Treating Benzodiazepine Overdose and Withdrawal
Download our Brochure
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, and sleeping issues. This depressant drug is available on prescription, yet due to its capacity for addiction, it is only recommended for short-term use of 2 – 4 weeks. Unfortunately, people can end up both intentionally and unintentionally addicted to benzodiazepines.
If you, or a loved one, is addicted to benzodiazepines you may be wondering what withdrawal is like. In this article, we’ll take a look at the main benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, along with the overall withdrawal timeline. The article will also explore the best way to go through benzodiazepine detox and explore how best to continue treatment once your body is no longer dependent on the drug.
- Benzodiazepines are a group of depressant drugs prescribed to help treat anxiety, panic disorders, and sleeping issues.
- They work by boosting gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which causes people to feel relaxed and calm.
- Although benzodiazepines are prescribed by doctors, they are psychoactive drugs and can be highly addictive.
- Withdrawal symptoms vary but physical symptoms may include vision problems, sweating, cramps, sleep issues, tingling, muscle twitching, and seizures.
- Psychological symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal could include memory loss, confusion, anxiety, depression, paranoia, nightmares, hallucinations, and psychosis.
- In many cases, withdrawal symptoms will start within 24 hours and will last from a couple of days to several months. Symptoms usually peak by week 2.
- Some people suffer from post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which is when withdrawal symptoms continue in the long term. This will require additional support.
- You may want to undertake a home detox for benzodiazepines, but this can be challenging, dangerous, and even fatal.
- A medically supervised detox is the safest way to detox from benzodiazepine.
- There are several medications you can take to help ease your withdrawal symptoms, including antidepressants and muscle relaxants.
- After detox, participating in further treatment, including support groups and therapy, is advisable.
Benzodiazepines Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzodiazepines are a group of depressant drugs often used to treat anxiety in adults and children. They are prescribed for sleeping issues such as insomnia, as well as panic disorders. It’s estimated that 3% of the adult population of England has been prescribed benzodiazepines. One of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines in the UK is diazepam, sometimes still referred to as Valium.
But how do they work? Benzodiazepines slow down the body and brain’s functions, which can be helpful when it comes to treating issues like anxiety and insomnia. Benzodiazepines achieve this effect by boosting the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter, in the brain. This chemical lessens activity in the areas of the brain involved with reasoning, memory, emotions, and basic functions like breathing. Because benzodiazepine drugs boost the impact of GABA in your brain and on your body, you may feel more relaxed, calmer, and sleepy. This can help to reduce anxiety and relax your muscles.
Contact Us Today
Although benzodiazepines are prescribed by a doctor, they can still be addictive. Benzodiazepines work quickly and are effective, however, they are psychoactive drugs with the potential for both physical and psychological addiction. For this reason, they are usually only prescribed for short-term use, meaning 2 – 4 weeks.
This is because tolerance to benzodiazepines can develop rapidly. As your body adjusts to this medication, it will benefit from its full effect of it for the first few weeks. After this though, the body becomes used to it and the effect reduces. This can lead to dependence and addiction.
Unfortunately once dependence has taken hold, you will need to go through benzodiazepine withdrawal. Stopping ‘cold turkey’ can vastly increase challenging withdrawal symptoms, and could even prove fatal.
- Blurred vision
- Sore eyes and tongue
- Metallic taste
- Face pain
- Heightened sense sensitivity
- Digestive issues
- Poor appetite
- Sleep problems
- Tingling in hands and feet
- Weight loss
- Muscle twitching
- Feeling unsteady
- Burning sensations
- Concentration difficulty
- Memory loss
- Panic attacks
Acute Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines
Most withdrawal symptoms start within 24 hours and can last from a couple of days to several months, with the length of use and strength of benzodiazepine used often the influencing factor. Acute benzodiazepine withdrawal refers to the initial onset of symptoms once you stop taking benzodiazepines.
