How to Taper off Benzos

Benzos, or the more formal benzodiazepines, are a class of common prescription drugs. Every benzodiazepine works by binding to receptors in the central nervous system to treat overly amplified brain chemistry. Put simply, they are sedative compounds. Benzos are used in the treatment of anxiety, panic disorders, depression, and other problems attributed to mental health.

Most people are familiar with the top four examples of this drug category, including Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, and Xanax. All of these medicines are deemed safe when taken as prescribed, but that isn’t always the case. Over 7,000 deaths resulted from benzodiazepine misuse and overdose in 2013 alone. Benzos can veer into dangerous territory after long-term medical or recreational use. While opioid dependence often originates from craving the euphoria and painlessness, users often become dependent on benzodiazepines because they’re acclimatized to the feeling of contentment. Not to mention, an otherwise sense of calm and normalcy for their mental well being that they’ve desperately sought after. Extended use requires an individual to take more of the drug the achieve these same effects — this is known as a tolerance. And, once a tolerance is in place, dependence and subsequent benzo substance use disorders may follow.

Benzodiazepines are nowhere near as hazardous as their predecessors: barbiturates. These substances resulted in thousands of cases of addiction and overdose. There is no question that sedative medications have come a long way in terms of safety since then. However, this does not downplay the risks associated with chronic or recreational benzo usage. In fact, benzodiazepines have among the most dangerous withdrawals of any drugs. While their intended use is safe, quitting them is anything but.

This proves to be a substantial challenge for anyone looking to move on from benzos. A supervised medical detox is the only justifiable first step in this process. Patients and recreational users alike have everything to gain when losing a benzodiazepine habit — especially when going about it the right way. Benzo tapers are a proven means of starting and maintaining a path towards a lasting recovery.

There is no denying the benefits benzos have for millions of patients worldwide each day. It is completely and utterly commendable when an individual seeks out proper assistance when suffering from mental health problems. This is anything but easy: society is fraught with stigma and it’s a challenge to know where to turn. But, if or when the need for benzodiazepines gets out of hand, it is equally admirable to pursue and request help to overcome this new burden as well.

Benzodiazepine tapers are designed to lessen the inherent worries of detoxification. Many users can trace their hesitations back to the benzo withdrawal. Tapering benzodiazepines can alleviate these uncertainties. At its core, tapering is about gradually familiarizing the body to live without benzos post-recovery but, before that, making the withdrawal a manageable process.

In fact, a benzo taper can sometimes rid a recovering user of any sort of withdrawal at all. This is because the method allows the central nervous system to wean itself off over time. It never gets the opportunity to enter a withdrawal phase. The opposite of tapering, quitting cold turkey, provides no such safeguard — withdrawals are at their worst, even deadly. For this reason, neither at-home detoxes or stopping cold turkey are recommended by physicians. These outdated approaches lack support, guidance, and safety measures.

It has been established that benzodiazepine withdrawals are a terrible thing to endure. But what exactly are patients avoiding by tapering benzodiazepines as opposed to stopping outright? Well, depending on the benzo of choice, severe withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks or months, with residual effects for years after the fact. Symptoms of benzo withdrawals include:

  • Headaches: patients experiencing withdrawal will exhibit confusion, lethargy, and splitting headaches in the complete absence of benzos.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns: insomnia or excessive sleep habits may develop as the withdrawal progresses.
  • Agitation: irritable and uncouth behavior are common occurrences, especially when cravings hit their hardest.
  • Convulsions: erratic actions and movements result from disrupted chemical signals to extremities.
  • Nausea and vomiting: withdrawal victims will be in a state of perpetual sickness throughout their ordeal.
  • Psychosocial episodes: the central nervous system is attempting to self-correct after months, even years, of substance interference. Mild to severe neurological incidents may result such as severe panic attacks, psychosis, hallucinations, and seizures.

Benzodiazepine tapers include highly detailed schedules for daily and weekly benzo consumption to suppress or overcome withdrawal symptoms. As a general rule of thumb, physicians and rehabilitation personnel suggest a reduction in benzo use by increments of 10 percent every week. A less conservative approach can push these numbers into the 25 percent range if necessary — usually for patients who’ve tried but did not succeed a taper before.

A benzo taper like the one described above is referred to as a direct taper. But, benzodiazepines have an alternate approach if so desired: substitution tapers. While direct tapers focus on reducing the benzo the patient is already using, substitution tapers, as the name implies, switch the patient’s regimen to a more stable benzodiazepine before continuing on. Short-acting benzos, such as Xanax and Ativan, only last in the system for a short time. This requires consistent dosages to prevent a withdrawal. Valium — as an example of a long-acting benzo — sticks around much longer, meaning it allows the body to wean at its own pace. Plus, it simply becomes easier for doctors to track and administer a dosing schedule.

So, whether using direct or substitution, tapering is a huge stepping stone towards eventual benzodiazepine recovery. It only takes the determination to start today.

See Also: How to taper off alcohol

Medically assisted detox is always your best bet if you are trying to taper your drug or alcohol use. The Recovery Village provides 24-hour detox care at facilities nationwide, and each care plan can be customized to your exact needs. Don’t risk life with addiction — call The Recovery Village at  352.771.2700 today for free to learn more about medical detox. 

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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