Close to seven million people deal with some kind of a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
For those who struggle to keep calm and to stop racing thoughts, insomnia, and other symptoms of anxiety, taking benzodiazepines can be a lifesaver.
But for others, taking these drugs means starting on the path towards a devastating — and difficult to break — addiction.
If you’re taking benzodiazepines, or care about someone who is, you may worry about the possibility of addiction. Perhaps you’re coming to terms with the fact that you’ve already developed an addiction, and are ready to get help.
You want to learn more about what you can expect out of the benzo withdrawal process.
This post is here to help you.
In it, we’ll discuss what benzos are, the?symptoms of withdrawal from benzodiazepines, and much more.
Help is out there, and recovery is possible. Learn more about how to get started below.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Before we get into learning about benzo withdrawal, let’s make sure that you’re clear on what the drug is meant to do.
Roughly 5% of adults have been prescribed some form benzodiazepine medication within the past year. In fact, when used correctly, benzos can greatly help lower the risk of seizures, help patients to fall asleep, and most importantly, ease the symptoms of anxiety.
Currently, benzos are used to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder, (GAD) insomnia, withdrawal from alcohol, panic attacks, and much more.
Benzos are a form of tranquilizers that help to strengthen GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps us to calm down when we’re upset or stressed out. Benzos send messages to your brain cells that actually lower the overall levels of activity in your brain, helping you to relax.
Most people take benzodiazepines in the short-term, since there are several differing opinions surrounding the potential effects of long-term use.
Popular brands of benzos include Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Librium, and Estazolam, among others.
The vast majority of people who take these medications use them safely. However, because of the extreme sedative and “feel-good” effects, they do have the potential to be misused.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, as well as the signs of addiction in users.
Understanding Benzodiazepine Addiction
Are you concerned that someone in your life — or perhaps even you yourself — is suffering from a benzo addiction?
If so, be aware that this form of addiction happens quickly, and by the time many people realize they have a problem, it has likely already spiraled out of control. This is because it’s incredibly easy to build up a high tolerance for benzos.
This means that you’ll need to take a higher dosage, and take more pills in general, in order to feel the same effects that you once did.
So, what are some of the most common signs that you or someone you know has developed an addiction to benzodiazepines?
Signs of an Addiction to Benzos
First, let’s take a look at the most obvious signs of a benzo addiction: the physical changes that can happen to a person who is abusing these prescriptions.
You may notice that you or someone you know has started excessively sweating, even when they’re inactive. You may also experience constant fatigue and drowsiness to the point that it’s difficult for you to do the things you normally would.
In some cases, things like slurred or stalled speech may occur, in addition to a lack of coordination. You may also feel dizzy, experience intense and frequent headaches, and even feel nauseous. Frequent body aches are also a sign of a dependency on benzos.
Other symptoms include anger, irritability, and mood swings that impact your relationships with your friends, family members, and coworkers. You may actually begin to feel more depressed and anxious than when you first started taking the medication.
You may deal with confusion and a general lack of focus. Some people may also realize that their vision has become blurry.
Of course, it’s also important to focus on the social signs of addiction. You may feel like you need to socially isolate yourself or withdraw from your usual social group. In some cases, even a sudden change in someone’s financial situation can be a clear sign of addiction.
The Long-Term Effects of Abusing Benzos
We know that the short-term and more immediate effects of abusing benzos are certainly unpleasant.
However, it’s just as crucial that you understand the long-term consequences (many of which are extremely severe) of benzo abuse.
You may begin to experience auditory and visual hallucinations, many of which can be extremely frightening.
You may also find it difficult to breathe, and may deal with near-constant tremors and shakes across your entire body.
Many people also report experiencing suicidal thoughts as well as depression and anxiety that was more intense than what they were dealing with when they were first given benzos.
Low blood pressure is also a common side effect of benzo abuse, as are sudden and frequent seizures.
In extreme cases, you may go into a coma. This is especially common if you mix alcohol and benzo abuse. This can also lead to death, as in the sad case of musical superstar Whitney Houston.
Additionally, there have been links between long-term abuse of benzos and Alzheimer’s disease.
