Benzodiazepines, also called “benzos,” are a class of drugs prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. While short-term use may seem safe for some people with these conditions, long-term use is not healthy for your body. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA), it has been linked to harmful effects, including dependence and addiction.
When someone takes a benzodiazepine, its effects are fast-acting and soothing to reduce anxiety. There are sedative effects, and these drugs make you feel calmer, which is why they’re often used for panic attacks or short-term severe cases of anxiety.
Common Benzodiazepines Include:
- Alprazolam – Anxiety
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) – Anxiety and Alcohol Withdrawal
- Clonazepam – Seizures and Panic Disorders
- Lorazepam – Seizures and Anxiety
- Temazepam – Insomnia and Sleep Disorders
- Diazepam- Panic Attacks, Sleep Disorders, Alcohol Withdrawal, Seizures
When you take this anti-anxiety medication, it will impact the way your brain works. Benzodiazepine increases the effects of GABA neurotransmitters, responsible for calming and slowing central nervous system activity.
Though not as addictive as other narcotics, benzos can become a problem if misused. They’re the third most frequently abused drugs among American adults and adolescents that have been tracked by studies in recent years–with misuse leading to dependence and potentially fatal overdoses.
A person who uses benzos may become physically and psychologically dependent. You can develop a tolerance if you take these drugs for an extended period. The effects don’t last as long in your body before needing higher doses to achieve them again, and withdrawal is expected when you stop taking them.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is common and can affect anyone who has used it long-term (for over a month.) The symptoms vary in severity, with some people reporting immediate physical effects that mimic the condition being treated. For example, someone taking benzos for anxiety may experience high levels of anxiety when coming off benzodiazepines; however, more severe mental changes are also possible, including panic attacks or suicidal ideation, which would require medical intervention.
Acute Withdrawal Symptoms typically begin within 24 hours after last use and can last from 1 week to 4 weeks. According to those who have undergone benzodiazepine withdrawal, this is the most challenging phase.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) is a phase that can last a year or longer. These symptoms include sleep disturbance, anxiety, and depression, among many others.
Sleep disorders are common during PAWS, so people often experience insomnia when they come out of addiction treatment, leading to other mental health issues. Mood swings also happen because it’s difficult not having any drugs present in your body, causing stress hormones released by your brain, leading you towards anger & irritability much quicker than usual.
Benzodiazepines Addiction Treatment
It can be hard to quit benzos, but it is crucial for your safety and complete recovery that you consult an addiction specialist. A specialized facility will protect against harmful withdrawals and improve the chances of success in quitting these drugs altogether. Most experts recommend a combination of medicines and psychotherapy, as it is more effective and likely to help maintain abstinence.
Most detox centers employ a tapering schedule – reducing your dose gradually and switching drugs with less potency for an easier withdrawal to prevent complications. Likewise, you can wean down more potent substances until the individual’s body has adapted or switched entirely; if necessary medical professionals make these decisions together depending on what may best assist in healing.
In addition to tapering, your doctor may prescribe drugs to relieve specific withdrawal symptoms, including:
Buspirone (BuSpar) is an anti-anxiety medication that can alleviate emotional symptoms.
Flumazenil (Romazicon) – doctors may also use medication used to reverse overdose symptoms to treat withdrawal symptoms.
Several different therapies can be used to treat drug addiction. Counselors teach their clients how they cope with the psychological causes of their addictions as well as long-term management techniques such as:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
- Stress Management
- Motivational Interviewing
- Family Peer Support
- Recreational Art Adventure Therapies
- Aftercare Support