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Benzodiazepine Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment

benzo pills

What are Benzodiazepines (Benzos)?

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

Examples of benzodiazepines that are available in the U.S. include:

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

Street Names and Slang for Benzodiazepines

According to the DEA, common street names or slang terms for benzodiazepines include:

  • Benzos
  • Downers
  • Nerve pills
  • Tranks 5

How Long Do Benzodiazepines Stay in Your System?

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

Are Benzodiazepines Tranquilizers?

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.

What Are the Side Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

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:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Breathing problems
  • Coma8

Long-term chronic abuse of benzodiazepines can cause the following side effects:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Anorexia
  • Weakness8

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

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
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Hand tremors
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain/stiffness
  • Changes in perception
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis9

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. A medical benzodiazepine detox program will provide round-the-clock medical and clinical care to ensure your safety and comfort. Completing benzodiazepine detox in a safe and supportive environment will also greatly reduce the likelihood that you will relapse.

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Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline

6-8 hours after the last dose:A few hours into benzodiazepine detox, 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 during this stage of benzodiazepine detox.
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.

What Are Common Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?

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 benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit or cut back

How to Overcome Benzodiazepine Addiction

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. If you want to get sober, benzodiazepine rehab may be the answer.

A benzodiazepine rehab program will require time, effort, and a financial commitment on your part, but it will provide evidence-based therapy to help you adjust to a new sober life. During benzodiazepine rehab, you’ll work with clinical counselors, doctors, nurses, and addiction treatment professionals to:

  • Uncover the causes of your addictive behavior
  • Establish effective relapse prevention strategies
  • Develop life skills and healthy relationship-building tools
  • Learn more about the disease of addiction
  • Receive professional support in a sober environment

There are several different stages and types of benzodiazepine treatment programs, such as:

  • Benzodiazepine detox
  • Residential benzodiazepine rehab
  • Outpatient benzodiazepine rehab (IOP)
  • Sober living programs
  • Aftercare

Depending on the severity of your benzodiazepine addiction and your treatment needs, your doctor or an addiction treatment professional may recommend that you participate in some or all of the above types of benzodiazepine treatment programs. Fortunately, if you have health insurance, it will cover a portion of the cost of treatment.

Individuals without health insurance can also receive financial help to pay for benzodiazepine treatment by using:

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits
  • Financed healthcare loans
  • Medical credit cards
  • Scholarships or grants
  • Personal loans from family members or friends
  • Crowdfunding efforts

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 (888) 427-4932 to speak with a representative at Nova Recovery Center today about your benzodiazepine treatment options.

References:

  1. https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drugs-condition.htm
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809.php
  3. https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/benzodiazepines.html
  4. http://www.vhpharmsci.com/vhformulary/tools/benzodiazepines-comparison.htm
  5. https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/benzodiazepines
  6. https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-info/drug-book/benzodiazepines.html
  7. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/nsduh-ppt-09-2018.pdf
  8. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/benzodiazepine-abuse#1
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856

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