Benzodiazepines are medications typically used to treat symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and other various sleep disorders. The drugs, which are also known as “benzos,” are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that can have positive effects in some who use them as prescribed and adverse effects in others who abuse them.
To name a few, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin are some of the most over-prescribed drugs in the United States. Xanax alone accounts for more than 50 million prescriptions written each year.
With the rise in prescriptions of these drugs, experts have been warning about an impending benzo crisis that could affect us in a way the current opioid dilemma is plaguing the country.
“In just three weeks I was dependent on Xanax, and during the day I would experience anxiety, daytime terrors and tremors,” Christy Huff told NBC News for its report. She also explains how unaware she was by how addictive the drugs were and the misinformation doctors provided her with. “They did not provide me with the information that this could occur,” she said.
Drugs such as Xanax are sedatives that are primarily used to treat anxiety and sleeplessness. The problem with benzos is that medical students, residents, and even doctors in practice have a hard time recognizing the addictive potential of benzodiazepines.
As mentioned above, in some cases these medications are used successfully. Those who suffer from paralyzing anxiety disorders in which they cannot leave home view the medications as miracle drugs. However, for others, they succumb to the slippery slope that is called addiction.
A popular misconception about prescription medications is that they carry less risk than illicit drugs, but this is not true. This assumption carries over to those who have become dependent on benzos and are trying to stop using. If someone is considering an abrupt cessation and participating in benzodiazepine detox by themselves at home, they must be aware of the life-threatening situation they can encounter.
Withdrawal associated with benzos are dangerous, and doing a benzo detox requires the expertise of addiction specialists to guide users through the process. If a person has taken the liberty to stop using benzos, they must go about detox in a way that doesn’t injure or kill them.
The symptoms that present themselves as a result of benzo withdrawal are not only some of the most uncomfortable but perhaps the most dangerous as well. Since benzos are central nervous system depressants, they slow activity in the nervous system and block specific nerve signals from reaching the brain. These are the ones responsible for creating feelings of stress and anxiety.
When an individual stops taking a drug like Xanax or Ativan after prolonged abuse, the central nervous system is no longer being suppressed and goes into a state of hyperactivity that causes overactive reflexes, uncontrollable shaking, and an elevated heart rate. One of the more severe risks is seizures or delirium tremens.
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If someone has been prescribed Valium or Xanax to treat anxiety or insomnia and have not yet become dependent on them, it’s likely that the person could experience rebound insomnia or rebound anxiety that will be worse than when they began using the drugs.
Rebound anxiety has the power to cause severe panic attacks, paranoia, delusions, and hyperventilating while rebound insomnia can cause sleeplessness for days.
The symptoms as mentioned above should be enough to get someone to steer away from detoxing from benzos on their own. Benzodiazepine withdrawal is one of the few drug classifications that can kill you during this process. There must be some medical supervision and intervening if someone decides to forgo this process and mitigate the risks involved.
Opioid drugs are notorious for the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms they possess; however opioid detox is not life-threatening. On a case-to-case basis, many people can detox from opioids on an outpatient basis. Although it may pose fewer risks, it still requires medical monitoring to ensure nothing out of the ordinary occurs.
When it comes to successfully detoxing from benzos, medical intervention is necessary to mitigate the high risk of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. A professional medical detox center is the best option if someone is serious about their sobriety.
There is another danger known as benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome that can make the symptoms of withdrawal much more intense and challenging to manage. This process can, in turn, extend the detox process and manifest symptoms not usually found in benzodiazepine withdrawal. Some of these symptoms include:
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can make detox riskier and more unpredictable. Attempting this process alone can put the user in potentially life-threatening danger. Going about it in this fashion is unnecessary when help is available.
Clients are monitored 24 hours a day by medical professionals and addiction specialists during their stay at a treatment center. Why is this useful? Professionals can accurately diagnose and plan accordingly for complications that could arise. Medical detox can also establish a tapering schedule to help a person avoid having a seizure. What this means is that medication will be administered to combat the worst symptoms of benzo withdrawal and medically manage the transition into sobriety.
A tapering schedule slowly reduces the dosage the person became dependent on until it is safe to stop using all drugs. The person’s body will go through less of a shock this way, which is what often triggers seizures.
There is another benefit of receiving medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to ease withdrawal symptoms to benzodiazepines. The commonly used medications during medical benzodiazepine detox include melatonin, a natural supplement that helps to regulate sleep. The melatonin will work while bypassing tolerance to benzos. The client could also receive antidepressants such as Prozac to curb the depression and suicidal thoughts associated with this process.
Doctors could also administer anticonvulsants as a means to fight off seizures. These drugs have been found useful in combating seizures and dealing with general withdrawal symptoms. It is extremely common for those attempting to detox on their own to relapse midway through the withdrawal making it a more significant prospect to attend treatment.
Dangers of rising benzo prescriptions raise alarms of next drug crisis. (n.d.). from https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/dangers-rising-benzo-prescriptions-raise-alarms-next-drug-crisis-n895361
NIDA. (2012, April 19). Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines' Addictive Properties. Retrieved from from https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2012/04/well-known-mechanism-underlies-benzodiazepines-addictive-properties on 2020, February 7
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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). (September 9, 2019) from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment