Footprints to Recovery

What Is Benzo Withdrawal Like?

Medically Reviewed by Lisa Tomsak, DO

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Benzodiazepines, often referred to as benzos, are a class of psychoactive drugs that treat anxiety disorders. They are among the most-prescribed drugs in the United States. They work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This calms down excessive neural activity.

Some common benzodiazepines include:

Benzodiazepines are an addictive substance that carries a potential for overdose. They are even more dangerous when combined with alcohol or opioid medication. Those who abuse benzos over a long period may experience benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drugs.

In that case, it’s important to seek help from a professional addiction treatment center like Footprints to Recovery, which specializes in not only drug and alcohol abuse but also anxiety disorders and mental health treatment. We can help you end benzodiazepine dependency and improve your life. Whether your problem with drug stems from mental illness, trauma, or anything else, our team can help.

What Do Benzos Treat?

Benzos are most beneficial for people with anxiety, as the drug works fast to relieve the discomfort and stress that accompanies an anxiety disorder. But they can treat other mental health disorders beyond anxiety. Some find them useful for insomnia or as a muscle relaxant. People with panic disorder might also find benzodiazepines very helpful at the onset of a panic attack to minimize symptoms.

benzo withdrawal

What Is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome?

Someone who develops symptoms after ending benzo use is said to be experiencing benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. These withdrawal symptoms vary depending on certain conditions.

If you’ve used benzos for a long time and take large doses to feel the effects, you’re likely to find benzo withdrawal more challenging. Research shows that anyone taking benzos for more than three or four weeks is at a higher risk for developing benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from benzodiazepine dependency after suddenly stopping is often uncomfortable. Many find that medical supervision and a gradual tapering process is the ideal way to make it through drug withdrawal. One of the most common symptoms of benzo withdrawal is the rebound effect, where your anxiety returns, often more intense than it was before.

Other common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome include:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Pain or physical discomfort
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hand tremors
  • Sensitivity to lights and sounds
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures

The benzo withdrawal process can be severe and life-threatening in some cases. It is strongly recommended to seek medical guidance and supervision when detoxing from benzodiazepine misuse. Certified addiction treatment centers like Footprints to Recovery help with safe and effective detox.

Self-Assessment: Am I Addicted?

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Are you worried about yourself or a loved one?*




1. Does you or your loved one often use drugs or alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than they intended?*




2. Has you or your loved one expressed a desire to cut back on drugs or alcohol or made unsuccessful attempts to do so?*




3. Does you or your loved one spend a great deal of time finding, using, or recovering from drugs or alcohol?*




4. Does you or your loved one crave or have strong urges to use drugs or alcohol?*




5. Has you or your loved one’s use of drugs or alcohol negatively impacted their ability to meet their obligations at work, home, or school?*




6. Has you or your loved one cut back on or abandoned social, professional, or recreational activities due to their use of drugs or alcohol?*




7. Has you or your loved one ever driven while intoxicated or used drugs or alcohol in other hazardous situations, such as before operating machinery?*




8. Has you or your loved experienced social or relationship problems due to their use of drugs or alcohol and kept using anyway?*











How Long Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Last?

Everyone’s benzo withdrawal timeline is different. How long it takes and how severe symptoms of withdrawal are depends on factors such as:

  • Your overall health and wellness
  • Your height and weight
  • Any co-occurring mental health issues
  • The length of time you’ve been taking the drugs
  • How much of the drug you take

Those who stop taking benzodiazepines can begin feeling immediate withdrawal symptoms in as little as six hours after their last use. It’s common for the most serious withdrawal symptoms to go away in the first couple of weeks. Symptoms like insomnia or anxiety may last longer in some people.

Benzo withdrawal can last up to several months depending on the factors listed above. The first symptoms last between one and four days. Acute symptoms reach their most intense around week two of sobriety and then taper off over the next month or two. Without professional help, some symptoms can linger for a year or more. This is what’s known as protracted withdrawal and there’s some evidence to suggest benzodiazepines can cause permanent changes to the brain and central nervous system.

Working with a licensed treatment center like Footprints to Recovery can make all the difference when detoxing from benzodiazepines. Our skilled team can help you manage the initial symptoms, acute symptoms, and any protracted withdrawal you experience.

