The Effects of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are most frequently prescribed as short-term treatments for anxiety and panic disorders. They may also be prescribed to treat insomnia in the short-term as well. Benzodiazepines are among the most prescribed drugs in the United States, and while they are approved for certain medical uses, they have risks and side effects.
There are more than 15 benzodiazepines or benzos for short that are approved by the FDA. Among psychiatric medications, brand-name Xanax is the most frequently prescribed. The generic name of Xanax is alprazolam. Also prescribed often are Valium (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam).
When someone uses a benzodiazepine, it increases the effects of something called GABA. GABA is a brain neurotransmitter that’s responsible for calming neural activity. When someone has an anxiety or panic disorder, their brain may not make enough GABA, or it may not work at an optimal level. Benzos can improve this.
Benzos have a calming effect, and this class of drugs can also work as a sedative, hypnotic or muscle-relaxant. Sometimes benzodiazepines are also prescribed to control seizure disorders. Benzos can be grouped into short-, intermediate- and long-acting benzodiazepines. They are controlled substances, and this means there is a potential for abuse, addiction, and dependence despite their medical uses.
Benzos are central nervous system depressants, and the longer someone uses one of these drugs, even as prescribed, the more likely they are to experience addiction or dependence.
The Different Brand Names of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are common prescription medications. A large number of prescriptions are written each year. From 1996 to 2013, the percentage of American adults who filled a benzodiazepine prescription increased by about 30%. 5.6% of American adults had a benzodiazepine prescription in 2013. 56% of these prescriptions were for anxiety. The rest were for other mental health disorders and conditions.
To cater to the demand, the amount of benzodiazepine medications that were available doubled. More and more brand names started to pop up. Some of the most common and popular brand names for benzodiazepines include:
The different brand names come with unique side effects and uses. For example, Ativan is used to treat short-term anxiety disorder and anxiety that’s associated with depression. Xanax, on the other hand, is approved for all of the above uses, and can also treat panic disorders and panic attacks. It has more uses in comparison to Ativan. Xanax, however, should not be prescribed to those struggling with a bipolar disorder. The medication can increase the risk of excitability, insomnia and mania.
Detoxing from Benzodiazepines
People develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines fairly quickly, meaning they need increasingly high doses to achieve the same effects. With that, comes the potential for dependence to form. Essentially when a drug affects the brain and central nervous system, repeated exposure changes how neurotransmitters in the brain function.
This means that the brain starts to feel that it needs continual exposure to benzodiazepines to function in what’s become a new sense of normalcy. For example, without benzodiazepines, the brain might be more overactive than it was before because of changes in the chemicals and function of the brain.
If someone’s dependent on a benzo and they suddenly stop using it or even cut down their dosage, they may go through withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal occurs as the body struggles to return to an original sense of normalcy without exposure to the drugs. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may require medical attention.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal severity can vary. It can be mild, moderate or severe. The severity of withdrawal often depends on how long someone used the substances and how high of a dose they were using. Other factors that could play a role in benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include whether any other substances are being used and whether a person has mental or physical health concerns or disorders.
It’s possible to become dependent on benzodiazepines even when using them as prescribed. After only a few weeks of prescribed use, some people still experience withdrawal symptoms. Doctors will often advise patients to gradually lower their dose of a benzo over time, rather than abruptly stopping. Tapering down the dosage of a benzo can help mitigate withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal are separate from addiction, although the conditions do often occur together. Addiction is a chronic psychological disorder characterized by compulsive, out-of-control use of a substance.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms are common among those who stop taking this drug. Benzodiazepines are depressants that control the central nervous system. They treat a wide array of symptoms and conditions, like seizures, anxiety, insomnia and panic disorders. Benzodiazepines can even treat alcohol abuse withdrawal symptoms.
Studies show that physicians prescribe, on average, benzodiazepines to at least 15% of their patients. 5% of patients receive a fairly high dose. The high dose can have a huge effect on the body and may alter brain chemistry. Even when taken as prescribed, patients may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication.
