Benzodiazepines are a category of drug commonly used as sedatives for individuals struggling with conditions like anxiety and insomnia. Their common purpose is to relax the body and calm the nerves, but they are known to be very addictive.
The effects of Benzodiazepine abuse can be detrimental, so it is recommended that the body be weaned from its dependence on it through medically assisted detox. Attempting to detox alone can be fatal.
The withdrawal symptoms from detox are varied, but they mainly consist of those related to the condition an individual took the substance for in the first place. For example, those who take Benzodiazepine for anxiety will experience the resurfacing of anxious thoughts and feelings.
Not only does medically assisted detox prevent an individual from dying, but it can also enhance their chances of successfully quitting the substance.
It can provide more personalised treatment, as well as prescription drugs which can reduce the effect of withdrawal symptoms.
Benzodiazepines and detox
Benzodiazepines are sedative drugs, commonly used to treat a wide variety of conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal. They work by slowing the body and brain down, relaxing an individual’s muscles, and making them feel calm.
Including drugs such as Xanax and Valium, these substances are predominantly restricted to prescription; however, they are also some of the most abused substances. Their addictiveness comes from the intense relaxing effect they have on the body.
After sustained use, the body slowly changes its chemistry to mould around the Benzodiazepine, slowly developing a dependency on it. It soon requires the substance in order to function, and it is common for people to find that they cannot go to work or sleep without it.
Abuse of Benzodiazepine has many effects on an individual. They can be susceptible to poor judgement, prolonged drowsiness, and mood swings. Those who drive are often at risk of having blurry vision or losing concentration while behind the wheel, and this tends to lead to accidents .
As a result, many with a dependency on a Benzodiazepine drug may want to detox from it and quit their addiction. This can be extremely dangerous without proper assistance, and it could even be fatal if not handled correctly.
When an individual stops their use of a Benzodiazepine, their body is thrown into imbalance. After developing a dependence on the substance, it is unsure of how to respond to its absence, and so reacts adversely.
As with other addictions, this sudden change can cause withdrawal symptoms. In the case of Benzodiazepines, these manifest in two stages.
Immediately after the withdrawal of Benzodiazepines, the first symptoms to manifest tend to be those that the individual was taking the substance to reduce. These are known as rebound symptoms.
In the absence of the sedative suppressing the underlying thoughts and behaviour, an individual might experience symptoms such as:
- Panic attacks
In addition, an individual may experience symptoms unrelated to their previous mental health conditions. Due to the physical nature of the addiction, these symptoms tend to be physical. They might include:
- Body discomfort, including aches and pains
- Confusion and disorientation
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle weakness and palpitations
- Feelings of intense excitement
This first phase of symptoms usually lasts between 5-14 days after the most recent substance use, but this can depend on certain factors.
An individual’s experience may depend on the length of their addiction, the number of Benzodiazepines they take, or how frequently they are used to taking the substance.
It is important to note that the body’s shock might also cause more fatal effects to occur.
Reacting to the sudden absence of a sedative, an individual might experience seizures or even cardiac arrest. Without proper medical attention, both of these could seriously harm or kill them.
Following this first stage of withdrawal, many of the symptoms will continue to occur but with reduced effect. The body will slowly begin re-establishing a chemical balance without Benzodiazepines, but other symptoms can still arise.
Over the next 12-18 months, the next phase of symptoms will play out, and an individual might experience some of the following:
- Persistent but less intense anxiety
- Reduced appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Mood swings and irritability
Medically assisted detox
Properly conducted detox involves gradual tapering off from Benzodiazepine use. This allows the body to slowly adjust to its absence, with the pace of withdrawal depending on the severity of an individual’s reaction .
As a result of the dangers associated with Benzodiazepine detox, it is important to seek medical help before attempting it. This can provide an individual with multiple benefits and improve their chances of successfully breaking their addiction.
With the help of medical professionals, an individual’s risk of fatality is greatly reduced. Doctors will be able to monitor their health, and step in if there is any risk to their physical or mental wellbeing.
They will also be present to ensure that an individual does not behave in a way that may harm them. For example, they will be there to ensure that an individual does not act upon suicidal thoughts caused by withdrawal depression.
The presence of medical professionals will also improve an individual’s chances of receiving effective treatment.
By analysing the circumstances of their addiction, doctors will be able to design the most effective detox plan for an individual’s personal addiction.
In order to do this, they might consider factors such as:
- How severe an individual’s addiction is
- Whether an individual is struggling with the abuse of another substance at the same time, such as alcohol
- Any pre-existing physical or mental health conditions an individual suffers from
- What symptoms the Benzodiazepine was originally taken to help reduce
By considering these things, a medical professional may be able to provide additional support, introduce alternative therapy methods, or alter the pace of detox.
Monitoring withdrawal symptoms
Another benefit of medically assisted detox pertains to the obstacle of withdrawal symptoms.
Whereas an individual working alone would need to suffer through these symptoms and constantly be at risk of succumbing to them, someone with medical help would receive assistance in managing them.
This would largely come in the form of prescribed medicinal substitutes that would help reduce withdrawal symptoms by keeping the body’s chemistry within balance as an individual quits their addictive substance.
Lower risk Benzodiazepines, for example, might be used to alleviate the dangers of more powerful substances while not disrupting the body’s entire functioning.
Over time, this substitute would be gradually withdrawn, allowing the body to slowly adjust to independence.