Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are some of the most widely prescribed psychoactive drugs in the United States, especially among older adults. There are different varieties of benzodiazepines sold under different brand names. These include Valium, Klonopin, Librium and Ativan. Being central nervous system depressants, they’ve been used to treat disorders like anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and sleeplessness. Certain types of benzodiazepines remain active in the body longer than others. Thus, each kind is prescribed for specific mental health ailments.
Benzodiazepines cause you to fall into a relaxed and euphoric state. This has led many to abuse the drug. However, even when they are taken strictly as directed, they can become a problem for many people. A mental and physical dependency can develop rather quickly, and the withdrawal symptoms may be severe when one tries to stop using. The longer you take any kind of benzo, the harder it is to break the dependency on them. It usually takes professional medical help to successfully end a dependency on benzodiazepines, especially when substance use disorder has fully set in.
This is especially true if you have a history of panic attacks, severe anxiety, depression and racing thoughts. If you’ve had problems with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), your chances of relapsing are much higher. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)—a lingering mental condition that causes obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors—can also lead to addiction issues. If you’ve had a history of any of these preexisting conditions, you’re strongly encouraged to seek medically assisted rehabilitation for your substance use disorder.
Increased Use of Benzodiazepines
In 2018, more than one out of eight adults were using benzodiazepines, which is around 12.6% of the U.S. population. However, the misuse of benzodiazepines has accounted for about 17% of overall use. About 5.6% of those who misuse benzos are young adults between the ages of 18 to 25. Most of these young people were never prescribed these drugs but received them from friends, family members or co-workers. This is exactly why those who receive prescriptions for benzos are advised to keep them under lock and key.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
A physical dependency on any substance means that your body cannot carry on as normal without it. This is why you’re bound to experience certain unpleasant symptoms when you suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines. These are known as withdrawal symptoms, and with benzodiazepines, they can be quite severe and sometimes even dangerous.
The first thing you’ll notice after you stop using benzos is a dramatic rise in feelings of anxiety, stress and confusion. These are common withdrawal symptoms that can occur after using benzodiazepines for just a few weeks. You’ll find it very hard to relax, and doing simple things like talking with others and performing daily chores will become very difficult.
When you’re at work, it will be very hard to stay focused and complete tasks that were once easy. You won’t be able to sleep for at least the first week after stopping, and this can make you feel very tired and confused during the day. The first week will be the hardest, and other symptoms like hand tremors and severe headaches are common during this time. There are a host of other possible withdrawal symptoms, and these include but are not limited to:
- Muscle spasms
- Panic attacks
- Racing heartbeat
- Sore muscles
- Sensitivity to light
- Goosebumps and strange sensations on the skin
- Inability to concentrate
- Grand mal seizures
The particular kind of benzodiazepine you take and how long you’ve been using are factors that determine the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. Some kinds of benzos, such as Klonopin, take longer to leave the body, so withdrawal symptoms are delayed up to two days sometimes. Other brands like Xanax and Ativan leave the body much sooner, which means withdrawal may start eight to 12 hours after the last dose.
Other factors can determine how long it takes for withdrawal symptoms to begin, how long they last and how severe they are. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- How high your dosage is
- If you take more than one kind of benzodiazepine
- The length of time you’ve been taking it
- If you have had any substance use issues in the past
- If you have had or currently have any mental health issues
Withdrawal symptoms from short-acting benzodiazepines tend to be at their worst by the second day and start improving by the fourth or fifth day. With long-acting benzodiazepines, it might take longer for relief to come. Some people go for weeks without feeling any relief from their withdrawal symptoms, and others might experience them for months. About 10% of people experience withdrawal symptoms for years.
These wildly varying withdrawal timelines have to do with the unique body chemistry and hormonal activity of each individual. Sometimes, symptoms will come and go over several months. This is what’s known as protracted withdrawal from benzodiazepines. In cases of protracted withdrawal, symptoms are milder and might disappear for weeks before resurfacing again. However, it’s very rare for protracted withdrawals to last more than one year.
Relief From Withdrawals Via Tapering
If you’ve been taking benzodiazepines for longer than six months, stopping suddenly can be very dangerous. This can cause delirium and seizures, among other extreme symptoms. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms can be reduced by gradually decreasing the dosage for days, weeks or months in a process called drug tapering. It’s strongly suggested that you do this with the help of your doctor and not on your own. When a medical professional is aware that you’re tapering, he or she can take the necessary steps if there are complications.
