What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are a class of psychoactive drugs that act directly on the central nervous system (CNS). They are considered tranquilizers, and people take them to treat multiple conditions. Some of the conditions it can help manage are generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and/or insomnia, and even seizures.
Most of these disorders are a result of excessive nervous activity in the brain. That is why a depressant is the best solution to these issues. Scientifically speaking, they stimulate a neurotransmitter, known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is responsible for helping nerves “send messages” to one another and can then help reduce the activity of the nerves.
Benzos work as a CNS depressant, slowing down many of the body’s functions, like breathing heart rate, and neurological function. They are meant to relax muscles, induce sleep, and/or generate a feeling of calm. Common benzo brand names that are typically prescribed include Lorazepam, Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.
When used as prescribed, benzodiazepines are effective treatment drugs. Usually, benzo medications can only be obtained with a prescription made by a licensed professional. They should only be used under their supervision and according to their instructions.
But although they are completely safe when used as prescribed, there is a reason why they require a prescription. When people abuse them, they may become addicted and need to go through a detox program. Benzos are considered habit-forming – there is a strong risk of both physical dependence and addiction. This can occur even when they are taken as directed, though there is a lesser chance of it happening when they are not misused.
Benzodiazepine Addiction In The U.S.
The current benzo abuse problem has reached a serious point. It has received a great deal of attention from both government agencies and the medical community. Because of the nature of the drug, there is always a danger of benzo abuse and overdose. There’s also the risk of dangerous drug interactions and long-term health and behavioral issues.
While the number of victims has not drawn as much attention as other drugs, like opiates, they have been significant. Deaths more than doubled from 2007 to 2017 across the U.S., going from 4,500 to 11,537. Admissions for benzo treatment have also been escalating – from 1998 to 2008 alone, admissions tripled.
In Florida, specifically, Alprazolam and Diazepam were the main contributors to benzo-related deaths. About 63% of those deaths also happened in combination with opioids. However, the state did face a trend of fake benzos sold as Xanax pills, though they were made of opioids (fentanyl).
Prescriptions for benzo have been on the rise. From 1996 to 2013, they had an increase of 67%. Although other drugs, such as opioids, have had a decrease in prescriptions due to a crisis, that has not happened to benzos. Anxiety disorders have been more frequently diagnosed every year, so while this rise in prescriptions is justified, it could be a problem. Going from use to misuse might not be immediate, but it can happen to anyone.
When someone who has become dependent on benzos quits taking the drug abruptly, they will experience highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, these withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and even life-threatening. This is why you should never just stop taking benzos, or “quit cold turkey”. If you are ready to quit, the safest route is through a benzo detox.
Addiction vs Dependence
Becoming benzodiazepine dependent is different than becoming addicted to it. In fact, most people who take benzos do become dependent – and that is expected during treatment with benzos. That is because, as the brain is exposed to benzodiazepine for weeks, it becomes adapted to it. It is classified as a dependence because the brain needs it in order to function normally.
The brain gradually becomes more tolerant of benzos, making the person need higher doses to get the same effect. Dependency can get intense enough for people to experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking benzodiazepine suddenly. That is why the safest way to stop taking benzos is by lowering the dosage little by little. If a person cannot quit it like that, however, then the dependence has transitioned into addiction.
Dangers Of Benzodiazepine Abuse
Continued, prolonged abuse of benzos can bring on serious health issues – some, even permanent. Prescription benzodiazepines like Xanax have seen widespread use as a medication for anxiety. Benzos are safe to take for short periods of time. Long-term use is not only controversial but risky for reasons even beyond the chances of developing addictions.
Benzos are responsible for overdoses, deaths, and numerous kinds of accidents. They can cause serious physical and mental health issues, such as:
- Heart and liver problems
- Worsened anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Physical dependency
Additionally, recent studies have found that people who abuse benzos are experiencing neurological issues like memory loss and cognitive decline. Some have even linked it to an increased risk of dementia. These problems are proving to be long-term and even permanent. Specific issues include:
- Mental confusion
- Poor short-term memory
- Difficulty making decisions
- Difficulty solving problems
- Struggling with everyday tasks (i.e. basic hygiene)
Other dangers of benzo use occur when people mix benzos with substances such as alcohol, opiates, and marijuana. Emergency room staff have seen a significant jump in patients coming overdosing from a combination of benzos and alcohol.
What To Expect From The Benzo Detox Process
A medical benzo detox will allow you to flush the toxins out in a safer way, without the risks that come from an abrupt withdrawal. You will be in a safe, controlled environment with round-the-clock medical supervision.
You will complete an intake procedure and be given a tour of the facility. During this time, the detox staff will inquire about your substance use history and get any pertinent medical data. This will also be your opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns you may have about the detox process. You will be paired with a counselor who will oversee your stay at the facility. We will also show you to your accommodations and ensure that you are comfortable.
