription
- Mixing them with other substances, such as alcohol and opioids, for stronger effects
- Crushing up the medications or dissolving them so they can be injected
Many people become physically and psychologically dependent on benzos, which makes it difficult for them to stop using. It is highly possible to develop a dependence on benzos without realizing it.
People who have a substance use disorder are at a higher risk of developing benzodiazepine dependence or addiction and should tell their doctor before they start to take these medications.
Some will attempt to end their dependence on their own after long-term benzo use, a move that is highly discouraged. Quitting an addictive drug after chronic, frequent, or long-term is dangerous. This is known as going cold turkey, and while the practice is glamorized in the movies and media, it can lead to relapse, overdose, and death. It is not recommended. Instead of doing it on their own, benzo users are encouraged to seek professional addiction help at a reputable treatment center.
What Are the Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal?
You will know if you are in benzo withdrawal if you notice any changes in how you think, feel, or behave after you’ve reduced or entirely stopped using the drugs. These changes signal that benzodiazepine withdrawal is either beginning or are underway. This period is characterized by uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Among those symptoms are:
- Anxiety, tension
- Concentration difficulties
- Convulsions (erratic actions, movements)
- Panic attacks
- Frequent urination
- Hot, cold spells
- Increased blood pressure
- Muscular pain, stiffness
- Muscular spasms, cramps
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight loss
How Long Does Benzo Withdrawal Last?
How long it takes one to withdraw from benzos will look different depending on the person. Several factors should be considered when determining a timeline. Among them are:
- Age, sex, health, medical history, and lifestyle
- Your weight and body fat percentage
- Duration of benzo use
- Benzodiazepine consumption and frequency of consumption
- Benzo tolerance
- The manner in which benzos are used (snorted, smoked, injected);
- If benzodiazepine use has occurred with other drugs and substances; benzos are commonly abused with alcohol and opioid pain relievers
- Co-occurring disorders (when a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder are present at the same time)
The following is a general overview of what happens when a person goes through benzodiazepine withdrawal. Experiences will vary by the person, so consult with a doctor to get the clearest understanding of what’s going on in your situation.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal typically happens in two phases. The first is the acute phase, which can last a week to three months (90 days). The second is the post-acute withdrawal syndrome phase, known as PAWS, and it can last much longer, for weeks and even years.
During the acute phase, users who took shorter-acting benzos, such as Ativan, Halcion, and Xanax, may experience their first signs of benzo withdrawal within six to eight hours. People who are in withdrawal from longer-acting benzos, which include Valium, Klonopin, and Librium, usually start to notice symptoms 24 to 48 hours after their last dose.
Anxiety, appetite loss, nausea, and sleeping trouble happens during this period.
Symptoms continue though some users may feel better before experiencing rebound anxiety and insomnia, which occur in inconsistent periods. This is because the benzo used may have a long half-life, which means it takes longer to leave the body.
Insomnia, anxiety, and nausea peak. Mental, emotional, and physical discomfort may be experienced. Recovering benzo users are at risk of having a seizure during this period, so medical supervision is advised.
Recovering benzo users begin to see acute symptoms fading. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), such as drug cravings, depression, and irritability are unpredictable and may appear at any time. Treatment should be continued to help former users navigate this rough and uncertain period.
If you are experiencing PAWS symptoms, keep in mind that you do not have to manage these on your own. Professional treatment is recommended to manage this period. Getting enough rest, practicing habits that promote health and wellness, and supportive network of people are effective ways to manage PAWS. Consult with your physician to come up with the best plan for you.
Why Should I Detox from Benzos?
The decision to seek professional medical detox for benzodiazepine withdrawal is up to each person going through withdrawal. However, the benefits to completing one are clear.
A medically monitored detox ensures that all traces of drugs, alcohol, and other toxins are safely removed from the body to bring about physical and psychological stability. It also helps prevent the complications that commonly happen during withdrawal. If any medical emergencies arise, health care professionals can address them right away. Thirdly, detox is just the first step in a process designed to link users with the therapies and treatments needed to prevent benzo use and relapse.
