benzodiazepine withdrawal

What to Expect When Going Through Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Last updated on July 14th, 2019 at 09:14 am

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you’ll probably be prescribed a benzodiazepine medication.

Benzodiazepine, also known as benzos, can treat a myriad of anxiety disorders, insomnia, alcoholism, muscle spasms, and even seizures.

But there’s one huge disadvantage of taking benzos – they’re extremely addictive. As you start taking benzos, your tolerance will increase. To experience the same effects, you’ll have to keep taking more medications.

Doctors are well aware of the addiction risk and will only prescribe the minimum amount the patient needs. Unfortunately, this often isn’t enough. The patient will resort to purchasing benzos on the street.

If you want to recover from benzo addiction, you’ll suffer from withdrawals.

Here’s what to expect from benzodiazepine withdrawal.

What Are Benzos?

Benzos are manmade medications prescribed to treat anxiety, depression, seizures and insomnia. All of these disorders are caused by excessive nerve activity in the brain.

Benzos help relieve this activity by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.

GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps communicate different signals within the brain. Benzos tell GABA to stop nerve activity; GABA communicates this to the nervous system.

It doesn’t seem that harmful, right? But benzos are more potent and harmful than you expect. Benzos have the power to rewire your brain; your brain will become dependent on the medication and your natural GABA won’t function as efficiently without the medication.

Users also experience a “high” from benzos. Benzos are what’s known in the drug world as a “downer.” Rather than feeling energetic from stimulants (cocaine), users feel relaxed and sedated. This also causes a euphoric feeling.

Alarming Benzo Statistics

Benzo addiction is becoming more common than ever. It’s currently an epidemic. Here are some alarming benzo statistics.

The most commonly used benzos are:

  • Xanax (49 million prescriptions)
  • Ativan (27.6 million prescriptions)
  • Klonopin (26.9 million prescriptions)
  • Valium (15 million prescriptions)
  • Restoril (8.5 million prescriptions)

Benzo dependence starts quickly. Addiction can start with a dose as little as 4 mg a day and for as long as 12 weeks. Users risk withdrawal symptoms when they take benzos, even as little as 2 mg a day for eight weeks.

43% of benzo users experience withdrawal symptoms – regardless of whether they’re addicted or took benzos as prescribed.

How Do You Know You’re Taking Benzos?

Unless you ask your doctor, you likely don’t know you’re taking benzos. There’s no medication called “benzodiazepine.”

Rather, there’s a variety of medications that fit this drug classification. There are more than 15 different benzos that are prescribed in the United States.

Here are the most common benzos and their generic name:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Tranxene (clorazepate)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Prosom (estazolam)
  • Dalmane (flurazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Versed (midazolam)
  • Serax (oxazepam)
  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Halcion (triazolam)
  • Doral (quazepam)

As long as you follow the doctor’s orders, these medications should not be dangerous. If you’re taking benzos temporarily, your doctor will put you on a small dose and will ween you off. This way, you won’t experience withdrawals.

If you’re taking these medications constantly, your doctor will put you on a small dose to minimize your risk of dependence. If you want to get off the medication, your doctor will ween you off to prevent withdrawals.

What is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?

When you use any addictive substance and suddenly stop, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. Your body relies on that substance and will react terribly if you stop using the substance.

Benzos are no different. You become dependent on benzos and you’ll show both mental and physical withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms you experience depends on your level of addiction.

Most users use benzos as a party drug. When these users stop taking benzos, they will feel slight discomfort or a little sick. But true addicts – those who constantly pop benzos – may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Your withdrawal experience also depends on other factors.

This includes how much you took right before you stopped and how suddenly you stopped. For example, if you took a high dose and stopped cold turkey, you’ll experience violent withdrawal symptoms.

You don’t even have to be an addict to experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can occur if you miss a dose or when their doctor starts to ween them off.

Why Benzo Withdrawal is Dangerous

Because of its high dependence risk, benzo withdrawal is usually dangerous. Most people who use benzos have a pre-existing health condition; not only will their health issues return, but they can develop a myriad of other ailments.

If you start taking benzos recreationally, this can develop added mental and even physical issues. This includes severe depression and body pain.

If you stop taking benzos without the aid of a doctor, you won’t be able to control your withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms may also get worse, potentially becoming lethal.

In severe cases, benzo withdrawal is threatening to your mental state and overall health. Serious addicts can develop psychosis, which is impairment of reality. You may experience hallucinations and extreme paranoia.

If you were prescribed benzos for epilepsy, quitting cold turkey can result in violent seizures. Even though without a history of seizures can develop them during benzo withdrawal.

Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms

Every patient and user is different. But it’s normal to experience one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches, cramps, and spasms
  • Excessive sweating
  • Sensory distortions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Agitation
  • High blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

To prevent withdrawal symptoms, recover from benzos with the aid of a doctor or at a rehab clinic. This is especially important if you have a severe dependence.

