Benzodiazepines belong to a group of medicines called nervous system depressants. They are usually used for the treatment of sleeping disorders or anxiety. Common examples of benzodiazepines include:
The problem with these drugs is that they are addictive and can cause the user to become physically dependent on them. What’s more? Withdrawing from this dependence is usually very difficult.
Symptoms of withdrawal vary from person to person, although some symptoms are common.
People who want to withdraw from benzodiazepines must be guided by a healthcare professional. The professional will recommend strategies to cope as well as other tools to ease the withdrawal process.
Withdrawal from this medication has no timeline, neither is there a definitive guide to the severity, or symptoms of withdrawal. The experience varies according to the individual, depending on some factors, like:
· Duration of taking the medications
· Abuse of prescription
· The presence or absence of an underlying mental condition
· Using the drug without a prescription
· Abuse of alcohol or other drugs
· Taking other medications along with benzodiazepines
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines may occur in three phases. Each phase has an estimated timeline. The important thing is that withdrawal should be done only under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Do not quit benzos all on your own. Be sure to consult a professional who will help you to create a withdrawal plan.
Immediate withdrawal usually has peculiar symptoms known as rebound symptoms. These symptoms occur shortly after an individual has ceased taking the medication.
The withdrawal symptoms experienced by a person depends to a large extent on the half-life of the medication. If the withdrawal symptoms are from short-acting drugs like Xanax, they will occur faster, compared to withdrawal symptoms from Valium, and other long-acting medications.
Early stages of withdrawal are characterized by a rebound of the symptoms of the condition that the medication was used to treat. For instance, a person who was treating for insomnia or depression may experience worse symptoms of these conditions when he or she withdraws from the drugs.
Withdrawal symptoms may be managed with drug tapering and other similar practices.
Acute withdrawal usually starts after the initial withdrawal symptoms, maybe a few days after that. They last between 5 to 28 days. However, some symptoms may last for months.
It is at this phase that the individual experiences most of the withdrawal symptoms. People who have experienced the acute phase of withdrawal have attested to the fact that it is the most difficult.
During this phase, clinicians may monitor the affected individual and recommend drugs to help ease the symptoms.
A lot of symptoms usually subside with the acute withdrawal phase. But then, some side effects usually linger.
A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology observed that between 10 to 25 percent of Benzos users have withdrawal symptoms that last for up to 12 months or more.
Protracted withdrawals have peculiar symptoms. These symptoms are usually called post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms in this category include:
· Low libido
· Poor concentration
· Mood swings
Withdrawal symptoms are usually troubling. Sometimes, they can affect the quality of life that a person lives. In other cases, the symptoms may show up without a prior sign and cause significant distress.
Medications, targeted therapies, and supportive counseling can help an individual to manage his or her symptoms, and help them live a better life.
Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal vary, but this depends on several factors.
These medications are not intended for prolonged use. One may experience withdrawal symptoms as little as after 3-6 weeks of use, even when the drugs are used as advised by the doctor.
People who use drugs for a little while may experience mild withdrawal symptoms. But then, there is still the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.
Studies have shown that 40 percent of benzos users who take this medication for more than 6 months may experience moderate-severe symptoms.
Not everyone may experience the same symptoms, but then, some are more common. Symptoms include:
· Muscle spasms
· Aches and pains that may be uncomfortable or severe
· Abnormal feelings, for instance, having the sensation that you’ve got a bug crawling on your skin
· Difficulty concentrating
· Weight loss
· Grand mal seizures
· Panic attacks
· Delusions or hallucinations
Also, the affected individual may experience extreme cravings for the drug they are withdrawing from or other sedative drugs. These cravings are a stepping stone to a relapse.
What causes withdrawal symptoms?
Benzodiazepines are classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Based on this classification, these medications have low abuse potential, as well as a low risk of dependence.
However, this classification has been disputed, and for good reason. You see, studies have shown that physical dependence may begin in a few weeks, even when the drugs are taken in low therapeutic doses.
According to a 2018 analysis, misuse of drugs is linked to 17% of benzodiazepine use among American adults. Dependence on Benzodiazepines is similar to that of other addictive drugs. Benzodiazepines cause an increase in dopamine concentrations in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes pleasurable feelings in humans.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms are mostly caused by a sudden and drastic reduction in the brain’s dopamine levels. Why this happens is still unknown.
Most withdrawals or severe reactions may also occur when a person has a history of prolonged drug use.
Coping with benzo withdrawal
Stopping the medication all at once is not recommended, as this may be dangerous.
The withdrawal symptoms can be severe, causing complications that can be fatal to one’s life. Withdrawal from benzo should be done under the guidance of a healthcare professional, who will also help you to manage the symptoms.
In some cases, medical detox and cognitive behavioral therapy can help.