If someone has resorted to frequently abusing benzos, it will take a change in behavior and support to stay true sobriety. Post-detox therapy and counseling can help recovering users achieve those results.
During this time, recovering benzo users may undergo a controlled tapering schedule that gradually lowers the dosage of the drug they were using until the substance is completely removed from the body.
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It is up to the health professionals who review the client’s needs, but medications may be used during the tapering process, including Phenobarbital, a barbiturate, which is given to prevent seizures. Longer-acting benzodiazepines also may be given in place of shorter-acting ones to help ease discomfort.
A medical detox can last anywhere from three to seven days or longer, depending on how severe the situation is. Mild situations may be managed outside of a rehab center, but even in that case, a physician’s assessment should be sought to determine what at-home treatment and medications are needed for a recovery taking place at home.
During a health examination, the client and perform a physical exam that will check for things such as a rapid heart rate, shaky hands, dehydration, fever, abnormal eye movements and abnormal heart rhythms and other things.
What Comes After a Medical Detox from Benzos ?
A medical detox is the first in a series of steps to benzo abuse recovery. After this process takes place, entering a licensed alcohol or drug treatment center is the next step. Such a place promotes ending problematic drug use or drug addiction by beginning to understand and address the underlying reasons for their dependence. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The government agency also saysaddiction is treatable. Research shows that at least 90 days or more are needed to treat a substance addiction.
Before a treatment center is chosen, the needs and preferences of the person in recovery must be reviewed. Addiction treatment won’t don’t look the same for everyone, so this is an important step.
After it is determined what kind of arrangement is beneficial, recovering benzo users can choose from:
Residential programs, also known as inpatient programs, provide clients with a safe, supportive, and supervised environment that allows benzo users to focus on their addiction with minimal distractions. Clients may stay on site for anywhere from 30 days to three months or longer, depending on their needs and severity of their situation. Clients are typically supervised around the clock to ensure they get the care they need on all levels. Research supports that the longer someone stays in treatment (at least 90 days), the better their chances are of achieving long-term recovery.
Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) provide strong support for recovering benzo users without requiring them to stay overnight or at a rehab facility for extended periods. IOPs are viewed as an affordable option for people who are recovering from substance addiction. The length of an IOP depends on the individual, but the program can run at least up to three months. Clients can receive intensive therapies for a set number of hours each week.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide services that are similar to those of inpatient or outpatient programs. In a partial hospitalization program, individuals in active addiction must meet set criteria so they can successfully complete the program. PHPs can be used for people who need a place to lives as they step down from a higher level of care and transition back into society. Partial hospitalization can serve as a substitute for inpatient care or be a form of intensive outpatient treatment.
Outpatient patient treatment offers the most flexibility while inpatient and residential typically means you’ll be required to complete a 30-day or longer stay at the treatment facility. During your time in any of these programs, you will have various therapies and counseling opportunities to help you put your life back together after addiction. These include holistic therapy, behavior therapy, trauma therapy, and others. There’s also individual, group, and family counseling, 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, life skills management, relapse prevention training, and more.
Start Your Journey to Recovery With Pathway
If you or someone you know has tried everything to end a dependence on benzos but can’t seem to do it, Pathway to Hope can help you find the peace you’re seeking. Call us at 844-557-8575 or contact us online today for a free assessment consultation so we can help you find the right treatment program for you or someone you know. We also can walk you through the process to discuss your insurance needs and what treatment programs you are interested in. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now’s a good time to get it.
If you or someone you know has tried everything to end a dependence on benzos but can’t seem to do it, Pathway to Hope can help you find the peace you’re seeking. Call us at (844) 557-8575 or contact us online today for a free assessment consultation so we can help you find the right treatment program for you or someone you know. We also can walk you through the process to discuss your insurance needs and what treatment programs you are interested in. Don’t delay. If you need addiction treatment, now’s a good time to get it.