It’s difficult to say exactly when symptoms of acute withdrawal will occur as it depends on which type of benzodiazepine you have been taking, as certain ones act on your brain and body for longer than others. You can consider the half-life of your drug to see how long its effects may last.
A short-acting benzodiazepine is processed much quicker and so leaves the body quicker too. Because your body has less time to adjust to functioning without the drug once you stop taking it, short-acting drugs are much more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms.
A long-acting benzodiazepine has a longer half-life, meaning it is processed by the body slower and takes longer to leave it. While this type of drug is more likely to create a hangover effect, you are less likely to have benzodiazepine withdrawal problems with them.
Often sleeping pills are short-acting benzodiazepines and long-acting benzodiazepines are used for anxiety. This is just a general rule of thumb and you should speak with your doctor or healthcare professional for advice relevant to your situation.
Depending on the type of benzodiazepine you have been taking, researchers believe the acute withdrawal timeframe to be 1 – 4 weeks, or 3 – 5 weeks when tapering.
When withdrawing from any substance, the symptoms of acute withdrawal are often recognised as being the opposite effect of the substance. For benzodiazepines, acute withdrawal symptoms could include restlessness, body pain, shortness of breath, and hallucinations.
Benzodiazepines Withdrawal Timeline
In most cases, withdrawal symptoms begin within a day or two of stopping taking benzodiazepines. Depending on how long you have been using them, and at what strength, this benzodiazepine withdrawal period can last from a few days to over a month.
Some people still report symptoms years after stopping, though it should be noted these are not typically as intense as the symptoms experienced in the acute withdrawal phase.
As discussed above, the half-life of the benzodiazepine you have been taking will influence when the drug leaves the body which is when you will start to experience withdrawal symptoms. For short-acting benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (brand name Ativan), withdrawal could start in as little as ten hours after stopping the drug. With long-acting benzodiazepines like diazepam (sometimes still called Valium), symptoms could take a few days to emerge.
Bearing that in mind, as well as the fact that every person will have a unique experience, you can roughly expect the following timeline when withdrawing from benzodiazepines.
A few hours – a few days: Acute withdrawal. These symptoms will often start gradually and increase in intensity as time passes. Along with classic benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, you may also go through rebound symptoms in which symptoms of the condition you were treated with benzodiazepines reemerge.
Up to two weeks: Your symptoms will develop over the following week or two, usually peaking in the second week. This timeframe is when you will experience the most challenging symptoms and where support is vital to help you navigate through without relapsing.
After two weeks: After the peak, you may still experience symptoms but at this point, they should be much more manageable and continue to taper off in intensity. While you may be feeling better for quitting, it isn’t uncommon to experience occasionals wobbles, as well as more serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
After a month: If you are still experiencing symptoms at this point, you may be dealing with a post-acute withdrawal syndrome. These can include mood problems and a general sense of dissatisfaction. If you’re experiencing this, you should seek further support to help you through this period and avoid relapse.
Detoxing from benzodiazepines is challenging, but with the right plan and support in place, it is achievable. In this section, we’ll look at some of the main ways you can detox from benzodiazepines, including both a home detox and a medically supervised detox, along with some of the medications you can use to support your journey to recovery.
Home Detox for Benzodiazepines
People may be drawn to the idea of a home detox for reasons of privacy and comfort. However, it is not recommended and can end up being a dangerous option. Stopping benzodiazepines can be physically and mentally challenging and trying to go through it without support can vastly reduce your chances of successfully detoxing.
Aside from that, quitting cold turkey, which is often the favoured method for a home detox, can be fatal. But even taping off can be challenging, as you’ll have to self-administer medications which could increase your chances of overdosing or developing a secondary addiction.
You might consider a home detox for benzodiazepines if you haven’t got an actual addiction to it, but are simply tapering off after a month or so of one-off use. Even in that circumstance, it’s advised that you work with a healthcare professional to optimize your chances of withdrawing successfully.
