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Benzo Addiction and Treatment

Benzodiazepines, commonly known as benzos, are a type of prescription medication used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions.² While they can be effective in managing these issues, there is also a risk of developing an addiction to them. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications in the United States despite being linked to a significant number of emergency room visits due to misuse and overdose.³ It is important to know the signs and symptoms of benzo addiction, the withdrawal process, and treatment approaches for long-term recovery.

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Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the primary signs of benzodiazepine abuse is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the medication. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, can affect the central nervous system, cause respiratory depression, and can be dangerous.³ It is important to seek medical supervision when stopping benzodiazepine use in order to manage the following symptoms safely:

  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Tremors and muscle spasms
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat and palpitations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Risk Factors

There are certain factors that can increase the risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms when stopping benzodiazepine use.³ These include:

  • Long-term use of benzos
  • Higher doses of benzos
  • Taking other CNS depressants or substances along with benzos
  • History of previous substance abuse or addiction

It is important to be aware of these risk factors when using benzodiazepines, as they can greatly impact the withdrawal management process.

What is The Timeline for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?

The timeline for benzodiazepine withdrawal can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the specific medication being used, the dosage, and how long the individual has been taking it. In general, however, within 24 hours, withdrawal symptoms emerge and can last for several weeks or longer.³

learning the benzo withdrawal timeline

Understanding Halflife in the Context of Benzodiazepines

The term “half-life” is commonly used in medicine to describe the time it takes for the concentration of a certain drug to be reduced by half in the body.³ It’s a crucial factor in determining how long a medication stays in your system, which in turn influences the onset, duration, and intensity of withdrawal symptoms. For benzodiazepines, the half-life can vary significantly. Some drugs, like alprazolam, have a shorter half-life, while others, like diazepam, have a longer half-life.³ It’s important to understand the half-life of the benzodiazepine you are taking in order to develop an appropriate tapering schedule for discontinuing use and managing withdrawal symptoms.

The Withdrawal Stages for Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can generally be divided into three stages: early, acute, and protracted.³

Early Withdrawal: The early withdrawal stage usually begins within the first twenty-four hours of discontinuing benzodiazepine use. During this time, individuals may experience mild to moderate symptoms such as restlessness, agitation, and insomnia. These symptoms typically peak within the first week and then begin to subside.³

Acute Withdrawal: The acute withdrawal stage is when individuals experience more severe symptoms, such as intense anxiety and panic attacks, muscle pain and stiffness, and even seizures. This stage can last for several weeks or longer, depending on the individual’s specific situation.³

Protracted Withdrawal: The protracted withdrawal stage, also known as the “post-acute” or “late” withdrawal stage, can last for several months or even years. During this time, individuals may experience ongoing symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety and depression, disrupted sleep patterns, and difficulty concentrating.

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Inpatient (also known as residential) treatment for benzodiazepine addiction is often recommended when an individual is experiencing severe or protracted withdrawal symptoms and/or when there are other underlying mental disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, that need to be addressed. Inpatient care for benzodiazepine misuse provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to detox while receiving comprehensive therapy and support to overcome their addiction.

Therapy Options for Substance Abuse

Individual and group therapy are both effective treatment options for benzodiazepine addiction.¹ Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used approach that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to their addiction. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can also be helpful, as it focuses on developing healthy coping skills and emotional regulation techniques.¹ Other forms of therapy, such as art or music therapy, may also be incorporated into treatment plans to address the underlying issues that contribute to benzodiazepine addiction.

group therapy for benzo addiction

Can I Withdraw from Benzos at Home?

While some individuals may be able to taper off benzodiazepines at home successfully, it is generally not recommended. The withdrawal process can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous, making medical supervision essential in managing symptoms and ensuring a safe detox. Additionally, treatment centers provide a supportive community and ongoing care that can greatly increase the chances of long-term recovery.¹

What to Expect During Treatment for Benzo Addiction

Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction typically involves a combination of medications and therapy.³ Medications may be used to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings and prevent adverse withdrawal effects such as seizures. Meanwhile, therapy provides individuals with the tools and support they need to maintain long-term recovery. In addition to individual and group therapy, some other components of benzo addiction treatment may include:

Medical Detoxification

medically supervised drug detox process may be necessary for individuals who are physically dependent on benzodiazepines. This involves gradually tapering off the medication under medical supervision to prevent complications of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome and prevent the more serious adverse effects of withdrawal. It may include prescribed medications to help ease symptoms.


Education and Support

Education about drug addiction and relapse prevention strategies can help individuals better understand their condition and develop effective coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress. Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery, can also provide a supportive community for those recovering from benzodiazepine addiction.¹


Therapy for Dual Diagnosis

If an individual has co-occurring mental health disorders, therapy for both addiction to benzodiazepines, withdrawal symptoms, and underlying mental health issues may be necessary. This can help individuals address the root causes of their substance abuse and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage anxiety, stress, and other symptoms.¹


Aftercare Planning

After completing a recovery program for benzodiazepine dependence, an aftercare plan is developed to support long-term recovery. This may include ongoing therapy, participation in support groups, and regular check-ins with a primary care physician or drug addiction specialist.


Risk Factors for Benzodiazepine Dependency

While anyone can develop substance use disorders, there are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing benzodiazepine dependence.¹ These include:

  • A history of substance abuse or addiction to other substances
  • Underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression
  • High dosages of benzodiazepines or long-term use
  • Using benzos in combination with other drugs or substances, such as alcohol or opioids
  • Family history of addiction to alcohol and drugs

It is important for individuals who are prescribed benzodiazepines to discuss any potential risk factors with their doctor and to monitor their use closely.

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The Dangerous Effects of Benzodiazepines

Taking benzodiazepines can be highly addictive and have dangerous consequences when misused.² Some of the potential effects that missing benzodiazepines can lead to include:

  • Increased risk of fatal overdoses, especially when combined with other types of drug use or alcohol use
  • Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation
  • Impaired cognitive function and memory loss
  • Exacerbated mental health issues, including anxiety and agitation
  • Potentially severe withdrawal symptoms, including an increased risk of seizures
  • Risk of accidents or injuries while under the influence of benzodiazepines

How Do I Know if I Need Addiction Treatment for Benzodiazepine Abuse?

If you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction, it may be time to seek professional help. Signs that may indicate the need for addiction recovery include:

  • Difficulty controlling benzodiazepine use and cravings
  • Using higher doses of benzos than prescribed or using them without a prescription
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using benzos
  • Neglecting responsibilities or relationships due to benzodiazepine use
  • Continuing to use benzos despite negative consequences on health, job, or personal life
  • Feeling unable to cope without benzodiazepines
  • Combining benzodiazepines with other drugs or alcohol
  • Needing high doses of benzos

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it may be time to seek help. Remember, addiction is a treatable condition, and seeking treatment can lead to long-term recovery and improved quality of life. So don’t hesitate to reach out for support and assistance in overcoming your benzodiazepine addiction. Recovery is possible, and you deserve a happy and healthy life free from the grips of addiction.

Reaching Out For Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction

Remember, addiction is a complex and challenging disease, but recovery is possible. If you or someone you know is struggling with benzodiazepine dependence, reach out for help today. At Woburn Wellness, our professional staff can discuss treatment options with you and come up with an individualized plan that focuses on your specific needs and goals. With the right support and resources, you can overcome addiction to benzodiazepines and/or other drugs and live a fulfilling, sober life.

reaching out for help for benzo addiction

Additional Resources for Support and Information

If you or someone you know is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction or other types of drug addiction, here are some additional resources that may be helpful:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA provides education, resources, and treatment information for mental health and substance use disorders. They also have a free and confidential national helpline (1-800-662-HELP) that is available 24/7 to connect individuals with local options for drug and alcohol abuse. Individuals can also use their treatment locator tool to find facilities in their area that provide addiction treatment for benzodiazepines.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is a self-help support group that offers tools and techniques for individuals seeking to overcome drug addiction. They have online meetings, as well as in-person meetings in some areas.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Narcotics Anonymous is a support group that follows the 12-step model and offers a community of individuals seeking to overcome addiction to both illicit and prescribed drugs. They have in-person meetings all over the world, as well as online meetings.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

NIDA provides research, resources, and information about drugs and addiction. They provide information about the symptoms of withdrawal from benzodiazepines, the dangers of using short-acting and long-acting benzos in any other fashion than as prescribed, and information about help for benzodiazepine abuse.

Sources:

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research-based guide (third edition).
  2. United States Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines.
  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. (2000). Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives
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Addiction treatment specialist

Medically Reviewed By

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC Clinical Director
Learn about Inessa Maloney

Inessa Maloney, MS, LMHC has been dedicated to the mental health and substance abuse field for a decade, providing her expertise to guarantee quality and accuracy.

  • Specializes in outpatient services with a focus on substance abuse
  • Expertise in reality-based therapy, CBT/DBT, and motivational interviewing
  • Holds a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling
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