Benzodiazepines Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there has been a 4.3-fold increase in overdose deaths from benzodiazepine abuse in the last 15 years. Benzodiazepines are being abused at higher rates than ever, and we’re seeing a national trend of more and more people admitting to addiction treatment centers after their abuse. Because tolerance builds quickly, physical dependence is created easily, and the detoxification process can be deadly, benzodiazepine addiction is dangerous and can be lethal. As with many other prescription medications, people believe they are safe because a doctor prescribed them. However, prolonged use and misuse can lead to a strong addictive cycle that may be hard to break.
Benzodiazepines belong to a class of medication known as tranquilizers, often colloquially called benzos. Benzodiazepines are prescribed to help treat a variety of conditions including anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, muscle spasms, and more. Taken as prescribed, these drugs can be extremely useful. They act on the central nervous system producing a sedated state, relaxed muscles, and decreased anxiety. Because of the effects and side effects produced by these medications, they are highly susceptible to abuse.
Benzodiazepine List and Uses
There are dozens of different kinds of benzos that are available by prescription. Whenever we talk about psychoactive medication there is both a generic name and a brand name. Here is a list of common benzodiazepines as well as what they are usually described for. Usually, people are more familiar with the brand name rather than the generic drug name so we have included both here for convenience.
- Xanax® (Alprazolam)
Used to treat anxiety, anxiety caused by depression, and panic disorder
- Librium® (Chlordiazepoxide)
Used to treat anxiety disorders and alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Valium® (Diazepam)
Used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms
- Ativan® (Lorazepam)
Used to treat anxiety disorders
- Klonopin® (Clonazepam)
Used to treat panic disorder and as an anti-seizure medication
- Dalmane® (Flurazepam)
Used to treat insomnia
- Centrax® (Prazepam)
Used to treat short term anxiety
- Halcion® (Triazolam)
Used to treat insomnia
- Tranxene® (Clorazepate)
Used to treat anxiety, seizures, and short term alcohol withdrawal
- Serax® (Oxazepam)
Used to treat acute alcohol withdrawal and anxiety
- Restoril® (Temazepam)
Used to treat insomnia
- Rohypnol® (Flunitrazepam)
Used to treat anxiety as as an anti-seizure medication
No longer legally available in the U.S.
Sometimes know as an infamous date-rape drug “roofie.”
Benzo medications can be helpful for many people. However, there are a number of side effects associated with the use of this type of medication. When discussing adverse reactions there are generally three types of effects we talk about.
The first is allergic reactions. Like any medication it is possible to have an allergic reaction from benzo medication. They can be as mild as a rash or skin irritation or as severe as anaphylactic shock. Allergic reactions like anaphylactic shock can be extremely dangerous and might lead to death. The second type of adverse reaction is often called “dose related”. These are the most common types of side effects. They are known by the drug company and often printed on the prescription insert. Dose related reactions happen when someone is prescribed too high a dose of the medication.
The final type of adverse reactions are drug interactions. Drug interactions occur when the medication you are taking interacts with another medication or drug. When benzos are combined with alcohol, tranquilizers, barbiturates, or narcotics they can cause excessive sedation or memory loss. Drugs that slow the liver down also might interact with benzos. When medications slow down the liver it takes longer for benzos to leave the system. This can lead to high concentrations of benzos in the blood which can increase the risk of other side effects.
Benzodiazepines are intended for short term use. The longer these medications are used for, the higher the risk for dependence and adverse effects. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are taking benzo medication and experiencing any of these symptoms.
Here are some of the side effects associated with benzos:
- Next day drowsiness
- Memory loss
- Slow heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dependence, abuse, and addiction
- Blurred vision or double vision
- Respiratory distress
- Cardiac arrhythmias
Benzo Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms
Benzodiazepines affect the GABA receptors, like alcohol does. Because of this, withdrawal symptoms may be fatal. The most common benzo withdrawal symptoms are insomnia, anxiety, irritability, sweating, and difficulty concentrating. It’s important to know that with benzodiazepines, you can develop serious withdrawal symptoms even if you were taking the medication exactly as prescribed. Withdrawal symptoms have been found to arise in patients taking benzos for only three months. In more extreme cases usually related to abuse, withdrawal may cause hallucinations, seizures, psychosis, mania, delirium tremens, and suicidal or homicidal ideation.
Because these symptoms can potentially be fatal, it’s important to find benzo withdrawal help. If you are coming off benzos, it is necessary to do so with doctor approval and medical oversight.
The benzo withdrawal timeline depends on the drug you were taking. Some benzos are short-acting (like Xanax®), while some are long-acting (like Valium®). Generally speaking, withdrawal effects begin to arise within a few hours after your last dose, with the worst symptoms coming 2-4 days later. The short-acting benzos will cause harsher and quicker withdrawals, while the long-acting ones will often have longer withdrawal periods.
Although the worst is generally over within a week, symptoms of coming off benzos can last for a couple weeks or months. Depending on your body’s metabolism, your medical care, and how long you were taking your medication for, withdrawal will vary. Because everyone is different, it’s important to seek professional help to stay safe.
- Difficulty focusing
- Increased anxiety
- Delirium tremens (DT’s)
- Manic state or episode
- Suicidal and/or homicidal ideation
Benzo Withdrawal Medications
When someone is detoxing from benzos they might need to take medication to ease withdrawal symptoms like the ones listed above. One medication that can be used to ease benzo withdrawal is Clonidine, sometimes known by the brand names Catapres® or Kapvay®. Clonidine is not approved by the FDA to treat benzo withdrawal. However, medications can be prescribed by psychiatrists for off-label uses. When a medication is given for an off-label use it means that is is not approved for that use but clinical evidence suggests that it can help.
Clonidine works by reducing blood pressure. A reduction in blood pressure allows the blood vessels to open and the heart to beat more slowly. This decrease in heart rate can help people feel less anxious. Often anxiety is associated with a faster heart rate. So, slowing it down can help reduce anxiety.
Detox from Benzos
Benzo detox must be taken seriously. In order to stay safe during detox from benzos, professional medical care is highly advised. As the symptoms of withdrawal can potentially be fatal, it’s imperative that you come off benzodiazepines the right way. Wanting to rid your body of drugs like Xanax®, Valium®, or Klonopin® is a wonderful intention, but it’s not worth the risk to attempt the process by yourself at home.
Here at Changing Tides, we have years of experience working with those going through the withdrawal process. We will make sure you are provided with the best care in your detox process, starting you off with a strong and healthy foundation for a lasting recovery. If you wish to get off your benzodiazepines, why not start by detoxing the right way? Don’t try to detox at home, or do some do-it-yourself method. Benzo detox can be lethal, and it is not something to be taken lightly.
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine dependence or abuse, give us a call today for help! We are standing by and ready to take your call.
- Xanax® (Alprazolam)