Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are a class of medications that enhance the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which increases sedation. These drugs are also sleep-inducing, anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant, and even have muscle-relaxing properties. The original benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide (Librium), was discovered in 1955 and made available to the public by 1960. Since then, benzodiazepines have become some of the most prescribed medications in the world.
With several distinct classes of benzodiazepines, short, intermediate, and long-acting, these drugs can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. With short and intermediate-acting benzos typically used for insomnia, long-acting benzos are used primarily for the treatment of anxiety conditions. However, these medications are highly addictive and many times are abused.
Benzodiazepines are extremely addictive. Medications such as Xanax or Valium fall into this category of drugs. Benzos act as a central nervous system depressant, causing sedation, muscle relaxation, and decreased levels of anxiety. This state of relaxation and calm is the desired effect the individual abusing the benzo. Over time, with continued use, an individual may develop both a physical and psychological dependence on the drugs. Over time, the stimulation of GABA changes the chemical balance in the brain, and often people must use higher and higher doses to attain the same effects.
It is during this process that the body becomes dependent on the medication, and physical addiction occurs. Consistent exposure to benzodiazepines causes neural adaptations to develop which results in the building tolerance and ultimately a dependence.
Many times, people who abuse benzodiazepines experience complete amnesia, which has made benzos popular choices for a date rape drug. Users also report feelings of drowsiness or lethargy, slurred speech, confusion, severe memory problems, impaired balance, and ultimately a worsening of depression or mood disorders.
While there are currently more than 2,000 different types of benzodiazepines that have been produced, only 15 are currently FDA-approved in the United States. Some of the more common benzos you may come across are:
All of these medications have a high propensity for abuse and should never be combined with alcohol. Combining benzos and alcohol can result in a potentially fatal overdose. Since both are central nervous system depressants, the combination could result in fatal suppression of the central nervous system and respiratory arrest.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is dangerous and often might be life-threatening. Drugs and substances (such as alcohol) that have sedative effects tend to cause dangerous and sometimes even fatal withdrawal symptoms if a regular user attempts to stop cold turkey without the help of a medical professional.
At the very least, the physical and mental benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms often result in users relapsing just to feel better.
The timeline for benzodiazepine withdrawal will vary depending on several factors since addiction affects each person differently. The severity of the addiction, the dosage and length of time you used benzos, your gender, age, weight, and unique physiology will all play a part in how you experience benzodiazepine withdrawal.
6-12 Hours: You will likely start experiencing the withdrawal symptoms including anxiety, restlessness, depression, and aching muscles after about six hours have elapsed from your last dose of benzos.
1-4 Days: At this point, you will probably start feeling prolonged and severe physical withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, intense sweating, pain in the muscles, and seizures. On top of that, the anxiety and depression will likely increase, causing some to develop suicidal thoughts during this phase of the benzodiazepine withdrawal timeline.
1-2 Weeks: At this point, the withdrawal symptoms will be at their most severe. This is the phase in which the symptoms can be too much to bear or can even become fatal. Many end up relapsing if they attempt benzo detox at home. After the second week, you should see the symptoms subsiding slowly.
3+ Weeks: Just because the physical withdrawal symptoms have subsided, doesn’t mean that withdrawal is over. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression can linger for months or possibly even more than a year after your last dose. Benzodiazepines deeply affect how the brain functions and have an extremely long half-life, so detox and withdrawal, while necessary, can be difficult.
A full continuum of treatment ensures the best opportunity for a successful recovery. Following a full continuum of treatment means starting with the medical detox process and then progressing gradually from an inpatient status to outpatient treatment. You will then have the opportunity to participate in an alumni program after the formal treatment program is completed. The stages of addiction treatment include:
The first step for those that have an addiction to benzos is invariably a medically supervised detox. This has a marked difference from quitting cold turkey, as there will be medical professionals monitoring your physical state throughout. Additionally, you will likely be weaned off of your dependence through a tapering method in which your dose is gradually reduced throughout the detox period.
The primary goal is medical stabilization during the first stage of withdrawal treatment, which is known as detox. Expect the detox stage to last from a few days up to a week. When you arrive, your medical team—which will include doctors, nurses, and support staff— will complete your comprehensive medical assessment, which will help determine your level of addiction and additional medical needs you may have. The assessment includes a medical exam plus a urine screening for drugs.
Your medical team will monitor you 24/7 to help manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangerous benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms.
Many people also experience anxiety, depression, and other emotional and psychological challenges during the detox period. Your treatment plan will also include comprehensive support to help you with these symptoms. A longer-term treatment plan will be put into place for you once you are medically stabilized.
The next stage is the intensive outpatient program (IOP). An IOP allows you to live at home while also attending counseling and programs to help support your recovery. Depending on your treatment plan, you will participate in about nine or more hours of clinical therapy several times each week.
Intensive outpatient therapy will help you to continue learning new ways to manage cravings, stress, and other challenging issues that may arise once you live on your own again. After you complete the IOP stage, you will transition into the Outpatient and Alumni programs, which is also known as aftercare.
After you have mastered the coping skills taught in residential, you may be ready to start winding down the intensity of your treatment. There are three main levels of outpatient, all allowing you to live at home: partial hospitalization, which is more than 20 hours of therapy per week; intensive outpatient treatment, which is nine or more; and outpatient, which involves fewer than nine hours of treatment per week.
Ready to get Help?
Talk to a treatment expert
You will have the opportunity to meet other treatment center alumni during weekly support groups and social events after you complete the formal treatment program. These aftercare opportunities spent with other alumni members can help you develop new friendships and build social support with others who understand the recovery process.
Being a part of this supportive network can help you grow while focusing on your recovery and adjusting to life after the treatment program. It can also be a safe space to share relapse prevention strategies, new experiences, and techniques for stress management. Most of all, it can be a way to enjoy time with new friends
If you or someone you know is currently struggling with addiction to benzodiazepines, Ocean Breeze Recovery can help. By calling us 24/7, you will be connected with an addiction specialist who will be able to sympathize with your struggle as well as get you the help you so desperately need. Don’t delay, call us now and start your journey to recovery, today!
Herper, M, (September, 2010). America's Most Popular Mind Medicines. Forbes. Retrieved April, 2019 from https://www.forbes.com/2010/09/16/prozac-xanax-valium-business-healthcare-psychiatric-drugs.html#10b28ba22e05
Griffin, C, (July, 2013). Benzodiazepine Pharmacology and Central Nervous System–Mediated Effects. US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved April, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3684331/
Greenberg, Michael I. (2001, December). Emergency Medicine News. Benzodiazepine Withdrawal. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/em-news/fulltext/2001/12000/Benzodiazepine_Withdrawal__Potentially_Fatal,.13.aspx
National Institute of Drug Abuse. Benzodiazepines And Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
Drugs.com. Benzodiazepines: Overview And Use. Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/article/benzodiazepines.html