Benzodiazepine withdrawal is very difficult to understand. This is mainly because the symptoms can vary greatly, with some people experiencing little to no symptoms, and others going through weeks if not months of pain and discomfort. However, a number of things that anyone who currently uses benzo should know about in order to prepare them for benzodiazepine detox and withdrawal.
The most commonly experienced withdrawal symptoms include:
- Feelings of anxiousness
- Sleeping problems
- Depression and panic
- Shakes (sometimes leading to convulsions)
- Flu-like symptoms, including muscle pains
Why Does Withdrawal Happen?
Benzodiazepine increases the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain. This is an inhibitory transmitter, which means that other neurotransmitters cannot be fired. Hence, the overall activity of the brain is reduced when taking benzo. In essence, GABA is a natural sedative, which are enhanced by the drug.
The role of GABA is to suppress serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and epinephrine (noradrenaline). These are transmitters that excite the brain, helping in things such as muscle movement, memory, emotional regulation, alertness, blood pressure, heart rate and hormonal secretion. The entire activity of the brain is suppressed when taking a benzodiazepine, thereby reducing feelings of anxiety and helping with insomnia. However, various other essential systems are affected as well. Exactly how it affects the other systems depends from one person to the next, which is one of the reasons why withdrawal is so different for each individual as well.
Tolerance to benzo develops very quickly, which means someone needs to take increasingly high dosages in order to achieve the results they desire. Hence, doctors are reluctant to prescribe the drug for a period of over four consecutive weeks. Once tolerance develops:
- GABA becomes less responsive in order to compensate to the constant presence of the medication.
- The other systems become less responsive to GABA, which means they start to become stronger.
Once a tolerance has been developed, this means that your GABA system is incapable of functioning normally. If you then suddenly stop taking the benzo, then your GABA will drop substantially. At that point, the brains excitatory transmitters will increase in activity. Unfortunately, it is possible to develop a tolerance to the point that you must take more benzo solely to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Between 50% and 80% of those people who use benzo for a period of six months or longer will experience some degree of withdrawal symptoms. However, the severity of these symptoms and the length of time they experience them for can vary greatly. As a rule of thumb, the longer benzos have been used, the longer the withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, the higher the dosage of benzo, the stronger the withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. As such, those who experience the greatest difficulty will usually be those who:
- Took benzos for a long period of time
- Took benzos at a very high dosage
- Used fast acting, potent benzodiazepines
What to Expect from Withdrawal
Determining when you will start to experience withdrawal depends on the brand of benzo and the dosage. Usually, those who took Xanax develop it soonest, and those who took Valium develop them last. For products like Xanax, the symptoms will often start to occur around two days after the last dose was taken. With Valium, this can take between two and ten days. The symptoms themselves can last for months and some people even experience them years after they have quit.
Benzo is often prescribed to people who are going through some form of emotional difficulty. Rather than curing this difficulty, however, the drug is designed to numb the emotions that come with that. The expectation is that clients start to work on their recovery while taking benzo for a short period of time, but this often doesn’t happen. At Creative Care, we specialize in offering treatment to people with a dual diagnosis, which means they struggle from both a mental illness and a substance abuse or addiction problem. We address the overall health of our clients, both mental and physical, which is often particularly important with benzos. If you are currently taking benzo, or have concerns about someone who does, please contact Creative Care today to discuss your options for withdrawal and recovery.