How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The benzo withdrawal process depends on a number of different factors. This includes

  • The exact medication you’re taking
  • How long you’ve been addicted
  • Your daily dose

Compared to other addictive drugs, benzo withdrawal symptoms are some of the hardest to handle. That’s because benzos are long-acting medications.

But some benzo medications have less severe withdrawal symptoms.

Xanax is a short-acting medication, so withdrawal symptoms may last as short as a week. But compared to a long-acting medication such as Valium, withdrawal symptoms can last as long as three months.

All of this depends on the kind of addict you are – how long you’ve been abusing benzos and how much you would take every day.

For severe addicts, withdrawal symptoms can last up to a year. You may not even fully recover from benzo withdrawals.

Benzo Detox

To safely recover from benzo addiction, benzo detox is necessary. This helps rid your body of your benzo dependence and will remove any existing substance from the body.

For best results, go through benzo detox with the aid of a professional. You’ll either seek assistance from your doctor or a rehab facility.

What to Expect Before Your Detox

Before detox can actually occur, the medical professionals need to learn who you are and what kind of benzo addiction you have. They will evaluate crucial information such as:

  • Your addiction severity
  • Your current health
  • Your daily dosage
  • The reason you started taking benzos (as a prescription or recreationally)
  • How long you’ve been abusing benzos
  • If you’ve had past treatment or relapsed

From this information, your medical professional can put together a sobriety and detox plan. This may include one of the following

It’s best you follow your doctor’s orders to sober up from benzo addiction.

How Benzo Detox Occurs

When you seek medical help for your benzo detox, a medical professional will ensure you experience as little withdrawal symptoms as you can. They will take measures so you can detox peacefully.

Benzo Weening

One of the first things a medical practitioner will do is ween you off the medication. Rather than stopping benzos cold turkey, decreasing your dosage will help minimize your risk of dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

How long this process lasts depends on what kind of addict you are. If you followed doctor’s orders without taking more medication, this process is a lot shorter.

But if you used a high daily dosage for a long time, weening off the medication will take longer.

This process also depends on the exact medication you were taking. Xanax is a short-acting benzo, so you won’t be weened as long as a long-acting benzo like Ativan.

On average, expect to stay in this weening stage between a few weeks and even a few months.

Benzo Detox Medications

You can take medication to help your withdrawal symptoms. But this all depends on the withdrawal symptoms you’re experiencing.

A common medication prescribed is Phenobarbital. This treats epilepsy and seizures.

If you used benzos for seizures, this medication will help control your seizures. If you’re suffering from muscle spasms, you’ll probably take carbamazepine or valproate.

Whether you were prescribed benzos or took benzos recreationally, you’ll likely experience depression.

If you had depression prior to benzo use, expect your depression symptoms to return. If you never suffered from depression before, depression is a common withdrawal symptom.

A medical practitioner will prescribe a non-habit forming antidepressant such as trazodone.

Another common withdrawal symptom is hypertension. You’ll experience profuse sweating and a racing heart. There are medications that can treat all of those symptoms. Examples include clonidine or propranolol.

How to Prevent Relapsing

Detoxing from benzo abuse and surviving withdrawals is only the beginning of the sobriety process. After you detox, it’s normal to still have cravings – even though your body is no longer dependent on the medication.

On average, these cravings last for a few months. For some, cravings can even last years or may not go away at all.

This is when relapsing occurs. Relapsing is when a former addict uses a drug after sobering up. They will usually use the dose they’re used to, which often results in death.

After you sober up from benzos, it’s vital you prevent relapsing and control your cravings.

Here are some tips to prevent relapse.

Identify Your Triggers

Former benzo addicts usually get triggers during certain situations. This can include places, people, and even memories. Identify your triggers and plan them ahead.

Stop contacting certain people or stop visiting certain places that trigger a craving.

Some former addicts move to a new city to have a fresh start.

Accept Your Cravings

This seems counterintuitive; if you want to avoid cravings, why accept them? Accepting cravings gives them a positive spin. Thinking of cravings as “bad” incites a negative response, making you stressed and overwhelmed.

Accept your cravings, but don’t feed into them. Know they exist and accept you’ll live with them for a very long time.

Have a Support System

When you’re surrounded by positive people, you’ll feel less inclined to relapse.

There is a myriad of drug addiction support groups. If you’re close with family and friends, ask if you can reach out if you get triggers. You can also reach out to your former doctor and therapist for support.

Find a Healthy Distraction

One of the best actions a former benzo addict can take is replacing their addiction with a healthy action. This helps keep your mind off of your cravings.

Great examples include exercise, engaging in a former hobby, being creative, starting a new career, sports, traveling, and simply focusing on your health.

Start Sobering Up From Benzo Addiction Today

Benzodiazepines are a group of medications that treat anxiety disorders and seizures.

Unfortunately, these medications come with a strong chance of addiction. If you’re addicted to benzos, you need to know how to recover from benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Fortunately, you have options. We can help you detox from benzos and offer inpatient and outpatient options.

If you have difficulty affording these services, you have plenty of insurance options.

Do you want to help a loved one recover from benzo addiction? We have an intervention service that will benefit you.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.