Benzodiazepine detox is a process in which toxins are removed from the body. Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety medications frequently prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Benzodiazepines act primarily on the GABA receptors that result in central nervous depression, and feelings of sedation and relaxation.
The use of benzos for a long period or in high doses can result in multiple neurological changes and decreased responsiveness to their use. These chronic adaptations serve as the foundation for tolerance. When tolerance occurs, more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect.
Over time, the large of amounts of drugs used to surmount tolerance hasten the onset of dependence, and if left untreated, can develop into a very serious addiction.
Once this occurs, then a user ceases to take the drug, withdrawal symptoms may emerge. These symptoms can affect those who were prescribed them just as those who misuse them. This is why many physicians are reluctant to prescribe benzos for long-term use.
Who Is At Risk Of Benzo Addiction?
Anyone regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, or race can develop an addiction to benzodiazepines. However, some risk factors do exist.
One, persons with a history of substance misuse or mental illness are at a heightened risk of abuse. Also, those with a family history of childhood abuse or neglect may be at a greater risk.
Finally, middle-aged white women have been prescribed benzos at an alarmingly high rate in the last few years, which put this class of patient at a higher risk of dependence.
Symptoms Of Withdrawal
Unlike opiates, the withdrawal symptoms of benzo can be life-threatening, especially if the user quits “cold turkey.” Those who have taken the drugs for an extended time or in high doses often face the worst withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of benzo withdrawal may include:
Rebound Anxiety and Insomnia
Benzos are sedatives intended to treat anxiety and insomnia. Therefore, when many of these people stop taking these medications, they experience an increase in anxiety and restlessness. This is called the rebound effect. This effect typically lasts between 2-3 days, and even those without a prior history of anxiety may experience this symptom of withdrawal.
Duration Of Withdrawal
The half-lives of benzos (time they remain in the body after use) vary by medication. Shorter-acting benzos typically incur withdrawal symptoms faster than long-acting benzos. The first withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 6-8 hours for shorter-acting benzos and 24-48 hours for long-acting benzos.
Short-acting benzos tend to have more intense and severe withdrawal symptoms than long-acting benzos.
Short-acting benzos consist of Xanax, Ativan, and Halcion, whereas long-acting benzos include meds such as Valium, Klonopin, and Librium.
Milder addictions may clear up in just a week or so, although more severe addictions can take months as the individual is gradually tapered off of the drug to prevent life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. For severe addiction, some of the mental symptoms may remain for weeks or months.
Overdose Signs And Symptoms
It is rare to fatally overdose on benzodiazepines unless they are combined with another central nervous system depressant(s) such as opioids and alcohol. Misusing benzodiazepines with other central nervous system depressants increases the risk of central respiratory depression, coma, and fatality.
According to DrugAbuse.com, the following are symptoms of a benzo overdose:
Lack of coordination.
Profound confusion and altered mental status.
Blurred vision or other visual impairments.
Abnormally low blood pressure.
During a benzodiazepine detox, the drug and all other toxins are removed from the user’s system. Quitting cold turkey can be lethal, and a grand mal seizure can occur in up to 20-30% of users going through withdrawal untreated. A detox in a medically-supervised environment allows users to remain safe and comfortable, which also reduces the chances of relapse.
Tapering Down Benzodiazepine Use
Benzodiazepine detoxification usually involves a weaning down from the drug. This may be done by tapering the dose or exchanging the drug for a less potent benzo. Typical drugs that are used for this are diazepam or clonazepam. These drugs are long-acting and less potent than many other benzodiazepines. Withdrawal symptoms are minimized while the user reduces their dose.
Benzo Detoxification Medications
While individuals are reducing their dose, there are other medications that can help with withdrawal symptoms such as buspirone, which is a medication used for people with anxiety disorder and a history of substance abuse.
Another such drug is flumazenil, which can be used to treat overdoses, but has also been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms and for a rapid detox out of the body.