Benzodiazepines, often called benzos for short, are prescribed for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, panic disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, alcohol withdrawal and more. While they do have positive uses, it is also possible to abuse this type of medication, and benzodiazepine withdrawal can be challenging and uncomfortable. Some people end up overdosing on benzos, potentially resulting in hospitalization or even death.
Valium, Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin and their generic varieties are among the medications that fall into the benzodiazepine category. These medications can be safe and quite effective when taken as directed. However, they do have addictive properties, increasing the likelihood of abuse. If you have fallen into a pattern of abusing benzos, it is in your best interest to give up the habit sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, quitting benzos is easier said than done. You’ll have to deal with benzodiazepine withdrawal, which can make it even more difficult to keep your resolve. Here’s what you need to know about what to expect during the detoxification period, as well as the treatment options you have available to you.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Basics
Quitting benzos can eliminate the many short-term and long-term risks associated with using this type of medication. However, the withdrawal symptoms can be severe so it is important to know what to expect during your recovery process. Withdrawal can be uncomfortable at best and, at worst, fatal. Understanding how the process works can give you your best chance of success with recovery.
When you use benzos regularly over a long period of time, you may become physically dependent on the medication. This means your body becomes accustomed to the effects of the drug and may have difficulty functioning without it. Over time, you may need to keep taking higher doses to get the same effect, which can fuel your addiction even further.
Once you make the decision to quit, whether you choose to go cold turkey or wean yourself off, your body begins to go through benzodiazepine withdrawal. During this time, your body is readjusting to functioning without the medication, resulting in a variety of symptoms. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on a number of factors, including the dose you were taking and how suddenly you stopped taking it. Your overall health will play a role as well.
Typically, those who quit abruptly experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than those who taper off their usage gradually. You’ll need to take this into consideration when choosing your quitting method. Similarly, the longer you have been taking benzos, the more severe your withdrawal will be.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzo withdrawal can include a wide range of symptoms, both mental and physical. On the mental side, you may experience anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, difficulty concentrating and sensory distortions. Physically, you may also experience headaches, sweating, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, nausea, heart palpitations and high blood pressure. There are other symptoms that can go along with benzo withdrawal, but these are some of the most common.
In severe cases, you may develop more serious complications, including seizures, psychosis and tremors. You may also experience delirium tremens, often seen in cases of alcohol withdrawal. These complications are even more likely if you mixed benzos with other prescriptions drugs, alcohol or both. If you have a history of seizures, you’ll be even more likely to get them during the withdrawal process.
Long-term users may go through an extended withdrawal period called post-acute withdrawal syndrome. This can drag on for several months after you stop using and can cause anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Risks
Benzo withdrawal can sometimes be dangerous, especially for those who have been taking high doses for a long period of time and those who have other health issues. As mentioned above, you may experience seizures during the withdrawal process, and these seizures may get progressively worse as you progress through withdrawal. In some cases, they can be fatal.
If you chose to quit abruptly rather than tapering off your dose, you may also experience a symptom rebound. If this happens to you, the symptoms for which you started taking the medication in the first place will return with even greater severity than before you took the drug. For example, if your doctor prescribed benzodiazepines for your anxiety, you may find that your symptoms return to their previous level or even become worse during the withdrawal period.
It is this rebound effect that makes it so difficult for many people to quit benzos. When your symptoms come back, it can be tempting to relapse, taking the drug again just to mitigate the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. However, this will only create a setback on your road to recovery. Unless you are experiencing severe complications, it is better to push through your cravings to allow your body to get back to normal.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Many of the symptoms of benzo withdrawal are uncomfortable. Some of them can be downright dangerous. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options available to you to help manage the withdrawal symptoms. This will make the recovery process more tolerable and boost your chances of success.
Medication-assisted treatment is often used to help those quitting benzodiazepines, and it can help to reduce your discomfort during the withdrawal period. It is also helpful in weaning yourself off the drug rather than quitting suddenly. In this method, your doctor will recommend a tapered medication schedule, making it easier to reduce your use gradually over time.
In some cases, you may continue taking the same benzodiazepine but in smaller and smaller doses over time. Your doctor may also switch you to a different medication in the same class. Some benzos have longer half-lives than others, meaning that a single dose will stay in your bloodstream for a longer period. This makes it easier to spread out the time between doses, breaking the habit over time.
It is also possible to use other medications to help with benzodiazepine withdrawal. Anticonvulsants, antidepressants and antihypertensive medications are all commonly used for this purpose. While these medications won’t help you wean yourself off benzos, they can help with the symptoms of withdrawal.