Medically Supervised Detox for Benzodiazepines
If you’re trying to beat an intense benzodiazepine addiction, your best chance of success is a medically supervised detox. Doing this enables you to manage your withdrawal symptoms in a safe, clinical environment with professional help and medication to hand.
During a medical detox, you will taper off usage, slowly lowering your dose to nothing over a period of a week or so. This will enable you to detox fully from the drug while making your benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms a little more manageable.
Once you have successfully detoxed from the benzodiazepines and are feeling stable, you will be better placed to engage with other important recovery tools, such as therapy or peer support.
Medicines That Can Support Benzodiazepines
Antidepressants: If you are suffering from low mood or depression during your detox, you may be prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for their antidepressant effect.
Muscle relaxants: Strong cravings can be managed with a muscle relaxant. This works for a few different drugs, including benzodiazepines.
Anticonvulsant medications: If you experience a seizure (a rare but unpleasant benzodiazepine withdrawal symptom), you may be given an anticonvulsant.
Depending on your specific symptoms, you may be prescribed other medication.
Detoxing from benzodiazepine is an important first hurdle in your journey toward beating your addiction. However, more support is usually required to help cement your recovery in the long term.
A support group can feel like a less intimidating first step to take, especially when compared with something more formal such as one-to-one therapy. In a peer support group setting you will be able to share your experiences and learn what worked well for other people who have gone through a similar journey to you. You’ll form bonds and take steps towards creating a robust support network, which is vital for long-term recovery.
Counselling / Therapy
An addiction rarely forms without an underlying cause or trigger. During therapy, you will be able to better understand your history and mind and gradually begin to uncover what led you to develop an addiction to benzodiazepines. There is a type of therapy for everyone, so don’t be put off if your first session isn’t the right fit. CBT is a popular choice with many people looking to address addiction issues, as it is very practical and solution-focused.
If you cannot access inpatient rehabilitation, perhaps you need to continue working or providing childcare, receiving addiction treatment as an outpatient can be an effective alternative. You will remain based at home, journeying into a treatment centre for regular appointments. Because this is a less intensive approach compared with inpatient treatment, it often takes place over a longer period of time.
Safe Detoxification from Drugs & Alcohol
If you opt for a residential inpatient rehab program, you will move into a treatment centre for the short term. Here you will be able to focus 100% on your recovery, with none of the distractions or triggers you’d face in your home environment. You will be able to safely medically detox and have access to 24/7 support throughout your stay, setting you up for an excellent chance of recovery.
If you, or someone you love, is currently experiencing issues with benzodiazepine addiction or abuse, please know that you are not alone and help is available. Smarmore Castle is a leading drug and alcohol rehab clinic in Ireland, which has helped many people overcome addiction since 2015. We offer inpatient detox, along with patient-centered treatment using the 12-step program as a framework, to help you beat your benzodiazepine addiction.
All of our work is evidence-based and has been developed with over 40 years of experience in addiction treatment. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, give our friendly team a call at 041 214 5111.
Is benzo withdrawal permanent?
In most cases, the worst of your withdrawal symptoms will subside within a few weeks. However, occasionally people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which can last for years and requires ongoing support to manage.
What is considered long-term use of benzodiazepines?
Given their addictive nature, benzodiazepines should only be prescribed for short-term use, meaning 2 to 4 weeks. Long-term use could therefore be considered anything over a month.
How fast can you taper benzo?
In order to mitigate the worst of withdrawal symptoms, it is not advised you taper off of benzodiazepines in anything less than a week.
What happens when benzodiazepines are abruptly stopped?
Your body will go into a state of shock and you will likely experience more intense and serious withdrawal symptoms. In certain cases, it can be fatal.
How long does benzo’s rebound anxiety last?
You may experience rebound anxiety in the first few weeks after stopping benzodiazepines which is normal. If this persists, you may seek support from your healthcare provider as it could be a sign you are suffering from post-acute withdrawal syndrome.