Benzodiazepine Detoxification

Benzodiazepines are addictive and extended use can cause a person to develop a physical dependence. The person is then likely to experience painful and debilitating withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process.

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What Is A Benzodiazepine Detoxification?

Benzodiazepine detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of the harmful toxins created by benzodiazepine use. The detoxification process is generally the first step for treating benzodiazepine addiction, but not a cure in and of itself.

Under medical supervision, benzodiazepine detoxification is safe. However, detoxification can be very dangerous if a person tries it alone without any guidance or evaluation by medical professionals.

When a person becomes addicted to benzodiazepines, their body becomes physically dependent on the drug. Physical dependence occurs when the body and brain get so used to having a drug that when there is no drug taken, the body gets sick. This sickness is called withdrawal and is one of the reasons benzodiazepine detoxification should be medically supervised.

In the context of physical dependence and addiction, detoxification is a necessary step towards recovery. For benzodiazepines, the duration and extent of detoxification depend on how often and how much a person took the drug. However, it is possible to develop a physical dependence on benzodiazepines no matter what.

Dependence can occur if a person was prescribed the medication and taken as directed, or if a person uses more than directed and abuses the drug.

Benzodiazepine is found in many brand-name drugs and may be prescribed for various reasons.

Benzodiazepines Explained

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants usually prescribed to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders. CNS depressants slow down brain activity and produce feelings of sedation, calm, and relaxation. Benzodiazepines may also be prescribed for panic disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal.

Abuse and dependence is always a concern when doctors prescribe various benzodiazepines because of the inherent addictive qualities of the drug. Whenever they are used for extended periods of time, like weeks or months, physical dependence is likely to occur.

Once a person becomes physically dependent on benzodiazepines, they will likely struggle during detoxification. It is important to recognize the differences among benzodiazepines to accurately understand how long the detoxification process will last, as well as the severity and duration of withdrawals.

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How Different Benzodiazepines Affect Detoxification

The length of benzodiazepine detoxification and withdrawal depends on several factors. One factor is whether the particular benzodiazepine is a short-acting or long-acting medication. Here are some brand name examples of short-acting and long-acting benzodiazepines:

Short-acting

  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Serax (oxazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)

Long-acting

  • Alodorm (nitrazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)

The effects of short-acting benzodiazepines don’t last as long as long-acting benzodiazepines. Which type of benzodiazepines matter when it comes to benzodiazepine detoxification because it determines when withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur and for how long.

For short-acting benzodiazepines, withdrawal symptoms occur quickly, 1-2 days after the last dose. Symptoms may persist for 2-4 weeks.

People addicted to long-acting benzodiazepines may experience withdrawal symptoms several days after the last dose, typically between 2-7 days later. Withdrawal symptoms will likely last longer, generally 2-8 weeks or more.

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are wide-ranging and likely to occur during benzodiazepine detoxification and beyond.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms during the benzodiazepine detoxification process can be uncomfortable, painful, and all-consuming. They can occur in as little as a day, or as long as a week or more, after last using the drug. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms not only depend on the type of benzodiazepine abused, but also on how much or how often a person took the drug.

The sudden onset of withdrawal is likely to cause confusion, fits of anger, and difficulty walking. Other common symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include:

  • agitation and irritability
  • anxiety
  • a headache
  • insomnia
  • muscle pain/aches
  • nausea
  • panic attacks
  • poor concentration and memory
  • restlessness
  • sweating

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal are likely to cause a person to appear like something is wrong. They may seem off balance, paranoid, rude, and depressed. It’s possible they will prefer darkness and show an increased sensitivity to light.

Other senses will likely be affected as well, and the individual may react in extreme and unusual ways to noise, taste, and smell.

How long and how severe the symptoms of withdrawal last depend on whether the person took benzodiazepine in low or high doses. This can be thought of as whether they took the drug as directed for medical purposes, or abused the drug for nonmedical reasons.

For example, people who abused benzodiazepines may experience more serious symptoms of withdrawal, such as seizures or psychotic reactions.

During benzodiazepine detoxification, withdrawal symptoms usually follow typical patterns, or a general timeline, for how long they last.

Benzodiazepine Detoxification And Withdrawal Timeline

Although there is a consensus among medical professionals for how long withdrawal symptoms last, it always depends on the individual and their specific drug use.

Generally speaking, the natural benzodiazepine detoxification process can set in as early as 6-8 hours after last using a benzodiazepine. This is typical for short-acting benzodiazepines, with symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

The next stage of withdrawal occurs between 1-4 days after the last dose. Medical professionals refer to this as “rebound” anxiety and insomnia and may cause extreme discomfort. For those addicted to long-acting benzodiazepines, this is often the first stage of withdrawal sickness.

After the rebound stage is the core of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be the most severe and painful and usually last between 10-14 days. This can be the most grueling stage of withdrawal and benzodiazepine detoxification – doctors recommend regularly monitoring a patient during this stage every 3-4 hours, as symptoms can change or get worse quickly.

The final stage of benzodiazepine detoxification and withdrawal occurs weeks, and potentially months, after last use. This stage is marked by a return of feelings of anxiety and may persist until proper treatment is undertaken.

Withdrawal during the detoxification process is painful and can last for months. It is crucial to seek professional treatment during benzodiazepine detoxification; doctors and other professionals can incorporate the use of medications and careful monitoring to ease the agony of withdrawal.

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Effective Treatment During Benzodiazepine Detoxification

Treatment during benzodiazepine detoxification may include a method called tapering, which means slowly decreasing the dosage of the drug over time.

For those experiencing withdrawal for low dose (or taking the drug as directed), it is recommended the drug be gradually decreased and administered over the course of four months. Those who abused benzodiazepines for an extended period of time may be administered drugs in smaller doses for up to eight months.

Due to the persistence of withdrawal symptoms during detoxification, tapering can help relieve a person from feeling sick and uncomfortable. Exactly how long it takes depends on the individual, their frequency of use, and which drug was abused.

Effective treatment will also consider the psychological effects caused by painful withdrawal. Inpatient treatment centers are effective for both detoxification and psychological treatment. At an inpatient treatment center, a person will reside within a facility and receive 24-hour assistance, perhaps the most important aspect of care during benzodiazepine detoxification and withdrawal.

People will also likely have access to effective behavioral therapies that can help with the recurrence of anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues that may return.

Call the number on your screen now for more information on managing and finding treatment for withdrawal and the benzodiazepine detoxification process.


Sources

World Health Organization – Withdrawal Management For Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
U.S. Library of Medicine – The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome

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