Benzodiazepines are medications used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Although effective, these medications can be highly addictive, and withdrawal from them can be difficult. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and nausea. In severe cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal can also cause seizures. Although challenging, the process is worth it. Knowing what symptoms to expect and how to cope with them can help you prepare, endure, and overcome benzodiazepine withdrawal and get on the path to sobriety.
How Do Benzodiazepines Work?
Benzodiazepines work by increasing the levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. When this happens, activity in the central nervous system reduces, creating a feeling of calmness and relaxation.
Even though benzodiazepines are generally considered safe and effective, they can be addictive. When the brain and body become accustomed to having benzodiazepines, abruptly quitting the medication can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Long-term use of benzodiazepines can also lead to tolerance, meaning that higher doses are needed to achieve the same effects. As individuals’ tolerance for benzodiazepines increases, the risk of abuse and addiction also increases.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal
When individuals stop taking benzodiazepines after using them for a while, their bodies may need time to adjust. During this adjustment period, most people experience withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Hand tremors
- Muscle spasms
- A racing pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Aches and pains
- Panic attacks
- Problems with concentration and memory
- Visual disturbances such as flashes of light or blurred vision
- Auditory, tactile, or visual hallucinations
- Abnormal bodily sensations such as skin crawling or goosebumps
- Hypersensitivity to light and touch
Most withdrawal symptoms typically peak within the first few days after stopping benzodiazepines, but they can last for weeks or even months. However, most people will start to feel better after a week or two of benzodiazepine withdrawal.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that withdrawal symptoms from short-acting benzos peak on the second day and improve by about four or five days. However, some people find these last for several weeks. Withdrawal from long-acting benzodiazepines may take longer than withdrawal from short-acting benzodiazepines, but the process is generally the same.
In severe cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal can also cause seizures or even be fatal. As a result, it is important to be under the care of a medical professional when discontinuing benzodiazepine use.
Stages of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Benzodiazepine withdrawal typically occurs in three distinct phases and can last for several weeks or longer, depending on the individual.
Early withdrawal symptoms, known as rebound symptoms, happen immediately after an individual quits benzodiazepines. During this stage, individuals may notice that the conditions benzodiazepines were prescribed to treat may re-emerge. In short, symptoms of anxiety or insomnia may return or worsen.
The most difficult part of benzodiazepine withdrawal is the acute withdrawal symptoms phase. This part of the withdrawal process happens a few days after the last dose and can last for 5 to 28 days. To help minimize the risk of relapse, certain medications are used during this phase.
What Is Protracted Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?
Sometimes benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can last for months or even years. This is known as protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal. Protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal is a condition that can occur after someone stops taking benzodiazepines. Symptoms may include anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and irritability.
The severity and duration of these symptoms can vary depending on the individual. Protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal is not life-threatening, but it can be uncomfortable and may interfere with everyday activities. While there is no cure for protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal, there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms and make the process more tolerable.
How To Cope With Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms
The best way to cope with benzodiazepine withdrawal is to slowly taper off the medication under the supervision of a doctor. This will help to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Tapering off benzodiazepines usually involves slowly reducing the dose over a while. You can reduce your benzodiazepine usage by taking a lower dose of benzodiazepines or by taking them less often. This allows your body to adjust to the reduced medication level and helps minimize withdrawal symptoms. During the tapering-off process, most people still experience some symptoms of withdrawal. This usually happens after each dose reduction.
Other healthy ways to cope with benzodiazepine withdrawal include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is a type of therapy that helps people to identify and change negative thought patterns. This can be helpful for people who are struggling with withdrawal symptoms because often, these symptoms are exacerbated by negative thoughts and emotions. CBT can help people learn how to reframe their thoughts in a more positive light and deal with their emotions healthily. As a result, CBT may help people manage withdrawal symptoms to feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
- Meditation. Research has shown that meditation can be an effective tool for managing withdrawal symptoms. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse found that participants who practiced meditation experienced significantly reduced levels of anxiety and depression.
- Mindfulness can help people manage withdrawal symptoms. Through mindfulness, people can better control their reactions to cravings and triggers. They can better identify early signs of relapse and take steps to prevent relapse. Mindfulness can help reduce stress levels.
- Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting and pain-relieving effects. This can help to alleviate some symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety and depression. In addition, exercise can help to reduce cravings and increase focus and concentration. Exercise also helps to improve sleep quality, which can be affected during withdrawal.
Let Us Help You Overcome Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Withdrawing from benzodiazepines can be difficult, but it is worth it. You may initially experience anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and nausea, but these symptoms are only temporary. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Contact us today if you are ready to move past your traumatic memories and get on the path to sobriety. We can help you through this challenging process and provide support every step of the way.
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