If you believe that you have an addiction to benzodiazepines, it’s important to act quickly. Get help from a drug rehab center. They will introduce you to a wide variety of different treatment options. The treatments will be tailored to your needs. Here’s a look at withdrawal signs and symptoms, as well as the best ways to manage them.
What Are the Symptoms of Detoxing from Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepine misuse and abuse will lead to physical and psychological dependence. The body becomes hooked on the drug. Chemical changes in the brain and body causes the body to rely on the drug. Those who try to quit or wean off of these medications will then experience benzodiazepine withdrawal signs and symptoms. Depending on the type of benzodiazepine being abused, these withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.
The severity of the withdrawal symptoms will depend on how drug addicts quit. Those who slowly wean off of the benzodiazepines usually have a much easier time. In fact, most addiction treatment will use this method. Those who quit cold turkey will have a much more difficult time. Some of the most common benzo withdrawal signs and symptoms include:
- Anxiety, agitation and panic
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure
- Irritability and mood swings
- Muscle aches, pain and stiffness
- Poor concentration
- Profuse and excessive sweating
- Sensory distortions
- Sleep problems, like insomnia
- Vomiting and nausea
In worst case scenarios, serious complications may arise. Some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms include seizures, psychosis and delirium tremens. Drug abusers who mix benzodiazepines with other substances or alcohol are at a higher risk for experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms. The severity of the addiction will also influence the intensity of the benzo withdrawals. Medical professionals will recommend treatment options based on the condition of each patient.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Although not all, approximately 10% to 15% of drug abusers may experience a prolonged or protracted withdrawal. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS can last anywhere from several months to up to a year. Most of these symptoms are more psychological than physical. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of PAWS include:
- Chronic anxiety
- Difficulties sleeping
The intensity and duration of the benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms will differ from person to person. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can be treated at many recovery centers. Depending on the intensity of the symptoms, medical detox may or may not be necessary.
If the symptoms are not treated or managed, they can progressively get worse. The symptoms can become difficult to control. In worst-case scenarios, benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. The benzodiazepine withdrawal timeline will vary from individual to individual.
How to Ease Withdrawal Symptoms
While the treatment centers will do as much as possible to help you get through a benzodiazepine addiction, you’ll still have to face and deal with the withdrawal symptoms alone. Some patients will have no problems with the withdrawal symptoms. Others might find them difficult to handle. If you’re having a difficult time, consider the following tips and tricks recommended by medical professionals.
Tip #1: Rely on Medical Detox
Benzodiazepine withdrawal and detox is often treated with medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Otherwise known as medical detox, this part of the recovery process is the first step towards addiction recovery. It is recommended for patients who choose either inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment. This drug addiction treatment usually lasts anywhere from 7 days to a month at an inpatient rehab.
The medications are only prescribed when patients run into problems with the taper method. There are many different types of medications that may fit the bill. Some of the most common medications used in this type of drug detox include:
- Anticonvulsants, like carbamazepine or valproate
- Antihypertensive medications, like clonidine or propranolol
- Benzodiazepines with a longer half-life, like chlordiazepoxide or Klonopin
- Sedating antidepressants like trazodone
Doctors prescribe antihypertensive medications to patients who experience autonomic consequences when dealing with symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawals. The nursing staff administers the medications at any point of time during the drug detox. The goal is to help patients enjoy a smooth and hassle-free transition into recovery. To avoid the risk of complications, patients need to be under constant supervision during the withdrawal process. Medical professionals will constantly check up on patients to ensure their safety.
Medical detox is not the only treatment method used to deal with a benzodiazepine addiction. It’s vital that the medications are paired with psychotherapeutic treatment, like behavioral therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective in treating benzodiazepine abuse.
Substance abuse treatment should also deal with dual diagnosis. This is when patients struggle with both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder. Many benzodiazepine addicts struggle with co-occurring disorders. For example, they may also struggle with anxiety disorders.
