Benzodiazepines are the broader term for the family of drugs that belong to the tranquilizer and sleeping pill category. Some of the commonly known benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ambien (zoldipem)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Dalmane (flurazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin or Rivotril (clonazepam)
  • Rohypnol (flunitrazepam)
  • Restoril (temazepam)
  • Imovane (zopiclone)

A medical professional, to help an individual deal with symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, and/or panic attacks, typically prescribes benzodiazepines. They can be highly effective when used as prescribed, but they also have the propensity to be highly addictive. When an individual abusing benzodiazepines stops abruptly, severe withdrawal symptoms may be experienced, and can even be life-threatening. The factors that correlated to the severity of one’s withdrawal symptoms can include the length of one’s benzodiazepine abuse, the quantity and dosage abused, and one’s overall health. When relying on benzodiazepines to help with certain psychological disorders, it is essential to understand how they work, so as to minimize the dangers associated with withdrawal.

How Do Benzodiazepines Work

Benzodiazepines work within one’s brain by producing a chemical similar to that of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). GABA is a natural relaxing agent that works with one’s central nervous system. When GABA is increased in one’s system, the natural amount of one’s depressant neurotransmitters are increased, which results in the user to experience an neurological slow down, hence he or she will most likely experience excessive feelings of serenity and/or calmness.

One of the primary dangers of benzodiazepine abuse is that it can shut down one’s ability to manufacture dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with one’s pleasure and reward center. In order for an individual to continue to function, once this has happened, he or she will need to rely on benzodiazepines intake and continuously increase his or her dose of the drug. This can lead to a development of physical and psychological drug dependence for the user.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Each individual is different and will most likely experience a different combination of the possible side effects when abusing benzodiazepines. Some of the possible side effects can include any of the following:

  • Headache
  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness
  • Excitement
  • Dizziness
  • Memory impairment
  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Aggression

The side effects will last a variable amount of time and will depend on a number of factors. Some individuals may experience many side effects simultaneously, and some few; it depends on the person, the type of benzodiazepine used, the quantity and dosage.

Detoxification

When an individual who has been abusing benzodiazepines wishes to stop, one of the first steps is to go through the detoxification process. The most common method used for individuals who have a benzodiazepine addiction is to taper down one’s dosage of the drug. This is done under closer supervision of a medically trained professional. The possible side effects from ceasing to use a drug that one’s body has become dependent upon can be extremely dangerous. By following the tapering protocol, an individual allows his or her brain to slowly begin to naturally produce the GABA and dopamine neurotransmitters that have been suppressed by the benzodiazepine abuse. Depending on the severity of one’s addiction in addition to other drug use, the tapering process can take months to fully complete. It is essential to take time with the tapering process so as to minimize the possible occurrence of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This syndrome is a slight increase in one’s experience of anxiety and insomnia during the withdrawal period. The symptoms of PAWS can typically be helped with a combination of support, counseling and occasionally with the use of non-addictive medicines. Over time, however the symptoms associated with PAWS do tend to subside.

Possible Withdrawal Symptoms

There are many possible withdrawal symptoms an individual may experience when he or she stops abusing benzodiazepines. Withdrawal symptoms can be felt as soon as hours after the last ingested dose. Some, but not all, of the possible withdrawal symptoms can include any combination of the following:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Nightmares
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypochondriasis
  • Blurred vision
  • Restlessness
  • Chest pain
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Muscular spasms
  • Impaired concentration
  • Hyperosmia
  • Electric shock sensations
  • Metallic taste
  • Paranoia
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased sensitivity to sound
  • Stiffness
  • Impaired concentration
  • Rebound REM sleep
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Hearing impairment
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hypertension
  • Suicidal ideations

Each individual is different and will experience withdrawal from benzodiazepines differently. The symptom will last for varying lengths of time. Some of the possible medical complications that can occur can be life threatening. It is imperative for an addicted individual to be monitored by a medical professional when going through the detoxification and withdrawal processes.

Post-acute Withdrawal Symptoms

Any individual who abuses benzodiazepines runs the risk of experiencing post-acute withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are often described as a rollercoaster of symptoms. They are ever changing, and can disappear for weeks or months, only to later return with a vengeance. The longer an individual maintains his or her sobriety the symptom-free stretches will begin to also last for longer periods of time. Each post-acute withdrawal episode typically lasts for a few days. Post-acute withdrawal symptom episodes will usually subside after two years of consistent and successful sobriety.

Treatment

Following the detoxification and withdrawal processes it is imperative for an individual suffering from a benzodiazepine addiction to continue with some form of drug rehabilitation treatment plan. An individual can enter an inpatient treatment facility, participate an in outpatient treatment facility, and/or attend community based support groups. The subsequent care one receives is as important as one’s detoxification and withdrawal processes from benzodiazepines. Inpatient treatment is suggested to be the best follow-up to detoxification from benzodiazepine addiction, as it will enable an individual to have access to a medical team and psychiatrists that will be able to respond to all possible crises as they may occur, in addition to determining if additional medication is needed and administering the proper amounts, if deemed necessary.