Benzo use is widespread. From 1996 to 2013, the number of people filling benzo prescriptions increased by over 60%. Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Onfi, etc.) are a group of central nervous system depressants used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. These drugs produce feelings of calmness and euphoria, but they can also cause the opposite. They can lead to vivid or disturbing dreams, anterograde amnesia, hostility, and irritability. Benzos can be highly addictive and Benzo withdrawal may be difficult to handle on your own. After taking high doses for a long period of time, users can develop a tolerance to benzos. As their tolerance gets higher, the user then needs more to feel the effects.
When you are dependent, your body does not know what to do without the drug. Then, when a person wants to stop taking benzos, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur. But what is Benzo Withdrawal entail?
What to Know About Benzo Withdrawal
Benzos are known to have among the most dangerous withdrawals of any drugs. According to American Addiction Centers (AAC), drug withdrawal may include a combination of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms — some of which can prove dangerous if left unmanaged. The first signs of withdrawal usually start within 6 to 8 hours for shorter-acting benzos (Xanaz, Dormonct, Halcion) and 24 to 48 hours for longer-acting benzos (Valium, Klonopin, Librium).
The severity of withdrawal symptoms is associated with a variety of factors, including your current dose, how long you’ve been taking it, whether you take more than one benzo, whether you take other sedating drugs, and so much more.
Symptoms of withdrawal from benzos can include:
· Headaches: patients may experience confusion, lethargy, and splitting headaches in the complete absence of benzos.
· Sleep disturbances: insomnia or excessive sleep habits may develop as a patient goes through withdrawal.
· Irritability: agitation and rude behavior are common occurrences, especially when the patient’s cravings are hitting their hardest.
· Convulsions: erratic actions and movements can result from the disrupted chemical signals to extremities.
· Tremors: involuntary movements may manifest in various areas of the body, particularly in the hands.
· Nausea and vomiting: patients going through withdrawal may be in a state of perpetual sickness throughout.
· Psychosocial episodes (severe panic attacks, psychosis, hallucinations, and seizures): a patient’s central nervous system will be attempting to self-correct after substance interference. In turn, neurological incidents may result.
· Delirium: characterized by auditory, tactile, and visual hallucinations. It can also cause disturbances in consciousness and cognition, which can lead to erratic behavior and possible accidents.
Rebound Effects Versus Benzo Withdrawal:
The most common benzo withdrawal symptoms sometimes called “rebound” symptoms, usually occur within one to four days of discontinuing use. This depends on the benzo used, the amount of use, and the frequency of use. Rebound effects are the return of previous symptoms (anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc.) that were in existence before the patient started using benzos. Withdrawal symptoms are caused by the body struggling to adapt to the end of benzos use.
If you experience anxiety while tapering off benzos, you should have a backup plan. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, mindfulness training, and exercise may help.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms:
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms may continue to occur after you stop using benzos. They can occur for six months or longer. Symptoms include persistent anxiety, chronic insomnia, difficulty performing complex tasks, poor concentration, loss of sex drive, and depression. Psychological withdrawal symptoms may also continue for months, but they can be controlled and minimized when you seek proper professional help.
Tapering Off Benzos
If you have been taking benzos for two weeks or longer, it is recommended that you taper off of the benzos. It is not recommended to stop abruptly. People who quit benzos without a taper may experience a life-threatening grand-mal seizure. To taper off means to take progressively smaller doses over the course of a few weeks or months. Although this may seem like a big step, tapering is the step you need to take towards recovery.
Benzos affect the GABA receptors, a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through the brain and the nervous system and is involved in regulating communication between brain cells. Since benzos are a man-made drug, our bodies and brains do not have a built-in mechanism to process them. A benzo taper can take two to three weeks for some patients and several months for others. When tapering off your benzos, you may still experience some symptoms of withdrawal after each dose reduction.
When a person wishes to stop taking benzos, it is important that this process is done at a specialized drug treatment facility where medical and mental health professionals are on hand to offer direct support and care, like Harmony Ridge Recovery Center. Substance abuse treatment can help a person sustain abstinence from benzodiazepines in the long run.
It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” solution for people tapering off of benzos. Your doctor will be able to make a tapering schedule fit for you. This will be based on your current dose and particular circumstances. These are two of the post popular methods that doctors may base your schedule off of:
The Ashton Method:
The Ashton Method was developed by Dr. Ashton, a physician in England. This method allows the body and the brain to adjust to the change. Although tapering off benzos is not pleasant, patients have found that The Ashton Method is very tolerable compared to other options. The Ashton Method has reported a 90% success rate. This method’s protocol recommends using diazepam to taper, as the benefits of a long half-life are important for tapering. Diazepam’s half-life of up to 200 hours means it can help to prevent secondary issues, like interdose withdrawal (withdrawal symptoms that develop between doses), that can lead to major problems during cessation. Diazepam also comes in smaller doses. Clonazepam has a medium half-life. Alprazolam has a short half-life.
Tapering Guideline by the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder:
According to American Addictions Center (AAC), this tapering guideline is one of the most followed. These guidelines suggest an initial reduction of 25-30% for high dosage chronic users, followed by a 5-10% daily to a weekly reduced dose. A 25% weekly reduction is recommended for individuals who normally take therapeutic doses at bedtime. For those who take therapeutic doses during the daytime, an initial dose reduction of 10-25% should be implemented, followed by further reductions of 10-25% every 1-2 weeks thereafter.
What happens next?
If you choose to do inpatient treatment for Benzo Withdrawal, it may seem hard to stay sober when you leave. You may find yourself put in triggering situations, or situations that spark the thought of reverting back to old habits. There are a few things you can do to avoid or manage these temptations, including:
· Finding a solid, sober support system. When you surround yourself with sober people who have your best interests at heart, you will have a sense of community. If you are not sure who to turn to, try looking for a support group in your area.
· Modifying your environment. Before you leave treatment, ask a loved one to remove anything triggering from your home. This will prevent a trigger before happening.
· Setting goals for the future. When you look towards the future and set goals, you will be able to manage your temptations when they arise. Remember why you want to stay sober and all the benefits it will bring to your life.
· Keeping your follow-up appointments. It is important to schedule follow-up appointments with your doctor, to make sure you are staying on the right track. Once you have made these appointments, stick to them. You may think that you can handle this on your own and skip them, but do not cancel. It is much easier to handle your temptations/addiction when you are getting help from health professionals.
· Finding moments each day to be thankful. Whether you write down your gratitude in a journal or just think about what you are thankful for every day, you will reap the benefits. When we have a strong appreciation for the life we have been given, it is easier to recognize how much we have to be thankful for. What makes you feel fulfilled and happy?
· Creating new, healthy habits to replace your old ones. It takes a little more than two months for a habit to stick, so keep pushing forward. It is important to find something new that you enjoy doing. Find something like you like doing and stick with it. Exercising, meditating, and volunteering can all take up your time in positive ways.
Do You Need Help With Benzo Withdrawal?
Benzos are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the country. If you or a loved one is addicted to benzos, help is available. With proper care and follow-up support, recovery can be achieved. Addiction treatment will help you or your loved one improve coping skills and rectify behaviors that influence drug use. Without the right treatment, withdrawal from benzos can be extremely dangerous. We are here to help.