Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox

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Benzodiazepines are a group of central nervous system depressants (sedatives and tranquilizers) that are commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, seizures and muscular spasms. They are marketed under brand names like Klonopin, Xanax and Valium. Benzos can be abused for the euphoric and relaxing effects they induce. They are habit-forming so it is easy to develop a physical dependency and tolerance, and they should not be used over the long term.

Even when benzos are used in therapeutic doses and under prescription, they can result in withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Withdrawal can be dangerous and it should only be attempted in a medically supervised environment.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawing from benzodiazepines can cause a number of physiological and psychological symptoms that vary in intensity, and that are contingent on the type of benzo in question. In a study carried out on patients who had been using benzos for six months, 40% of patients experienced moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms, while the remaining 60% experienced mild symptoms.

The severity of benzo withdrawal symptoms is difficult to predict and it depends on factors such as

  • The dose you have been taking
  • The length of time you have been taking them for
  • Whether you have been taking other benzos
  • Whether you were using other sedatives
  • Whether you have been using any other substances

Some of the most common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include

  • Muscle spasms and tremors
  • Dissociation from reality
  • Panic attacks and anxiety
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Grand Mal seizures
  • Body sensations like goosebumps
  • Depression
  • Irritability and hypersensitivity
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • An elevated heart rate
  • Hallucination
  • Delirium

Timeline of Benzodiazepines’ Withdrawal Symptoms

A general timeline for benzo withdrawal is difficult to establish because it depends on the particular drug and its half-life. Short-acting benzos like Xanax are eliminated faster from your body so symptoms can begin as soon as eight to 12 hours after your last dose. Short-acting benzos’ withdrawal symptoms peak on day two but can improve by day four or five, however, some patients have reported their symptoms to last for weeks.

Long-acting benzos may take one to two days for withdrawal symptoms to present and can last for two to eight weeks, or longer.

Clinical researchers suggest that withdrawal from benzodiazepines develops in three stages:

  • The early phase, which will begin a few hours to a few days after your last dose (subject to the drug being taken). One to four days after your last dose, rebound insomnia and anxiety may develop, depending on the half-life of the drug.
  • The acute phase is when the bulk of the withdrawal symptoms will occur. Within 10 to 14 days after your last benzo, full withdrawal syndrome is likely to begin.
  • Protracted withdrawal can last for months or even years. It is estimated that 10 to 25% of people who are withdrawing from benzos will develop protracted withdrawal.

How to Detox from Benzodiazepine Safely

The safest method of detoxing from benzodiazepine use is a tapering off approach. This is a personalized approach that will be medically determined, based on the type of benzo you have been using, your health and mental wellbeing and the amount of time you have been taking it for. Tapering off can last anywhere from a few weeks to years, depending on your level of dependency.

If you have been taking short acting benzos, your medical team may switch you to a long-acting benzodiazepine before tapering your dose down. This can result in milder withdrawal symptoms that are easier to cope with. Short acting benzos can cause complications with the withdrawal process and should not be stopped abruptly.

Home Detox

In some cases, your GP may agree to supervise a home detox, if you have no history of mental illness, no history of previous withdrawal attempts and no history of seizures. If any of these conditions occur, you must attend a supervised detox in a medical facility so that you can be monitored and receive the appropriate psychiatric support.

In a home detox, your GP will taper your dose and only give you small amounts of medication at a time so that you cannot increase your dose yourself. This means you would have to make regular visits to the pharmacy to get your medication.

Can I Quit Benzodiazepines ‘Cold Turkey’

We do not recommend that you risk quitting benzodiazepines ‘cold turkey’. Not adopting a tapering off approach puts you at risk of Grand Mal seizures and delirium, which is dangerous and frightening.

If you had been taking prescribed benzodiazepines for a mental health condition and you quit the medication abruptly, the underlying symptoms that you were treating are likely to return. These are called rebound symptoms. Symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are likely to return if you suddenly quit, and a management plan needs to be put in place before you stop.

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In a Residential Setting

A residential setting is usually the most effective and safest way for you to detox from benzodiazepines. Because dependency causes physiological and psycho-emotional withdrawal symptoms, a high level of support is required to help you through the process.

