Benzo belly is one withdrawal symptom of benzodiazepines or benzos. Those who try to quit this prescription drug cold turkey might find some uncomfortable consequences. Fortunately, medical detoxes provide a safe way for individuals to stop using benzos in a comfortable environment.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 12% of Americans use benzos, which is over 30 million Americans. While they have their place within the medical world, they can be very addictive. Although abuse isn’t as common as other addictive substances, around 2% of the 30 million who take benzos are addicted to them. This roughly translates to 600,000 people.
On top of this, benzo statistics show that over 17% of the 30 million Americans have abused this prescription medication at least once before they were surveyed. Misuse of benzos can quickly turn into a substance use disorder if one doesn’t recognize the signs and symptoms. Benzo withdrawal symptoms, like benzo belly, can even help keep individuals using the substance.
What Is Benzo Belly?
Benzo belly describes a variety of withdrawal symptoms that have to do with benzos. Benzo belly can happen to those with benzo prescriptions and to those who misuse benzos.
So, how long do benzo withdrawals last? The benzo withdrawal symptom that’s known as benzo belly can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a year. Some of the symptoms of benzo belly include:
- Abdominal pain
- Appetite changes
In part, this is because of physical dependence on the medication. Constant benzo use over time can create both a physical and psychological dependence. The body and the brain become used to the chemistry changed by consistent benzo use. So, while benzo belly describes some of the symptoms of benzo withdrawal, there are more such as:
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased irritability
- Issues concentrating
- Excessive sweating
- Dry heaving
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Body aches and pains
Mental illnesses can arise when stopping benzo use abruptly as well. One study writes that rebound anxiety can happen shortly after the last dose of benzodiazepines when a person has a psychological dependence on it.
The Science Behind Benzo Belly
Benzo belly happens in part because of how this drug affects the body. When people consume benzos, it affects their central nervous systems (CNS). The CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord. The brain has neurotransmitters and neurons that work together to deliver messages throughout the body. Neurons connect (although not physically) and send messages from the brain to the spinal cord.
One of the types of neurotransmitters in the brain is known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short. It’s one of the most common types of brain hormones found in the CNS. It’s an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it slows down the messages that neurons attempt to send. As a result, it slows down the body’s systems and makes it more relaxed.
Benzos work by binding with GABA receptors (which are a part of a neuron). Neurons send out neurotransmitters to and from receptors to communicate a message. Benzos block those receptors so the GABA basically has nowhere to go except to sit in the brain. This gives the brain more GABA to work with, which makes the body calmer as a whole.
So How Does Benzo Belly Happen?
The CNS is complex. People can think of the brain and body as an ecosystem. When something is off-balance, the ecosystem tries to maintain balance in one way or another. In the case of benzos, the brain becomes used to the receptor blockage. In turn, it produces less GABA or reduces the number of receptors that receive it, says NIDA.
When someone tries to stop using benzos and has a withdrawal it’s because the brain isn’t used to the lack of GABA. The brain can’t cope with the chemical imbalance and lets the body know by reacting violently, hence benzo belly.
Alternatively, benzo belly can also happen when someone develops a tolerance to benzos and needs more of it to feel normal. The brain becomes less sensitive when there is a chemical imbalance, especially the part that has to do with feeling rewarded. Therefore, a person with a benzo tolerance will need to take more of the substance to trigger his or her reward system, even if the effect is much weaker.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Healthbeat, a Harvard Medical School Blog, writes that the brain directly affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract system contains the stomach and the intestines. A troubled brain sends signals down to the GI system, which can irritate it. That’s why people that feel nervous or disgusted sometimes feel like they might throw up.
When people withdraw from benzos, their brain isn’t able to cope with the brain chemistry imbalance because of the lack of GABA. This imbalance sends signals to the GI tract that something is wrong. This distress results in benzo belly and the other symptoms mentioned before.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Understanding how benzo belly happens also helps to explain what benzodiazepines are. Benzos are CNS depressants because of how they interact with the brain and slow down the body’s systems. Since benzos cause people to feel relaxed, they’re used for certain medical conditions. Some of these conditions are anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and depression.
