a woman concerned about her friend in benzo rehab

Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are in a class of drugs called depressants due to their sedative effect on the central nervous system. When people hear the word “depressant,” they may think of sadness, but in this case, depress means to slow down. Benzos became popular in the ’60s and ’70s as a “safer alternative” to barbiturates for treating profound anxiety and treatment-resistant sleep disorders. The tranquilizing effects of benzodiazepines often cause the following side-effects:

  • Relaxation
  • Decreased inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired memory
  • Loss of fine motor skills
  • Respiratory depression
  • Brain damage
  • Physical weakness

Doctors often prescribe benzodiazepines for limited use in patients who are struggling with treatment-resistant anxiety or traumatic stress. Benzos do not produce a “high,” but for an anxious person, the feeling of relief often resembles a kind of rational euphoria. Because of their addictive potential, doctors typically require approval to continue to refill prescriptions. If you are concerned about benzodiazepine addiction, contact Solution Based Treatment & Detox at 833.999.1941 to learn more about our medical benzodiazepine detox program. Common benzodiazepines include the following:

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Bromazepam (lexotan or lectopam)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Triazolam (Halicon)

Using Benzodiazepines Regularly 

People with profound anxiety often report that taking benzodiazepines allows them to feel normal, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Problems arise when this sense of normalcy causes people to consume more benzos than they are prescribed or take other psychoactive substances–like alcohol–without considering how the additional drugs will affect their already-altered brain chemistry. Be extremely cautious when combining benzodiazepines with any other medication. High levels of Xanax and other benzos can cause patients to feel “barred out,” causing impaired cognitive functioning, loss of balance, and slurred speech.

Overdose

The minute you add another drug on top of a benzodiazepine, the potential for overdose skyrockets. If your doctor prescribes benzodiazepines, using any other central nervous system depressant (opioids, alcohol), sedatives, insomnia medications, acid reflux medication, certain antibiotics, and over-the-counter medications can cause serious complications and even death. Combining drugs is also more likely to lead to chemical dependency when the brain stops developing the coping mechanisms people need to function.

Life Consequences

While benzodiazepine addiction is less common than other types of substance use disorders, addiction always remains a risk and potential health hazard. Taking benzos at high doses causes the brain to stop developing coping mechanisms needed for everyday life. Like alcohol, benzodiazepines cause the brain to increase the effectiveness of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter chemical that produces a sedative effect in the central nervous system.

Benzodiazepine Addiction

Patients taking benzodiazepines may experience a sense of drowsiness, forgetfulness, mellowness, or a dulling sensation in their brain and body. Benzodiazepines reduce the immediate effects of anxiety and stress on the body and promote restful sleep. It’s easy for the brain and body to become dependent on benzos in order to cope with anxiety. Healing from benzo addiction requires more than medical detox, although detox is an essential first step to safely tapering the intake of benzodiazepines. The following programs have been proven to be successful in helping people overcome benzo addiction in the long term.

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Withdrawal

Depressants–benzos are included in this category–are one of the only classes of drugs that cause potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. For a benzo-dependent person, the sudden absence of the drug in their system may cause life-threatening seizures. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include the following:

  • Panic attacks
  • Shaking 
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea
  • Muscular pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Seizures

Your specific withdrawal timeline may vary depending on several factors, including the amount of time you were dependent on the drug, the size of your normal dose, the size of your last dose, and your relative size and weight. Generally, people dependent on a high dosage for a longer period of time will experience more intense symptoms more quickly.

  • 24 Hours. You may start to feel some of your first symptoms within 24 hours, especially if you were used to a high dose. General discomfort, anxiety, and trouble sleeping are common first signs.
  • Two Days. Symptoms will get worse within the first two days. You might experience insomnia, nausea, and a loss of appetite during this period. Some people can experience more severe symptoms at this time if they quit abruptly after using benzos for a long time.
  • Seven Days. Your symptoms will reach their peak within the first week, typically starting around three days. You are at risk for severe symptoms like seizures, panic, coma, and death in this period. Medical treatment can help you avoid these dangerous symptoms and ease discomfort.
  • Two Weeks. Depending on the specific benzo, some people will start to feel better by their second week, while others experience lingering symptoms. The most severe symptoms will start to go away by the end of your second week. Symptoms like insomnia and anxiety can last for longer.
  • One month or more. Benzodiazepines can cause post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), which are long-lasting symptoms like irritability, depression, drug cravings, and anxiety. Symptoms may come and go unpredictably. In some cases, these symptoms need to be treated in order to be effectively addressed.

Medical Detox is Medically Necessary

Medical detox allows people to gradually reduce their benzodiazepine intake in a safe, comfortable medical environment. Since withdrawal from benzos can include life-threatening seizures and other dangerous side-effects, a large medical staff is necessary. Contact Solution Based Treatment and Detox to get information about the most comprehensive benzo detox program in California by calling 833.999.1941

Seizures are dangerous because of their potential to cause serious injuries. Seizures, or tonic-clonic seizures, are characterized by a sudden loss of consciousness, violent convulsions, and your muscles’ rapid contractions. If you go through one with help and in a safe position, it can lead to soreness and exhaustion. If you are standing, walking, or driving a car, seizures can lead to serious and even fatal injuries.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DT) can be fatal on its own. This disturbing condition is characterized by sudden and extreme confusion, panic, a sense of impending doom, chest pains, tremors, seizures, catatonia, coma, and death. DT can cause spikes in blood pressure and heart rate that lead to cardiac arrest. DT can also come on suddenly. If you start to experience symptoms while you are on your own, it may already be too late. If you start to feel benzo withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can also be even more dangerous because of a phenomenon called kindling. Kindling is a neurological problem that’s caused by depressant withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can leave lasting changes in the brain that make subsequent withdrawal periods more severe. A person going through withdrawal for the second or third time is more likely to experience severe symptoms than someone going through withdrawal for the first time.

Medical detox is the safest way to go through depressant withdrawal. It involves 24-7 access to medical professionals who will monitor your condition and treat uncomfortable symptoms. They may also use medications to help wean you off of the drug safely, avoiding severe symptoms. Medical detox can also address other medical complications that need to be treated alongside withdrawal.

What is the Next Step in Treatment? 

Detox is an important part of treatment, especially when benzodiazepines are involved, but it may not be enough to effectively treat a severe substance use disorder. After detox, you might need to move through to the next level of care. Detox facilities often have clinicians on staff to help determine the right level of care you need after you complete detox. If you still have high-level medical or psychological needs that require 24-hour medical monitoring or clinical care, you may go through an inpatient or residential program.