Your doctor might want to switch you to a different kind of benzo during the tapering-off process. This is because short-acting benzodiazepines might complicate withdrawal by causing emotional ups and downs that can be troubling. Long-acting benzos like Diazepam, under brand names like Valium, cause fewer upheavals and are the most widely used for tapering.
Your doctor will work with you to find the right dosing schedule. This will be based on your current dosage and specific set of circumstances. Some people get through the tapering process quickly and feel much better in a matter of two to three weeks. For others, the process can take several months. As you’re tapering off benzos, you might still feel some of the withdrawal symptoms each time the dosage is reduced. However, the symptoms will be much more manageable. If you still have severe withdrawal symptoms, tell your doctor. He or she can then decide to end the taper or increase the dosage slightly, depending on your condition.
How to Cope With Withdrawal Symptoms
You’ll probably experience significant levels of stress and anxiety while you taper off benzodiazepines, so you should have a plan to deal with this. Consider exercising daily to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay. You should adopt an exercise regimen consisting of strenuous aerobic exercise and strength training exercises. Daily exercise will trigger the release of endorphins and help you relax. It’s also good for the sore muscles and fatigue you’re likely to have to deal with daily.
Daily meditation can also help you relieve the symptoms of withdrawal. There are various forms of meditation, and these can be highly therapeutic when performed properly and regularly. Transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation and guided meditation are just a few examples. When these are performed along with deep breathing exercises, the brain and body are infused with higher amounts of oxygen, and the results can be very satisfying and calming.
You can also ask your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychological treatment for managing stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. In general, CBT therapy involves recognizing, capturing and changing negative thought patterns that can trigger feelings of depression, anxiety and stress.
It’s true that some drugs are OK to quit without medical supervision; however, benzodiazepines do not fall in this category. You’ll require some kind of medical supervision to successfully stop using benzos, and the best kind of medical supervision will depend on your mental and physical condition. While many people manage to quit using benzodiazepines through tapering, many do not. It might be necessary to seek medical drug rehabilitation for your substance use disorder.
Long-Term Treatment Options
Removing yourself from an environment filled with temptations is critical to your long-term recovery from substance use disorder. You need a safe and secure place to detox and recover through various forms of mental and physical therapies. Green Mountain Treatment Center has a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that can meet these requirements.
The Detox Phase
When you come to Green Mountain Treatment Center, the first step will be to detox. This is the process of purging drugs from your system. It could last anywhere from three days to a full week, depending on the severity of your substance use disorder. Our medical detox facility is fully staffed with medical professionals who have been specifically trained to help you through this challenging time. In a hospital-like setting, you’ll be monitored 24/7. Doctors will provide the medication(s) you need to stave off withdrawal symptoms.
A 12-Step Approach to Long-Term Sobriety
You’ll also need a plan of action for when you complete detox, and the 12-step program developed by the creators of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped so many achieve long-term sobriety. You’ll learn how to control your cravings by gaining a deeper understanding of what caused your substance use disorder in the first place. The program also focuses on developing positive ways of thinking and productive daily habits.
With the 12 steps, you’ll learn to recognize the situations, people and places that can trigger you to use again. Although emotions that have been buried deep within your subconscious can resurface during therapy, this is a good thing. You’ll learn to resolve the issues that cause these negative emotions so you don’t fall back into old behaviors.
Clinical Psychotherapy Sessions
Patients at Green Mountain Treatment Center receive one-on-one counseling as well as peer-to-peer support. We encourage residents to share their feelings and emotions with others in recovery as well as with their assigned counselors. If you have mental health issues that have affected your addiction, you can receive treatment for them with us. You’ll also be encouraged to share your experiences and the lessons you’ve learned with others.
We encourage overall mental and physical well-being through various holistic treatments. Yoga, gym work and cardio workout programs are used to bring our clients back into shape, both mentally and physically. Spiritual development is key to overcoming any material concerns, and our clients learn to cultivate this through various forms of meditation. Therapeutic writing is also utilized by our clients to gain a deeper understanding of themselves, and this is built into the 12-step work.
We also have two extended-care facilities—one exclusively for women and the other for men—that can help our clients transition into everyday life. You’ll have many tools at your disposal to help you reach your goal of living in sobriety. Don’t let a substance use disorder keep you from living the life you deserve to live. Reach out to us today and get the help you need.