Due to benzos being prescribed for psychological and nervous disorders, the likelihood of rebound symptoms is very high, and these symptoms require medical attention and an alternative management plan. Pharmacological and therapeutic support is required in these cases and substitute medication may be required.

There is no withdrawal scale in place for monitoring the benzo withdrawal process, however, it is recommended that your symptoms be monitored every three to four hours by a clinical expert. A residential setting is the most practical environment for this to occur.

Why Choose United Recovery California for Benzodiazepine Detox?

We provide specialized detox programs for complex benzodiazepine withdrawals, treating the physical and psychological symptoms for long term recovery. We understand the importance of a safe, supportive and comfortable environment in the detox process and develop personalized treatment plans because we know that no two recoveries are the same.

Our luxurious detox center is well equipped to provide the clinical and therapeutic interventions that are necessary to help you break free from your benzo dependency, regardless of how long you have been using them for. We provide holistic care and 24-hour support to make the withdrawal process as comfortable as possible for you.

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Why Choose United Recovery CA for Drug Detox and Withdrawal?

Our medical detox and rehabilitation center has been designed for comfort and safety. We enable our patients to retreat into a luxurious and non-judgmental space where you receive 24-hour medical supervision and clinical interventions to help you forge your long term recovery path. Once your drug detox is complete you can enroll for in-patient or out-patient benzodiazepine rehab program in a familiar setting as you learn the tools and coping skills required to address the underlying triggers that resulted in your drug dependency. Aftercare, support groups and sober living homes provide you with extended care programs that facilitate long term sobriety in an understanding community.

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Is a Benzodiazepine Detox Enough to Tackle Addiction?

On its own, a detox program does not address the psychosocial aspect of a benzodiazepine dependence.

During detox, you will resolve your physical addiction but for many patients who have been taking benzodiazepines under prescription, there are underlying mental health illnesses that will rebound and need to be addressed with therapeutic intervention.

Individual and group therapy, as well as holistic therapies, need to be integrated into your life after detox. Therapy can help with OCD, panic and anxiety disorders, PTSD and depression, and needs to be adopted for the long term in order to be effective.

While you may have started taking benzos with the best of intentions, pharmacological interventions should be combined with therapeutic modalities for the best long-term outcome.

For most patients, especially those who experience protracted withdrawal, long term strategies like support groups and extended aftercare are invaluable coping tools for when you leave the residential setting and return to your home environment.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Benzodiazepine detox dangerous?

Withdrawal from short-acting benzodiazepines can induce serious symptoms when detox is attempted without medical supervision. It is dangerous to stop taking benzos without tapering the dose down, and the strategy needs to be determined by a clinician. Patients who have been taking benzodiazepines to treat mental illness are likely to experience rebound symptoms of their original or underlying diagnosis. One of the biggest risks associated with benzo withdrawal is a susceptibility to Grand Mal seizures and delirium.

Are medications part of the detox?

Substitute medication is frequently used for patients who have been using short-acting benzodiazepines. Switching to a long-acting benzo can reduce the intensity of withdrawal during detox. Comfort and symptomatic medication are often used in our detox facilities to ease the process for physical withdrawal.

Does my insurance cover Benzodiazepine detox?

Many health insurance providers will cover a benzodiazepine detox and rehab with medication, either fully or partially. We suggest that you contact your insurance provider to find out which benefits are included in your policy prior to admission to our medical detox center so you are aware of any copayments you may need to make.

How long does Benzodiazepine detox take?

A benzo detox program may take longer to complete than other substances because of the severe dependency that can result. The duration of your program will be confirmed before your admission and after an assessment. The length of time will depend on whether you have been using short- or long-acting benzos, the period of time you have been using them for and whether you are detoxing from more than one substance.

Can I stop "cold turkey"?

It is not recommended to detox ‘cold turkey’ from benzodiazepines because your system has grown used to having them and will not function normally without them. A weaning or tapering off approach is recommended to give your body time to adjust. For context, the tapering method is different for everyone and may last for weeks or months, depending on your personal risk factors as well as the period of time you have been using them for.

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