Benzodiazepine Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment
Benzodiazepines (commonly referred to as “benzos”) are a class of prescription drugs that are usually prescribed to treat anxiety. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how they work, but it is believed that they relieve feelings of anxiety by interacting with the brain’s natural neurotransmitters and enhancing the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to calm the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.1
In addition to treating anxiety, benzodiazepines may also be prescribed for insomnia and seizures, general anesthesia and sedation, muscle relaxation, alcohol and drug withdrawal, depression, panic attacks, nausea, and vomiting.
Benzodiazepines are one of the most widely-prescribed types of drugs in the United States and although they are safe for short-term use, long-term use of these substances can cause tolerance, dependence, and harmful side effects. Using alcohol with any type of benzodiazepine can be fatal and according to Medical News Today, hospital admissions for benzodiazepine abuse has tripled since 1998.2
Although benzodiazepines largely replaced the use of barbiturates because they were believed to have a lower potential for abuse, benzodiazepines are also controlled substances and have the potential for abuse and addiction.
Examples of benzodiazepines that are available in the U.S. include:
- Halcion (triazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Serax (oxazepam)
- Versed (midazolam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Tranxene (clorazepate)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)3
Some benzodiazepines may be considered more potent or stronger than others due to the drug’s half-life (how long it takes to break down and leave the body). The most potent or strongest benzodiazepines are those that are short-acting and more potent, such as:
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Halcion (triazolam)4
According to the DEA, common street names or slang terms for benzodiazepines include:
- Nerve pills
- Tranks 5
Although all benzodiazepine drugs are similar, many have varying half-lives and duration of action, which greatly affects how long a benzodiazepine will stay in your body. There are no simple answers to the questions “How long do benzodiazepines stay in your urine?” or “How long do benzodiazepines stay in your blood?” but you may use the estimations listed below as general guidelines.
- Short-acting benzodiazepines: Short-acting benzodiazepines like Halcion may only be detectable in the system via urine analysis for about two days.
- Intermediate-acting benzodiazepines: Intermediate-acting benzodiazepines like Xanax, Librium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Restoril may be detectable in urine for about five days.
- Long-acting benzodiazepines: Long-acting benzodiazepines like Valium may be detectable in your system for up to 10 days.6
Benzodiazepines may also be referred to as tranquilizers, which is also a broad class of drugs. Prescription drugs that are tranquilizers are generally used to treat conditions such as anxiety, tension, and fear.
Benzodiazepines are commonly abused but the most serious side effects usually occur when they are used with alcohol or other addictive drugs. In 2017, 18.1 million people reported that they misused psychotherapeutic drugs like benzodiazepines in the past year and adults ages 18 to 26 and above are the most frequent abusers.7
Although common, benzodiazepine abuse can have serious consequences. Common side effects of benzodiazepine abuse include:
- Blurred vision
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Breathing problems
Long-term chronic abuse of benzodiazepines can cause the following side effects:
If you are addicted to benzodiazepines and you suddenly stop using them or cut back, you will likely experience some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Common benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Insomnia/trouble staying asleep
- Panic attacks
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain/stiffness
- Changes in perception
Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be extremely dangerous without medical supervision, as severe symptoms can include seizures and psychosis. Complex withdrawal symptoms may lead to further medical complications that require emergency care. If you’re trying to quit benzodiazepines, it’s best to do so with a medical detox program. This type of detox program will provide round-the-clock medical and clinical care to ensure your safety and comfort.
|6-8 hours after the last dose:||Symptoms of withdrawal may start to appear for short-acting benzodiazepines.|
|1-4 days after the last dose:||Symptoms of withdrawal may begin to appear for long-acting benzodiazepines and may include sweating, nausea, and increased heart rate. Insomnia and anxiety may also increase during this time. Overall physical discomfort is common.|
|10-14 days after the last dose:||The symptoms of long-acting benzodiazepines may peak and can last up to one month after the last dose. Symptoms of short-acting benzodiazepines may fade and dissipate within 10 to 14 days after the last dose.|
Benzodiazepines may be abused for many reasons, such as to “escape” from difficult life circumstances, to cope with trauma, or to deal with a breakup. Medications like Xanax have become quick fixes for issues that may be otherwise solved with therapeutic interventions or holistic treatment. This view of benzodiazepines is dangerous and has the potential to lead to complete reliance on benzodiazepine drugs, chronic misuse of them, or addiction.
If a person has developed a benzodiazepine addiction, there will be behavioral and physical signs. Some signs of benzodiazepine addiction may include:
- Developing a tolerance (needing more benzodiazepines to achieve the same effects)
- Trying to quit benzodiazepines but being unable
- Needing benzodiazepines to feel normal
- Giving up hobbies and interests to use benzodiazepines
- Isolating oneself from friends and family to use benzodiazepines
- Hiding benzodiazepine abuse from loved ones
- Spending a great deal of time thinking about using, getting benzodiazepines, or using them
- Experiencing withdrawal when trying to quit or cutting back
Unfortunately, benzodiazepine addiction isn’t just something you can just decide to end on your own one day. Quitting cold turkey can be dangerous or even deadly and sustaining your sobriety will require ongoing treatment, therapy, and peer support.
Although benzodiazepine addiction can be a powerful force that has the potential to ruin and steal lives, everyone has the ability to recover with the right support. If you’re struggling today, you don’t have to let your benzo addiction define you any longer. There is hope and help available. Call (512) 605-2955 to speak with a representative at Nova Recovery Center today about your treatment options.
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