The Dangers of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

The biggest concern during benzo withdrawal is seizures, which are a risk if you stop taking benzos cold turkey or suddenly reduce your dosage (abrupt withdrawal). The chance of seizures increases if you used benzos at high doses or for an extended period.

Regular benzodiazepine use can lead to adaptive changes in the brain. This includes the downregulation of GABA receptors. When you stop taking the drug, the sudden decrease in GABA activity can result in an imbalance and overexcitation of neurons. That is what leads to seizures.

A grand mal seizure due to withdrawal is very dangerous. You can lose consciousness and have trouble breathing. It’s also a hazard due to the uncontrollable convulsions. A person experiencing a seizure needs medical attention immediately.

The dangers of detoxing and withdrawal from benzodiazepines make it even more important to get help for misuse and dependence. A licensed addiction treatment center with a team of medical staff like Footprints to Recovery is the best option for safe and effective recovery. There’s no substitute for professional support, guidance, and care.

Medication-Assisted Benzodiazepine Detox

Healthcare professionals have found that tapering off benzo usage is a safer and more effective way to end addiction to drugs. Other medications manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for the drugs. Some common medications for benzo detox include:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are also called antidepressants. They work by selectively inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, emotions, and other functions in your brain. By blocking the reuptake process, SSRIs increase the concentration of serotonin. This prolonged presence of serotonin enhances its transmission and improves communication between brain cells.

Some common SSRIs include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)

Sleep Aids

The inability to sleep is one of the most challenging symptoms of benzo detox. Short-term use of sleep aids may be prescribed to assist with sleep during benzo withdrawal. These might include:

  • Sedating antihistamines
  • Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics like zolpidem

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What Happens After Benzodiazepine Detox?

Supervised medical detox is the first step in the benzo recovery process, as suddenly stopping benzo use can potentially be fatal. Following detox, there are other levels of care and treatment options to continue your recovery. Returning to your everyday life and triggers after detox without benzodiazepine addiction treatment can quickly land you right back where you started.

At Footprints to Recovery, our programs and therapies are evidence-based. We also offer holistic treatments aimed at healing the mind and spirit, along with the body.

Our levels of care for benzo addiction following medical detox include:

Inpatient treatment A residential rehab center is where clients live and attend treatment programs daily. Inpatient benzodiazepine treatment offers more intensive care than other programs and combines proven types of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) with holistic approaches for a personalized path to recovery. Clients benefit from individual, group, family therapy, and even couples therapy sessions while in residential rehab.

Partial hospitalization program (PHP) In a PHP you live at home or in a sober living residence while attending treatment for up to six hours per day. PHP expands upon the coping mechanisms and trigger identification techniques you learn during inpatient care.

Intensive outpatient program (IOP) An IOP offers more flexibility than a PHP, since it only involves meeting a few times per week at Footprints to Recovery. The goal is to prepare you to handle the stresses and triggers of life that caused your substance abuse disorder. You are free to attend work or school and tend to your family while not in treatment.

Outpatient rehab Outpatient addiction treatment may only involve meeting once or twice per week at a rehab facility. It’s a continuation of everything you learned in recovery, plus establishing a support system for the future. Long-term treatment is available following outpatient treatment in the form of aftercare. Your Footprints to Recovery clinical team will help you with aftercare planning.

Finding Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction

Footprints to Recovery has helped countless people overcome addiction to and abuse of benzodiazepines. Our treatment process helps end physical dependence and manage severe withdrawal symptoms while also setting up an individualized treatment plan for your sustained sobriety. Treatment of benzodiazepine addiction is something that requires a professional clinical team. Trying to withdraw and end drug addiction on your own is dangerous and often unsuccessful. Our licensed team of experts is on your side.

If you or someone you know is dependent on benzodiazepines, get help now. Drug addiction is potentially fatal and can ruin a life in every way imaginable. Contact the team at Footprints to Recovery today to verify your insurance and learn more about getting help.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8629021/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/diagnosis-treatmental%20dependence
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007645/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7841856/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1675688/
Jenna Richer
Medically Reviewed by Jenna Richer, MSW, LCSW
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