9 Things to Expect During Benzo Withdrawal

Benzodiazepine overdoses were linked to 8,791 deaths in 2015 — a death toll 4.3 times higher than the number of overdose deaths caused by these drugs in 2002. Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. However, these drugs are highly addictive, and can lead to severe benzo withdrawal when stopped abruptly.

Benzo withdrawal can be painful and dangerous, and cause some people to feel hesitant about getting help for benzo addiction. But continuing to suffer from benzo addiction can lead to more serious complications including an overdose and death. Withdrawing from benzos on your own at home is just as risky, but a benzo detox can make your recovery from addiction significantly easier and safer, and help you achieve improved overall health and sobriety.

Here are nine things to expect during benzo withdrawal, along with how a benzo detox can help you safely and successfully overcome benzo dependence and addiction.

How Common is Benzo Addiction?

In 2008 only 5.2% of U.S. adults used benzodiazepines, but in 2012, the rate of benzo prescriptions grew to 37.6 prescriptions for every 100 Americans. Between 1996 and 2013, the number of U.S. adults who filled a benzo prescription increased by 67% from 8.1 million to 13.5 million — with the quantity of benzo pills more than tripling during that same period. Among the Medicaid population, the amount of money spent on benzos increased by nearly $40 million between 1991 and 2009 even though the cost of benzos decreased — indicating these drugs were being used by an increasing number of Americans.

Researchers say benzo addiction is becoming its own major epidemic being overlooked as the nation continues fighting its ongoing opioid crisis. Benzos are linked to more than 30% of opioid overdose deaths, and are commonly prescribed at the same time though benzos and opioids have been proven a deadly combination that further ups the risk for an overdose. In 2015, 23% of people who died from an opioid overdose also tested positive for benzos.

Benzos are only intended for short-term use for under 30 days at a time. Unfortunately, many prescribers are unaware that benzos are addictive, and that the drugs can lead to tolerance and dependence when used daily and for long stretches of time. Evidence shows that roughly 25% of all Americans who use benzos use the drugs long-term — many of whom are unaware they’re exposing themselves to a high risk for benzo addiction and overdose.

What Causes Benzo Dependence & Addiction?

Benzos are central nervous system depressants that work by enhancing a brain neurotransmitter called GABA responsible for regulating stress and anxiety. Benzos produce feelings of relaxation and sedation that can help people stay calm and fall asleep more easily. But benzo use becomes problematic when people use these drugs long-term, use the drugs in ways other than directed, or use the drugs without a legitimate medical reason to experience sedative, euphoric, and intoxicating effects.

Causes of Benzo Dependence

Nearly 20% of U.S. adults have suffered anxiety in the past year, while between 30 and 35% of U.S. adults are known to suffer brief symptoms of insomnia. Benzos have become widely available in the U.S. given the prevalence of these two health disorders, which increases their abuse potential.

Those who abuse benzos can become tolerant to the drugs, and require higher amounts to achieve its effects. Using high doses of benzos after becoming tolerant can lead to physical dependence, which is characterized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is ceased abruptly. Research indicates that using benzos for longer than three to four weeks can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal.

Causes of Benzo Addiction

Where benzo dependence is marked by physical symptoms, benzo addiction is psychological, and marked by a series of behavioral changes that prioritize drug use above other activities and important responsibilities. Chronic drug use can change the brain in ways that make people experience compulsive urges to use drugs despite knowing there may be negative consequences. A person is addicted to benzos when they can’t stop using the drugs after numerous attempts to quit, and when other areas in their life begin to suffer as a result of drug abuse.

Other common risk factors for benzo addiction include genetics, environment, peer pressure, experimenting with drugs at an early age, and a history of trauma. Women are found to be at higher risk for benzo addiction than men, since women tend to suffer higher rates of anxiety along with higher rates of prescription drug abuse.

9 Things to Expect During Benzo Withdrawal

benzo withdrawal

Anxiety and depression are commonly experienced during benzo withdrawal.

With benzo addiction, the brain and body grow accustomed to certain doses of the drugs, and require those doses at all times to remain stable and prevent users from feeling sick. A person who suddenly stops using benzos after becoming physically dependent will experience a wide range of withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are the brain and body’s way of rebalancing and healing after adapting to the presence of drugs like benzos.

Here are nine symptoms to expect while going through benzo withdrawal.

1. Anxiety & Depression

Quitting benzos abruptly can lead to a rebound effect, which is when the symptoms you were treating with benzos in the first place return at a heightened, more intense level. Worsened anxiety is highly common among those who go through benzo withdrawal, and can lead to panic attacks accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, and rapid heart rate, among other symptoms.

Since benzos act on GABA receptors to induce feelings of calm and relaxation, withdrawing from these drugs can lead to a major imbalance in brain chemicals responsible for regulating mood. In addition to causing anxiety, the brain chemical imbalances caused by benzo withdrawal can lead to mood disorders including depression and bipolar disorder.

2. Sleep Issues

Insomnia and sleep disturbances are other common rebound symptoms associated with benzo withdrawal. People who initially started using benzos to treat insomnia can experience rebound insomnia, along with vivid, intense dreams and nightmares. Sleep issues may last for up to several months or years after quitting benzos abruptly, but can be improved during this time period by practicing healthy sleep habits before bedtime such as meditation, reading, and listening to soothing music.

