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Unlike addictions to recreational drugs, dependence on pharmaceuticals can stem from legitimate use. Some people abuse benzodiazepines recreationally; however, a large number of people use it to treat health disorders. There are many medical and psychiatric conditions that call for the use of benzodiazepines.

In cases like these, it is sad to see a life fall apart due to addiction to legitimate medication. Even after the condition it was prescribed for has resolved, some people will find it hard to stop the use of benzos. When they do, the symptoms of benzo withdrawal kick in and urge them to fuel their dependence.

Making the decision to stop abusing benzodiazepines is a tough one to make, but it is brave. The benzo detox process can take a while, but it is worth doing to get back to living normally.

Benzodiazepine detox and benzodiazepine treatment programs are important in treating addiction. They are made for people who have found themselves dependent on benzos. If you want to understand how these programs work and know more about the addiction and treatment, this article will enlighten you.

What are benzodiazepine withdrawal and detox?

To understand how these programs work, it is essential to have knowledge of the fundamentals. Knowing what benzodiazepine withdrawal is, and what detox from benzodiazepines entails is important. 

What is benzodiazepine withdrawal?

Consistent use of benzodiazepines, regardless of the reason, will cause the body to begin to adapt to it. There are certain substances in the brain, known as neurotransmitters. These will be produced in lower amounts due to the continuous presence of benzodiazepines. When these are suddenly withdrawn, the substances remain at their low levels. They are unable to increase quickly enough. This is what causes withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable and can be distressing. They eventually fade away once the level of the affected substances returns to normal. This takes time, however. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the dosage an addict consistently uses and how long they have been abusing a drug.

What is benzodiazepine detox?

The body needs its time to clear itself of the drug, benzos in this case, and restore the neurotransmitters back to their normal levels. During this time, the patient will have withdrawal symptoms. There is no way to speed through the withdrawal period. 

Luckily, this period can be made manageable through the treatment of benzodiazepine withdrawal known as detox. This is a period in which the patient is admitted to a facility and taken care of by a team of health workers. They will be given medication to make the withdrawal symptoms manageable, and to ensure their comfort. Psychotherapy will be employed to deal with the psychological issues that addiction can cause a patient.

A doctor interviews a benzodiazepine addict with withdrawal symptoms who has enrolled in a benzo detox program

What are the symptoms and signs of benzo withdrawal?

A person that has withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines has certain signs and symptoms. These have to do with the neurotransmitter that the drug affects. This is a chemical known as GABA.

GABA has inhibitory activity, it is responsible for slowing down processes in the nervous system. Benzos act to multiply the effect of the body’s GABA, making it slow down nervous system activity even better. The body is complex and has ways to keep important chemicals at the proper levels. The body recognizes that the inhibition is greater than normal, and causes the body to produce less GABA to normalize this.

When a person whose body has gotten used to producing lower levels of GABA suddenly stops benzos, the body is unable to adjust the levels instantly. This means that the inhibition that these lower levels of GABA produce is insufficient. This explains the symptoms that arise, which are more excitatory, as GABA is not around to slow down the brain activity. Without sufficient amounts of GABA inhibiting nervous system activity, it is as if the brakes on a car have been removed. The nervous system tends to be more ‘excited’ as it is unable to slow down well.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms come in three phases. These are the early, acute, and protracted or post-acute withdrawal phases. It depends on the phase, what a person with benzo withdrawal feels like.

The early phase can begin after a few hours of discontinuing the medication and lasts up to about 3 to 5 days. From there, the acute phase begins, which is the most difficult period of withdrawal. Symptoms are intense and long-lasting. The acute phase can last up to a few months in some cases. The protracted phase extends from this point. It involves psychological and cognitive symptoms that require long-term management. These symptoms tend to occur at intervals during this period. This phase can last up to a year or more.

  Early Phase Acute Phase Protracted Phase
Clinical 

Features

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • If initially prescribed, return of symptoms for which prescribed
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Sensation of insects crawling on skin
  • Muscle twitches and spasms
  • Sensory hypersensitivity (lights, sounds, etc. are increased in perception)
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Muscle twitches, spasms, tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

 Learn how to get help for your case of benzodiazepine addiction >>>

What are the side effects of benzodiazepine use?

If a large enough dose is taken, or when taken for a time longer than prescribed, most drugs have side effects. This can range from mild side effects to very severe ones. Benzos are no different in this regard. Long-term benzo abuse that is left unchecked can result in some serious side effects of benzos which include the following:

  • Amnesia
  • Cognitive impairment: poor concentration, learning, and decision making
  • Insomnia/reduced sleep quality
  • Psychosis
  • Depression
  • Disinhibition
  • Disturbances in perception: illusions, hallucinations
  • Reduced immune function
  • Increased risk of self-harm and suicide
  • Brain damage
  • Seizures
An infographic showing the benzo withdrawal duration. It has some benzo withdrawal symptoms included for each stage.

How long does the process of benzo detox take?

The process of benzodiazepine detox and how long benzo withdrawal lasts depend on a variety of factors. The most important are how long the patient abused the benzos and the dosage they were on. Typically, benzo detox takes about 14 days, though this may vary.

The process of detoxification comprises three phases. These are as follows:

Evaluation

The first stage, as the name implies, involves evaluating the patient on arrival at the clinic. They will be screened for drugs, not only the one they are seeking detox for, but others. The levels of these substances will be determined from these lab tests. Apart from this, they will be assessed for any co-existing physical health conditions and mental illnesses. All of this is important so as to be able to tailor treatment perfectly to each patient.

Stabilization

This stage is the longest of the three. It is the stage where the actual detox process is done. The patient will be placed on medication to make the process more comfortable and to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. This can be the hardest phase, but group sessions and other therapies will make this stage smoother. Family members and friends can occasionally visit to support the patient during the therapy.

Guiding Patient into Treatment

The final stage involves preparing the patient for the treatment after detox. Addiction and dependence take a very long time to be completely treated. The physical dependence may wane to an extent, but psychological and social effects tend to persist. As a result, there will be follow-up visits to ensure that the patient is doing well on this path. The patient should be aware of this and ready to co-operate for the best efficacy.

What is the treatment after detox?

Detox primarily aims to take care of the physical symptoms that dependency brings. This can be a difficult time for the patient, and after getting through detox, it is not over yet. The psychological symptoms that withdrawal presents with tend to last longer than the physical ones. The treatment process that comes after detox aims to deal with these.

A health worker discusses with a recovering benzo addict. He is smiling and doing well during the benzodiazepine addiction treatment program.

A benzodiazepine addiction treatment program helps to manage the psychological and social aspects. Planning for rehab and resocialization is very important at this stage. The ultimate goal is to get the patient back to living life as normal as before their addiction.

How to begin your benzodiazepine detox

It could be you, or it could be a relative or a loved one that is struggling with an addiction to benzodiazepines. No matter the specifics, there is always help that can be found. Benzodiazepine withdrawal treatment is essential to getting better. No matter how bad a situation with the dependence seems, there is always hope in finding your way back to a normal life. If you want to take your first steps on the road to recovery, we can help with that.

Contact our medical team to learn how to get started with your detox >>>

Published on November 17, 2020
by Dr Vorobjev Clinic team

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