Tip #2: Use Healthy Distractions
Another way for easing benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms is to use healthy distractions. It’s impossible not to experience any withdrawal symptoms at all. The aim is to not spend your time focusing on the symptoms. Keep yourself distracted and you’ll find yourself cruising through the withdrawal timeline. The goal is to keep your mind preoccupied with something else. Healthy distractions include:
- Spa treatments
- Taking a bath
- Listening to music
- Watching a movie
- Going to the museum
- Hiking or spending time in nature
This is a good time to pick up a new hobby or activity. When receiving treatment from a recovery center, the recovery center will usually expose you to a wide array of different activities. They will also provide you with a strict schedule to follow. The goal is to help you build better discipline and character. It’s also to help you stay preoccupied, so your mind won’t wander off to drugs.
Tip #3: Accept the Cravings
This may sound ironic and counterproductive, but stop trying to fight your cravings. During the benzodiazepine detox process, you will be bound to experience cravings. This is the same for all types of substance abuse. While the benzodiazepine treatment at detox centers will help you manage the withdrawal symptoms, the cravings will never completely disappear.
One of the best ways to lessen the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms is to recognize that the cravings are there. It’s important to realize that cravings are normal. The cravings will probably linger around for some time as well. Don’t try to fight or resist the cravings. If you do, it will only create more tension. Instead, accept them and try to move forward. As physical dependency weans, the intensity of the cravings will lessen.
You can work through the cravings by attending support groups. Share your personal experiences with others and get advice from others who have been in the same situation. These support groups are similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, which is highly recommended for alcoholism treatment.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline
Just as individual usage and characteristics can affect the severity of benzo withdrawal symptoms, these factors can play a role in the withdrawal timeline as well. Whether someone uses a shorter- or longer-acting benzo can also contribute to the withdrawal timeline. In general, however, the following is an example of what the benzodiazepine withdrawal timeline could be like:
- Initial and mild withdrawal symptoms may occur anywhere from six to eight hours after someone takes their last dose of a benzodiazepine. This is especially true with shorter-acting benzos. With longer-acting benzos, withdrawal symptoms may take 24 to 48 hours to occur. These early withdrawal symptoms can include loss of appetite, mild nausea, anxiety and sleep problems.
- In the first one to seven days, a person’s withdrawal symptoms will peak. This is when the most severe symptoms might occur. This is also when the risk of seizures is greatest.
- After the first week, most people will start to feel better.
Some symptoms, especially ones that are psychological, may persist for longer than a week. For example, a person may struggle with anxiety, depression or insomnia for weeks or months after their last dose of a benzodiazepine.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Treatment
Different treatment options may be available for someone experience benzo withdrawal symptoms. This depends primarily on the individual, as well as the specific symptoms they’re experiencing.
For example, if someone is showing severe psychological symptoms, they might be prescribed an antipsychotic, but if someone is having mild symptoms, they may just require over-the-counter medications to help manage the symptoms.
Benzodiazepine Detox Centers
If someone has been using benzos by prescription or otherwise and they want to stop using them, they have a few options. One option is to try and detox on their own, at home and without medical supervision. This isn’t recommended, especially given the potential severity and complications of benzo withdrawal.
Another option is detoxing from benzos on an outpatient basis but under the supervision of a medical professional. This may be a good option for someone who hasn’t used benzos long, used small doses, or used them exactly as prescribed.
The better option is often a medical benzodiazepine detox. At a benzodiazepine detox center, there is a medical staff that provides around-the-clock treatment and monitoring. This can help prevent severe complications of withdrawal, and also keep a person more comfortable as they go through these symptoms.
Many rehab centers will offer onsite benzodiazepine detox that a person can participate in before they receive addiction treatment.
To learn more about benzodiazepine detox and withdrawal symptoms as well as treatment options, please contact Amethyst Recovery Center.
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