3. Blurry Vision and/or Headaches

Blurred vision and headaches are common withdrawal symptoms for most types of drug addiction, including benzo addiction. These symptoms occur on behalf of abrupt changes to brain chemistry, and may last for up to several days or weeks, or until you fully overcome benzo dependence. A benzo detox treatment may help reduce these symptoms, especially if treatment involves the use of other medications and over-the-counter medicines to relieve headaches.

4. Irritability & Aggression

Benzo withdrawal can cause irritability, mood swings, and aggression for the same reasons it can lead to anxiety and depression. Benzos are known to decrease your brain’s activity of serotonin — a brain chemical responsible for regulating anxiety and happiness. Lower amounts of serotonin are linked to aggression, but many times, these feelings are only temporary, and will gradually regulate as you continue recovering from benzo dependence.

5. Decreased Appetite & Weight Loss

Studies show that symptoms of decreased appetite and weight loss are highly common in those who take benzos in large amounts prior to quitting. However, loss of appetite can also be triggered by other benzo withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and nausea. Benzos work by slowing down the central nervous system, which in turn, can slow down digestive processes to suppress appetite and make people less hungry.

6. Physical Tremors or Shaking

Since benzos help you relax and feel more calm, abruptly stopping the drugs can lead to worsened anxiety accompanied by shaking and tremors — common side effects of some anxiety disorders. During benzo withdrawal you may feel jittery and shaky for the first several days after quitting, though these symptoms will gradually taper off as your body recovers from benzo dependence. Tremors and shaking are generally caused by problems in neurological function such as those that stem from benzo abuse and withdrawal.

7. Sensory Changes

Benzo withdrawal can cause heightened activity in the central nervous system that lead to extreme sensitivity with hearing, vision, touch, taste, and smell. Benzos can dull the senses when abused or used long-term, which is why those who quit the drugs cold turkey often become highly sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and touch during the first several days of withdrawal. While sensory changes may be unpleasant and overwhelming at first, recovering from benzo addiction can help you regain clarity of perceptions and appreciate senses that were dulled on behalf of drug abuse.

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8. Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide

Suicidal ideation is a serious benzo withdrawal symptom that can occur when changes in brain chemistry lead to the severe depletion of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are the same brain chemicals that when reduced, can cause depression, aggression, and other mood disorders. Some going through benzo withdrawal may also contemplate suicide as a way to avoid physical and psychological pain and discomfort caused by withdrawal symptoms.

If you or someone you love is considering self-harm or suicide during benzo withdrawal, contact a doctor or emergency services immediately to get help. Talking to someone about your struggles with benzo addiction and withdrawal can help reduce your urges to hurt yourself, and result in your getting benzo detox treatment so you can get safely through withdrawal with a lowered risk for suicide.

9. Hallucinations & Psychosis

Hallucinations and psychosis are common in those who withdraw from benzos abruptly. Sudden changes in brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin can cause hallucinations and psychosis — a brain disorder marked by a disconnection from reality.

In most cases, hallucinations caused by benzo withdrawal are visual in nature, and coincide with misperceptions and illusions — such as seeing floors that appear to slope and tilt. Hallucinations and psychosis may not be dangerous in themselves, but can lead to dangerous situations if you or your loved one are not monitored or cared for during benzo withdrawal.

Why You Should Visit a Benzo Detox Center

Benzo withdrawal symptoms can be highly unpleasant and dangerous, and increase your risk for life-threatening health conditions including depression and malnutrition, as well as accidents and death. But a benzo detox treatment can relieve your discomfort, reduce your risk for relapse, and offer you a safe recovery that results in improved health and lifelong sobriety. Some benzo detox centers can even teach you new, healthier ways to manage anxiety and insomnia so you face an even lower risk for benzo relapse following treatment.

Here are some benefits of getting help for benzo addiction at a drug detox center.

Gain Relief from Symptoms

Benzo detox is normally performed on a slow tapering schedule to help minimize and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Tapering is when your doctor works with you to slowly and gradually reduce your doses of benzos over the course of several weeks or months until you’re no longer using the medication. This allows your body to adjust gradually to lower doses of benzos without experiencing the shock of quitting cold turkey.

A benzo detox center is staffed with experienced doctors who can safely taper you or your loved one off benzos. Tapering helps you gain relief from symptoms that can otherwise be painful and intense so you can benefit from a more comfortable recovery.

Experience a Safe Recovery

Detoxing from benzos at home or on your own is dangerous and not recommended, since doing so can lead to serious complications, including the risk for suicide and death. But recovering with a benzo detox allows you to consult and communicate with doctors who can alter your tapering schedule and doses on the fly as needed to minimize withdrawal symptoms.

A benzo detox can be conducted at either an inpatient or outpatient detox center — whichever program works best for you or your loved one. An inpatient detox center offers the safest recovery, since you can be monitored 24/7 by medical staff who can minimize complications and offer support when needed. Inpatient detox also allows you to recover in a safe environment away from bad influences and negative people who may otherwise interfere with your recovery from benzo addiction.

Reduce Your Risk for Relapse

Benzo withdrawal symptoms can often be severe to the point you may be tempted to start using benzos again just to keep symptoms at bay. But relapsing and resuming the use of benzos after quitting can lead to an overdose, since your body may no longer be tolerant of high doses. A benzo detox can reduce your risk for relapse by treating physical and psychological cravings for the drugs, and may use therapies that teach you how to recognize and manage triggers that commonly lead to drug use.

Call 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) toll-free to learn more about your treatment options for benzo addiction and take the first step toward sobriety today.

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