As it is with other addiction treatments, benzo detox is the first stage of addiction rehab. Doctors can either help patients wean down the doses or temporarily switch to longer-acting benzos and lower the dosages gradually. Abruptly stopping can be dangerous, or bring on withdrawal symptoms too quickly and too intense. That is why it can be risky to go through benzo detox without medical supervision.
Not only is it safer to go through medically-assisted benzo detox treatment, but it is a way to avoid unnecessary, additional suffering. During the medically-assisted benzo detox, doctors can prescribe medication to help manage symptoms without making addiction worse or trigger more side effects. That way, patients will experience less discomfort while also avoiding more serious symptoms, like seizures, that might cause more complications.
Symptoms During Benzo Detox
When a person quits benzodiazepine, they can start experiencing withdrawal symptoms even before they start a benzo detox treatment. The intensity of these symptoms will depend on the level of the addiction, the person’s history with addiction, and/or genetic aspects.
Around 20% to 50% of people who try to stop taking benzos report experiencing some kind of withdrawal symptom. Some of the most common ones can be anxiety, insomnia, and/or behavioral changes. These are all usually mild and can be managed. Symptoms experienced during benzo detox usually fall under one of these three phases: early withdrawal, acute withdrawal, and protracted withdrawal.
Early withdrawal symptoms might start manifesting in a few hours, or maybe days after the last dosage was taken. Some of the symptoms benzos were used to treat in the first place might start building up again, like anxiety or insomnia.
After some days go by, the person might start experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms. This is the rougher part of the process and the one where the majority of the side effects of benzo detoxing will be felt. Some of the possible, most commonly reported ones are:
- Psychiatric disorder symptoms, i.e. anxiety, hallucinations, and/or panic attacks
- Agitation, restlessness, and/or insomnia
- Muscle spasms or tension
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea blurred vision,
- Short-term memory impairment, trouble concentrating and/or clouded thinking
- Mood swings and/or irritability
- Drug cravings
- Weight loss due to loss of appetite
This phase of the process can last anywhere between two weeks to even several months. It is not rare for people to start having suicidal thoughts during this period. Yet another reason why benzo detox should be done under medical supervision, and with proper psychiatric support.
The final phase of the withdrawal process, protracted withdrawal syndrome, usually only affects around 10% of recovering addicts. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long it can last. Recovering addicts can be afflicted by its symptoms for months or years after quitting benzos. They might appear unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. While their intensities vary, patients usually feel:
- Tingling of the arms and/or legs
- Muscle twitches
- Mood swings
- Continued anxiety
- Cognitive deficits
It is more than possible to get medical and psychiatric help for this condition. There are also multiple support groups in order to help those struggling with the syndrome.
What Happens After Benzo Detox?
Once detox is over, the patients can then start treatment for addiction per se. Benzo detox is only the first step in rehab, and while it is needed, it is not enough for someone to overcome addiction.
Overcoming addiction requires proper medical and psychiatric treatment. This includes therapy (both individual and group settings), counseling, medical assessments, possible medication, and many group activities – which depend on the center chosen and its philosophies. They will also learn relapse prevention techniques and participate in relapse prevention activities.
Most likely, patients recovering from benzo detox will be recommended for an inpatient/residential program. They are recommended for severe cases. Patients have to stay in the facility 24/7, having medical and psychiatric support available. In these centers, they will have pre-determined visitation hours, but contact with the outside world is limited.
Another option available is outpatients programs. These only require patients to be in the facility during treatment sessions. There are multiple service setting options ranging from 3 visits a week to as many as 6 visits a week. While they do allow patients to work and go to school while being treated, they are only recommended for mild to moderate cases of addiction.
Once that vital part of the program is over, recovering patients will start transitioning back into their routines. However, just because the program is done, does not mean they need to do it on their own. Professionals recommend that patients continue attending therapy, counseling, and support groups as they live their new, sober lives. They play a big role in relapse prevention, from being a source of emotional support and follow-up to giving recovering patients a purpose.
Besides continuing these activities, there are other aftercare options recommended for those without a stable, healthy environment to go home to. People can go into sober living, where they can build new relationships with people who are going through the same thing as them.
Sail Through Detox At Coastal Detox
If benzo addiction is taking over your life, Coastal Detox can help. Our state-of-the-art, luxurious facility located on Florida’s Treasure Coast is the perfect setting to begin your fresh start. Enjoy top-level accommodations and delicious, chef-prepared meals. Our Stuart, Florida center is committed to your safety, comfort, and privacy throughout your stay. Our team members are caring, compassionate, and dedicated to helping you recover from benzo addiction!
Along with the medical and psychiatric help needed for recovery, we also provide holistic treatment options. We also offer family therapy, wellness groups, trauma therapy, and much more. All because we understand that treatment has to go beyond the basic requirements.
Coastal Detox accepts most major insurance providers, and we have teamed up with many of them to provide more affordable options to patients. We can answer any questions or concerns about insurance coverage or payment options.
At Coastal Detox, you will experience an unparalleled level of care with any of the options of treatment you might need. If this sounds like the ideal option for you or a loved one, don’t wait for things to get worse. Contact us today to find out more about what we can do for you.