Common benzos include:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Oxazepam (Serax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Flurazepam (Dalmane)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
Benzos do more than put people in a state of relaxation. They relax the muscles, making them effective against muscle spasms. Occasionally, benzos might also be used to help with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, but with extreme caution. Recommending potentially addictive substances to a person with an alcohol use disorder can be extremely dangerous.
Get Benzo Withdrawal Pain Relief Naturally
There isn’t a cure for benzo belly at this time. It takes time to get over it and the amount of time that it will take can vary from person to person. However, this type of withdrawal symptom affects the gut. So, it makes sense to change eating habits to help soothe any GI issues that will make benzo belly worse.
Heavy, greasy foods can upset the stomach even if someone isn’t suffering from benzo belly. Thus, it’s best for individuals that are recovering from benzo belly to stick to light, nutritious meals that won’t be harsh on the stomach.
Spicy food and acidic foods may also irritate the stomach more than necessary. Therefore, it might help for people with benzo belly to eat bland foods.
Additionally, probiotics can help with food digestion. While yogurt is packed with probiotics, dairy can upset some people’s stomachs. Instead, opt for fermented food like sauerkraut or kimchi.
Any vegetables in the nightshade family could potentially irritate the GI tract as well. Although they are very healthy, nightshade vegetables include peppers and eggplants.
Addiction Treatment For Benzo Withdrawal
Holistic therapeutic methods can help with benzo withdrawal pain relief. However, alone, they might not be able to help treat benzo addiction. At Harmony Ridge, we offer various unique addiction treatment programs to help treat benzo withdrawal and addiction.
Since anxiety is one of the major reasons why people take benzos, individuals with mental illnesses such as anxiety may self-medicate themselves with benzos. Luckily, Harmony Ridge’s co-occurring treatment programs simultaneously treat addiction and mental illness.
Medical Detox Protocol
The first step to overcoming benzo addiction is medical detox. Because benzos affect the brain and body, especially the GI tract, it’s important to get rid of all the toxins and traces of benzos that are left in the system. The medical staff at a detox facility will make sure patients are healthy as they rid their bodies of benzos.
The medical staff at detox facilities will even monitor the GI health of patients in recovery from benzo addiction so that they can detect any abnormalities. Furthermore, the medical staff will provide support for patients during and after detox.
Inpatient Treatment For Benzos
Individuals in need of relief from benzo addiction and benzo withdrawal pain might find solace in an inpatient program. Inpatient programs make patients live at rehab facilities while receiving treatment.
Inpatient program patients will spend their time learning how to cope without the use of benzos. They will also learn why addiction is a chronic brain disorder.
Outpatient Treatment For Benzos
Some people prefer not to live at an addiction treatment facility for a variety of reasons. One reason why people don’t want to live at an addiction treatment facility while in rehab is because doing so will increase the cost of rehab. Others might not want to live in an addiction treatment facility while in rehab because they have obligations in life that they must still upkeep while receiving treatment. Outpatient programs are the best rehab options for such individuals.
Outpatient programs have different levels of care depending on how much time a person can commit. Partial hospitalization programs require the most time, although intensive outpatient programs also require a large amount of time. Occurring only a few hours a week, general outpatient programs require the least amount of time from patients.
Harmony Ridge Helps Patients Safely Detox
Benzo belly may go away in time, but addiction to benzos won’t without treatment. Here at Harmony Ridge, we offer safe, medical detox so that those struggling with substance use disorders can comfortably start to overcome their addictions.
Our trained medical detox staff can also help patients manage their withdrawal symptoms during detox. They can even provide some pain relief for benzo withdrawal. Contact us now to find out more about our benzo addiction treatment services in West Virginia.