It is important to note that using medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms doesn’t completely eliminate the risks involved. It is still possible to have severe seizures, even fatal ones. Because of this, it is best to have a doctor or addiction specialist monitor you closely during withdrawal to ensure you are able to get through it safely.
Medication-assisted treatment can be quite beneficial in your recovery process, but it isn’t the only component of your recovery. You’ll also likely go through psychological treatment to deal with the mental aspects of addiction, not just the physical ones. Used together, though, medication and therapy can be remarkably effective.
Benzodiazepine Addiction and Withdrawal Treatment
Because benzodiazepine withdrawal can be risky, it is typically safest to go through withdrawal while under the care of a doctor or addiction specialist. This way, your medical professional can take immediate action if you experience any dangerous symptoms. If you misused other drugs or alcohol at the same time as benzodiazepines, you may have an even harder time with the withdrawal process, making it even more important to have professional help.
You have a variety of treatment options available to you, including inpatient and outpatient treatment. With inpatient treatment, you’ll check yourself into a treatment facility or rehabilitation center. You’ll live at the facility for the duration of your treatment, giving you easy access to therapists, doctors and recovery specialists. Depending on the facility you choose, you may also have access to a variety of amenities, including fitness centers, job training, family visitation and more.
In outpatient treatment programs, you won’t live at the treatment center but you’ll still visit regularly for individual and group therapy sessions. You’ll be able to continue going to work, school and other obligations. Even though you aren’t at the treatment facility full-time, you’ll still be expected to stay drug- and alcohol-free, and you may have to submit to testing to verify your sobriety.
Whichever method you choose, the general structure of your treatment program will follow a relatively similar pattern. When you first enter treatment, your doctor or therapist will evaluate your current dosage to determine the severity of your addiction. This way, they can devise a plan for helping you to quit, whether you ultimately end up tapering or going cold turkey. Your doctor may also prescribe other medications to mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
Going forward, you’ll go through multiple therapy sessions, some private, some with your loved ones and some with others going through treatment. In these sessions, you’ll learn tools and techniques to help you manage your withdrawal symptoms. You’ll also work towards identifying the root cause that led to your addiction in the first place. This will increase your chances of avoiding certain triggers in the future.
Even after you have finished an official treatment program, you may wish to continue with the therapy sessions on an ongoing basis. Addiction is not a disease that goes away; it is something that you’ll have to battle for the rest of your life. Ongoing therapy can help you do that.
Dealing with Benzodiazepine Cravings
In the earliest stages of your recovery, you are likely to experience strong cravings for benzos, and these cravings can sometimes last for months after you have stopped using. In some cases, you may even get cravings years down the line. These cravings are typically uncomfortable but not harmful. They are a normal part of the recovery process.
Throughout the recovery process, your cravings will likely come and go. On some occasions, they may be worse than others. Overall, the intensity will gradually decrease over time. Getting through cravings can be challenging. You may sometimes think that taking just one more dose is the answer. However, this will only derail your recovery efforts. It is better to push through the cravings as they won’t go on forever.
Here are a few tips to help you handle cravings when they strike:
- Identify Triggers – You may find that certain situations or locations make your cravings stronger. You and your therapist will work to identify these triggers in your sessions so you can create a plan for dealing with them. For example, you might avoid particular people or places. Some triggers are unavoidable, though, so you’ll need other techniques for dealing with those.
- Remember That Cravings Aren’t Forever – In the middle of a craving, you may feel uncomfortable. Reminding yourself that the cravings won’t last forever can help you find the willpower to push through. If you try to fight the craving, rather than accepting it, it could make you even more distressed.
- Distract Yourself – Distraction is one of the most common methods for dealing with cravings. When you feel a craving coming on, find something to do to occupy your mind until the craving passes. Exercising, listening to music, calling a friend or reading a book are all great options for keeping your mind off your cravings. Pick something that you enjoy doing to have the greatest effect.
Get the Help You Need
Recovering from benzodiazepine addiction isn’t easy but you don’t have to go through it alone. The recovery specialists here at Recovery Oasis will be happy to help you get through benzodiazepine withdrawal and beyond using a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Our goal is to provide you with the tools you need to recover from your addiction and prevent yourself from relapsing in the future.
We welcome you to get in touch with us to learn more about our addiction recovery services. Our associates will take the time to answer all of your questions about our facility and treatment process to help you make an informed decision about using our services. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation.