Benzodiazepines have been around for about 40 years.
They can be prescribed for numerous reasons – including severe anxiety, rehabilitation aids from opiate abuse and sometimes for something as simple as a sleep aid.
Patients who are prescribed are rarely told how serious the effects of long term use can be. Indeed, thousands of people are prescribed a new prescription for benzos every week and are never told how potentially addictive it will be and how challenging the withdrawals are.
In some cases, doctors will completely deny that there are any physical or mental symptoms present during benodiazepine withdrawal.
If you have been told this by a doctor and maybe think that it’s just in your head, you’re not alone. It is sad to know that many people are suffering unknowingly and unnecessarily due to this type of medication.
For all of you who may be suffering through withdrawals, this post is for you.
1.) Dependence on benzodiazepines is a serious matter.
Again, most people who take these medications simply do not know how much this medication effects your brain. Or that the withdrawal symptoms can be as bad as opiate and alcohol withdrawals.
Those in withdrawals, both cold turkey and slow tapering, can find living through each day extremely difficult. The experience can be truly awful, leaving the individual to feel severely debilitated.
The anxiety has ramped right up and the depression and just feeling horrible is awful. I’m finding living through each day really difficult.
The worst and most serious part?
The doctors who prescribe and institutions who promote this stuff are commonly reluctant or even blatantly unaware of how the serious negative impacts of what they are giving people.
2.) Withdrawal side effects can be quite nasty.
You don’t have to look far to see people drawing parallels of hell and horror when discussing their withdrawals.
Of course, determining the effects is a highly subjective question and highly variable. There are a number of factors that come into play.
Here is a quick list of the more common withdrawals effects associated with benzos:
- Moderate to severe depression
- Painful resurgence of emotions
- Debilitating anxiety
- Heart palpitations
- Shallow breathing
- Neck pain
- Muscle twitching
- Burning sensations going through the brain
- body tremors
3.) The withdrawal period is complicated and long lasting.
- Acute phase – lasting 7 days to 90 days
- Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) lasting up to 2 years
Of course, there is a lot of variability to these periods for each individual:
Length of time treated with benzodiazepine.
If you’ve only been treated for around 4 months or less with benzos then you’re in for a much quicker and less painful recovery than those who have been on these meds for long periods of time (think years, decades…). Those who have used for longer periods of time like this are in for serious recovery if they want to quit.
Type of benzodiazepine.
Valium (diazepam) is a low potency and longer lasting benzo which is more suitable for tapering off with than say, Xanax (alprazolam).
Speed of tapering method
If you choose to taper down on the drug over a period of months rather than weeks you will experience far less discomfort.
For many it can be very troubling when they realize it will likely take months or years — not weeks — for their brain and nervous system to normalize to something resembling a baseline state.
But time is only half the equation, because the true crux is what you do with that time. There is no fast-forward button on life.
To truly get well, in the grander sense, is to utilize the time you have; even if you are going through discomfort. Try to see the bright side , even during those bleak moments. In the end, you can’t be sure exactly how long it will last. So learn to embrace the time your given.
4.) Quitting benzos cold turkey is most often unadvisable.
Many people who have been struggling to get off psychiatric medications, including benzodiazepines, for several years are not able to stop cold turkey because when the levels of medication in the bloodstream drop too low, anxiety and panic can become unbearable.
But you must be able to discern what’s best for you individually.
If you haven’t been using benzos or other similar meds for too long, it might be good to taper very quickly. Or if you’ve only just started being prescribed for them in the last couple months (lucky you), you can stop as quickly as you deem fit.
5.) Generally accepted treatment recommendations in the medical community.
The consensus in the medical community is that the most successful treatments incorperate these three steps:
- Switch the patient to a form of benzodiazepine with a long half life.
- Gradually taper down doses over a period of roughly 10 weeks to allow for a slow but continuous decline in tissue/plasma concentrations.
- Provide psychological counseling to deal with the non-physical aspect of the addiction.
So, the best ways to get off benzos are with other benzos. Especially Clonazepam (longer half life) it’s probably the easiest to taper and quit and use very tiny doses to prevent seizure.
6.) Some common medications and supplements can complicate things further by causing additional interactions and withdrawal symptoms.
Many who turn towards tapering off from meds will be drawn to other medications to help ease the withdrawal effects.
This can be problematic, especially if the substitute meds cause similar effects and are just perpetuating the persons conditions.
Commonly used assisting drugs and supplements:
- Flumazenil (arguable)
Closing words of advice.
Reading this you might feel a little bit desolate about the outcome of your drug use.
Even if you have a long road ahead in recovery, never forget that you can do it. You can make it.
It won’t be easy, but you have the power to do it.
Basically, at some point you will HAVE to do it if you want to have a happy life. Benzo use cannot be continued by anyone indefinitely.
It may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but never forget that the human brain is an ever changing and amazing phenomena. It takes time to reprogram it and rewire it back to stability, but it is possible.
Even if you’re only able to manage 2 hours of sleep at night right now, remember that it will get better. Even if you can’t sleep at all! It WILL get better if you stick to your determination to be free.
IMPORTANT: This information is just a brief conversation piece about benzodiazepine use and withdrawals. There is a whole host of information I have not included. This piece should simply be a spark to get you looking in the right direction.