Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
Benzodiazepine, or benzos, are depressant drugs that are typically prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, or other stress-related conditions. Currently, there are more than 15 FDA-approved types of benzodiazepines used for various medical conditions. Some of the more common brand names you may be familiar with are Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. This particular category of drug works as a depressant to the central nervous system, slowing or lowering heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure.
When taken as prescribed, benzos can be highly effective in treating a great assortment of medical conditions. However, long-term use or intentional abuse can lead to addiction, which may not be so easily treated.
Similar to other addictive substances, abruptly ceasing the use of benzodiazepine — especially after battling addiction for an extended period of time—will often result in adverse withdrawal symptoms. Most commonly, those suffering from benzo withdrawal experience symptoms such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, depression, or even seizures and tremors.
The withdrawal timeline can vary greatly from person to person, dependant on many factors. Some may experience uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal for a couple of weeks, while others may struggle for months. Each circumstance is dependant on the specific benzodiazepine, length, and intensity of addiction, and other circumstances that are unique to any given individual.
It is highly discouraged for benzo abusers to attempt to quit usage cold turkey. While it isn’t necessarily impossible to overcome addiction in this way, any abrupt discontinuation of benzo usage will likely result in intense symptoms of withdrawal, which may include the risk of violence or suicide. It’s best to have a plan and to be prepared for any possible physical and psychological effects of withdrawal.
One of the most effective methods for avoiding the most unpleasant symptoms of benzo withdrawal is to gradually taper down to lower dosages. This, however, may be a challenge for recovering addicts to achieve on their own, as there is always a likelihood of relapse while pursuing recovery alone. While it is possible to get through it alone, the safest route to detoxification will most often be through clinically supervised treatment.
Regardless of the support system, a drug abuser may have at home, having professional, medical staff to oversee and monitor the withdrawal period has several benefits. Withdrawal from benzodiazepine can be both mentally and physically challenging, and medical professionals will be able to provide medical support every step of the way.
In fact, one of the more common methods for medically supervised benzo detoxification is tapering off of the drug, much like some recovery hopefuls attempt at home. However, medical professionals have a few tricks up their sleeves that can greatly reduce the discomforts of withdrawal while under their care. For example, medically assisted benzodiazepine addiction treatment often includes the use of other drugs to ease the body of such discomforts.
One such drug that is commonly used to assist in tapering off benzos is diazepam or Valium. This particular medication is a depressant to the central nervous system and has many effects similar to those of benzos. The difference, however, is that diazepam has what is known as a slow elimination rate, meaning that it leaves the body slowly over time and allows the user to gradually adjust to the reducing levels of benzodiazepine in their system.
Benzodiazepine, on the other hand, has a much quicker elimination rate, which causes intense cravings and withdrawal as a result of the abrupt absence of the drug in the system. Through this medically assisted tapering method, the relaxing and sedative effects of benzos are, essentially, simulated through the use of diazepam, allowing the body to taper off of benzos without the extreme discomforts of withdrawal.
Diazepam isn’t the only drug used to assist in the physical unpleasantness of benzo withdrawal and, ironically, the vast majority of medications used to overcome withdrawal symptoms are, in fact, benzos themselves. However, it’s important to remember that the clinical methods used in substituting benzos are scientifically determined by an addict’s unique circumstances in conjunction with varying elimination rates. Thus, the best way to find what will work best for you is to undergo a complete assessment and medical diagnosis by a reputable medical professional or treatment facility and to have your complete recovery supervised by a team of medical professionals.
While benzo detox is, arguably, the largest hurdle to overcome, full recovery and continued sobriety is dependent on many factors, including a comprehensive treatment plan. While going through the withdrawal period, it is often helpful to seek counsel and support among peers and addiction sponsors through regular group therapy. Because the symptoms of withdrawal are partly psychological, conversing with current or former struggling addicts may inspire healthy coping methods which relate to your present situation.
For your safety throughout the recovery process, it is always recommended that treatment for benzo addiction be supervised by a comprehensive clinical rehabilitation treatment center. Don’t leave your future to chance.