We know that you don’t want to experience any of these long and short-term consequences. If you’re trying to figure out if treatment is right for you, it helps to understand what the detox and withdrawal experience will be like.
Now, let’s take a look at what you can expect from the process.
What Are the Symptoms of Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines?
The severity of the benzo withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience will likely depend on how long you’ve been taking them, as well as the amount of pills you’ve been taking every day.
You should expect to deal with both psychological and physical effects during the withdrawal process.
The symptoms will be intense, which is why it’s so important not to attempt to detox on your own. Doing so can prove to be fatal, and often, you’ll end up using again because the symptoms are so intense.
The withdrawal process in detox will likely be somewhat similar in nature to the short-term withdrawals you experienced in between taking the pills. However, you won’t have the “relief” of taking another pill to get through it.
You’ll also experience something else — the Rebound Effect.
What is the Rebound Effect in Benzo Withdrawal?
It’s understandable that, because you’ve been taking benzos for such a long time, you likely feel a bit “numb” emotionally.
You experienced small moments of anxiety between pills, but detoxing will bring that back in full force. You may notice that, during the detox process, you feel overwhelmingly intense emotions.
Even if you weren’t initially prescribed benzos for anxiety, you’re likely to experience a surge in stress during the detox period. You’ll also have trouble sleeping, which is referred to as “rebound insomnia.”
This strange and often uncomfortable rebounding feeling will last anywhere from one to four days. In addition to these withdrawal symptoms, you may feel especially nauseous.
You may also have to face things like an increased heart rate, sweating, and short, shallow breathing. Again, this is where we want to stress that the severity of these symptoms varies from person to person. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that you get the proper care you need.
You’ll notice that you first start to feel these more serious withdrawal symptoms within 6-8 hours if you usually take fast-acting benzos. If you take longer acting pills, you may not really experience these withdrawal symptoms within 24-48 hours.
This is because fast-acting benzos leave your body’s system much more quickly than long-acting ones.
Days 10 to 14: What Happens Next?
Just because you’ve now made it through the most severe parts of the benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms doesn’t mean that the process is over quite yet.
In fact, especially if you take long-acting benzos, days 10 to 14 might end up being the peak of your body’s detox period. The symptoms during this time will be somewhat similar to those experienced in the first part of the detox period.
You will start to notice that they’ve become a bit less severe. However, it’s likely that your craving for the pills you were addicted to hasn’t faded. Now that you’re starting to feel a bit better, you’re able to focus less on the pain and how much you’d love to take another pill again.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may start a bit of group rehabilitation work, or meet with an individual counselor, at this time.
Between 3-4 weeks after the day you first entered your treatment program, your symptoms will usually have faded entirely.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone.
Protracted Withdrawal Syndrome
For some, benzodiazepine withdrawal is a longer battle. If you show the signs of protracted withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS for short, you may need to approach your detox and treatment a bit differently.
You should expect to experience random and severe withdrawal symptoms from your medication, even if it’s been months since you’ve last used.
The good news?
If you enter into a detox program that uses a “tapering off” method and other medications to make the process safer for you, you may not experience PAWS.
This is why it’s so important for you to be completely honest with your treatment team about your overall level of drug use.
What Else You Need to Know
In some cases, your medical team may decide that certain forms of medication will be able to help you to detox the right way.
We know that it can be frightening to think about taking any form of benzo again. But remember that going “cold turkey” can lead to seizures and potential death.
The benzos that your treatment team will give you will be nowhere near the level that you abused in the past. They’re designed to help those who are “tapering off” and detoxing from benzos.
They’re not trying to give you the high you experienced in the past. Instead, the goal of these medications is to help you to manage the pain of the detox process.
Valium and Klonopin are two common options, but you’ll speak with your team about which ones are the best fit for your needs.
In addition to these benzos, you may be given buspirone. This is designed to help you to make it through the highly difficult emotional side effects of the detox process. However, be aware that it can take up to three weeks to really work.
You may also be given flumazenil, which is used to treat overdoses. In some cases, it can also be used as an effective form of detox medication.