Benzodiazepines are habit-forming prescription drugs that are used for the treatment of several stress-related conditions, such as anxiety disorders, insomnia, epilepsy and even alcohol withdrawal. Often nicknamed “benzos,” benzodiazepines have the power to become highly addictive if they aren’t used properly.
Table of Contents
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is when the brain and body begin to rid itself of the drug and may go into a state of shock. Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can result if a person suddenly stops using benzos. This reaction is due to how the drug acts on neurotransmitters. The drugs impact the gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA receptors in particular, but these receptors are not meant to respond to artificial GABA stimulants like benzos, so the brain may “believe” that it no longer needs to produce its own natural gamma aminobutyric acid. When a person stops taking benzos, their body is suddenly without this necessary acid that it became accustomed to.There are many different formulations of benzodiazepines, along with many different brand names of the drug.
Since benzodiazepines impact the mind and body alike, the drug’s withdrawal symptoms do as well. The severity of these symptoms depends on the duration of a person’s drug use, their dosage amounts, and the method of ingestion that the person employed when they took the drugs. Their level of physical dependency and emotional addiction also comes into play when determining the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
- Some additional symptoms can include:
- Memory Loss
- Slurred speech
- Impaired vision
- Difficulty sleeping
- Flu-like symptoms (sweating, full body aches, headaches)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Intense abdominal pain
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain
Every person who has abused any kind of benzo will have a different reaction during detoxification. Some people may only go through detox for a few weeks while others may have to go through the process for a few months. Everyone progresses at their own pace and the process should not be rushed. The Recovery Village has a team of medical professionals that work directly with patients to form an individualized plan to help their recovery. A general timeline of a withdrawal timeline from any kind of benzo includes:
- Days 1 – 3:
During this time, the body and brain fight to get rid of the benzodiazepines. Some people can feel withdrawal symptoms within as little as six hours without the drug. At this point, a person may experience difficulty sleeping, nausea, vomiting or dry heaving.
- Days 4 – 7:
The symptoms a person experiences may begin to lessen. Cravings may persist, but the worst part has passed. Some people may still may feel an intensified feeling of exhaustion, but the most intense withdrawal symptoms are typically over by now.
- Days 8 – 14:
At this time, some people may start to feel psychological symptoms, which can include anxiety and irritability, on top of their remaining physical symptoms. People may begin to experience insomnia or unpleasant dreams when they are able to fall asleep.
- Days 15 – 28:
The symptoms that occurred during the second week of benzo detoxification may still come and go at this point, but the benzos that were consumed should be completely out of the body at this point of the process.
There is no identical timeline that outlines the withdrawal experience for every person who detoxes from benzos. The timeline of Benzo withdrawal lasts variable amounts of time, and is dependent on several factors, including:
- Dosage – Higher dosages are associated with longer detox periods, and lower dosages are associated with shorter detox periods.
- Length of Addiction – Similar to dosage, longer time periods of addiction are associated with longer detox periods, and shorter time periods of addiction are associated with shorter detox periods.
- Individual Chemistry – Some people are simply more heavily impacted by benzos than others. This has to do with an individual’s body and brain chemistry.
- Professional Setting – Addiction treatment professionals agree that the safest way to detox from benzos is to do so under the supervision of a team of medical professionals. While this can be done at a hospital, doctors will have the most experience with benzo withdrawal at a detox center or rehab facility.
A popular way to begin a benzodiazepine detox is through tapering, which involved gradually weaning off of benzo usage. It is recommended to conduct this method alongside a doctor so that safe amounts are removed each week, rather than too much at once. This way, your body has a chance to rid itself slowly and the withdrawal symptoms will not be as intense.
Another way that people attempt to detox is by quitting “cold turkey.” This is when the use of benzos is cut off altogether. This method can have more negative effects than positive ones. Stopping the drug so abruptly will cause a person to have very intense withdrawal symptoms, very quickly.
It is best to do a benzodiazepine detox under medical supervision, where addiction professionals have established safety protocols. The experienced medical staff at The Recovery Village offers patients the best resources needed for the detoxification process. At The Recovery Village, detox from benzodiazepines involves three steps:
Abusing substances fills the body with toxins. Detoxification is the body’s natural process of removing toxic substances from its system.…Learn More
Inpatient or Outpatient Rehab
Both inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment have unique benefits and drawbacks. Learn the differences to decide which is best…Learn More
Aftercare and sober living programs promote self-efficacy, coping skills and relapse prevention in long-term recovery.Learn More
Doctors may use certain medications to manage drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms during a medical detox. The benzodiazepine withdrawal treatment guidelines at The Recovery Village® allow some patients to be treated with medications. Though there are no specific medications designed specifically for treating benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, there are several drugs that help relieve the discomfort and/or pain of some withdrawal symptoms and assist in recovery.Some commonly used detox medications are:
This non-addictive drug helps relieve anxiety, a symptom that is very closely tied with benzo detox. This medication can take several weeks to kick in, and not everyone is willing to wait it out. In many cases, a doctor may decide to use buspirone after a person has already gone through the primary, most uncomfortable stages of detox.
Although flumazenil is more often used as an overdose remedy, this fast-acting drug may be able to assist in detox as well. It blocks the chemical actions of benzos by attaching to your brain’s GABA receptors, where benzos themselves attach. You might even say that this medication “tricks” the body into thinking that it is still receiving doses of benzodiazepines when, in reality, it is receiving something much less harmful. Flumazenil takes over the GABA receptors, ridding the body of the existing benzodiazepine drugs that remain.
Although this medication is used primarily when treating the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, that condition shares multiple similarities with benzodiazepine withdrawal. Both alcohol and benzos are central nervous system depressants. Acamprosate may be able to treat benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sleeplessness and jitteriness.
Some medical professionals recommend unregulated supplements (such as vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies) that have shown fruitful results in a clinical setting. However, these remedies have not been proven scientifically. These substances may help people regain their physical health and lessen their withdrawal symptoms.
Ashton, C. H. “Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms from Benzodiazepines.” Benzo.org.uk, Comprehensive Handbook of Drug & Alcohol Addiction 2004, 2004. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
DEA, Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Fact Sheet: Depressants.” Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
Jaffe, Adi. “Alcohol, Benzos, and Opiates—Withdrawal That Might Kill You.” Psychology Today, 13 Jan. 2010. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
MedlinePlus – Health Information from the National Library of Medicine. “Acamprosate.” 15 May 2016. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
MedlinePlus – Health Information from the National Library of Medicine. “Buspirone.” 16 Apr. 20. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
MedlinePlus – Health Information from the National Library of Medicine. “Delirium Tremens.” 8 Feb. 2015. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
Roche Laboratories Inc. “Romazicon (flumazenil) Injection.” FDA, Feb. 2007. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
Trevisan, Louis A., et al. “Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal.” Brochures and Fact Sheets | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.
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.