Benzodiazepines are among the easiest drugs to become addicted to and among the most dangerous drugs to withdraw from. The safest bet is to use prescribed “benzos” only in extreme cases—as with severe anxiety disorders or seizures—and only long enough to clear the head for planning longer-term coping strategies. Think very long and hard before using benzos in any circumstances, if any of the following descriptions fit you:
- You are already taking an opioid-based medication (benzodiazepine–opioid interactions can be extremely dangerous).
- You or anyone in your family ever had symptoms of being addicted to any sedative, including alcohol (alcohol is similar enough to benzos that the latter are frequently used as alcohol detox drugs—if you’re at special addiction risk with one, you’re likely at special addiction risk with the other).
- You drink alcohol, however responsibly. (Double doses of sedatives equal double risk of accidentally “putting yourself to sleep” permanently. If you’re sure you don’t have an actual drinking problem, and don’t want to give up alcohol forever, at least abstain from it for the duration of your benzodiazepine prescription.)
If you do accept a benzo prescription for any reason, make sure the prescribing doctor understands the risks. Take the prescription strictly according to directions, and call your doctor back immediately if you experience recurrence of anxiety or sleep difficulties; unexplained headaches, dizziness, perspiration or muscle tremors; shortness of breath; or difficulty thinking clearly. If you’re really worried and can’t see your own doctor immediately, go to an emergency room or 24-hour clinic for advice, but don’t just stop your pills abruptly—if real addiction has taken hold, the results could be lethal.
If you have already reached the addiction stage, whether it’s the result of a recent prescription or has been a problem for years, you’ll need professional benzodiazepine detox. Find a good drug and alcohol detox center that has experience with benzodiazepine addiction treatment specifically: caring for patients with this form of chemical dependence often requires carefully prescribed medication and special understanding of the symptoms. Here are the basics on what you can expect during detox, and how long it will take.
1. Be prepared for around two weeks of physical symptoms.
If you’re lucky, it may take less time than that, but it’s a good idea to accept in advance that you may be in for the long stretch—if only because you’re going to experience anxiety enough without worrying over whether it’s “taking too long.” Ten to 14 days is the standard period recognized by medical science for “withdrawal syndrome” in benzo detox.
2. With “short-acting” or “ultra-short-acting” benzodiazepines, first withdrawal symptoms usually manifest 4–12 hours after the last dose. With “long-acting” benzodiazepines, it may take several days.
Typically, the initial symptoms are fairly mild—which accounts for the fact that even experts disagree on the “real” typical time of onset; what one person reports as the first withdrawal symptoms, another may hardly notice as anything unusual. In any event, symptoms of benzodiazepine detox begin with twinges of anxiety, increased difficulty sleeping or relaxing, and body aches.
3. Physical and mental withdrawal symptoms usually take a few days to reach their peak, and persist in that stage for several more days.
In other words, you’re going to feel increasingly worse for a noticeable while, and then feel absolutely horrible for what seems like forever—if you have enough mental clarity left to compare symptoms or notice the passage of time. That isn’t meant to scare you away from benzodiazepine addiction treatment, but to underscore the necessity of professional care: you’ll need qualified and experienced providers to minimize discomfort, keep you hydrated and nourished, administer medication, and treat any dangerous symptoms. They’ll also provide reassurance (and gentle restraint) if you start to lose emotional control—a major risk in nearly every type of drug detox is that the patient will become suicidal.
Other possible symptoms during the “peak” stage of benzo detox include:
- Hurting-all-over, “flulike” pains
- Heavy perspiration
- Nausea and vomiting
- Inability to sleep
- Bouts of panic or despair
- Hallucinations or psychosis
- Pounding heart
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Violent muscle spasms, or even seizures
It’s a good idea, in the days before you enter detox treatment, to affirm regularly that withdrawal syndrome won’t last forever—you’ll be in poor condition to fix that truth in your head once withdrawal actually starts.
4. Even after the worst of detox is over, it may take months before symptoms abate completely.
Since benzodiazepines are typically prescribed to alleviate anxiety and insomnia—symptoms that become seriously intense during detox—it can be difficult to tell whether you’re experiencing lingering withdrawal symptoms or a recurrence of the original problem, especially if you or your benzo-prescribing doctor overlooked the necessity of developing alternate coping strategies as part of treatment. Regardless, it’s fairly common to experience periodic “withdrawal” symptoms—depression, loss of concentration, spontaneous pains or muscle spasms, fatigue, low energy levels—long after official detox is complete. A long period of post-detox inpatient care, combined with intensive therapy, will help reduce that risk; treatment specialists familiar with your individual case will advise you further.
We conclude with a list of “lifehacks” for staying clean for the long term (remember these are not a substitute for professional detox treatment):
- Continue with therapy, to root out deeper stress and anxiety issues.
- Get active in an addiction-recovery support group (ask your treatment specialist or therapist for referrals).
- Make friends who affirm you and see the best in you—and in the rest of the world.
- Have at least one person you can call for immediate support if fresh benzo cravings develop.
- Eat healthy and get plenty of exercise.
- Practice daily deep-breathing/yoga exercises, meditation, prayer or other forms of relaxation and spirituality.
- Keep your daily to-do list to a maximum of 3–5 items—and do the most important ones when your energy levels are highest.
- If you are in a relationship or job that is particularly stressful, ask your therapist for help deciding whether to leave the situation or find ways to live with it.
- Practice not caring so much about what others think of you (or what you think they think of you). If someone is critical without cause, don’t feel obligated to appease their bad attitudes.
- Participate regularly in leisure activities or hobbies you enjoy. Include projects that require full concentration, to help you practice living in the moment.
- Follow your dreams and set long-term goals. Keep optimism for the present and faith in the future!
Inland Detox, top drug and alcohol detox center in southern California, is located in the scenic Temecula Valley. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to benzodiazepines or another drug, please call (888) 739-8296 to learn more.