Anxiety and stress are often hard to manage. For most people, handling stress is akin to overcoming any life challenge. For others, standard coping techniques aren’t enough. When everyday stressors become too much to bear, medical intervention often becomes necessary. In fact, psychiatrists frequently prescribe anti-anxiety medications to individuals with anxiety disorders who are unable to live normally. For the millions  of individuals prescribed anti-anxiety drugs each year, medications like benzodiazepines (benzos)— including Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan— can make the trials and tribulations of daily life more bearable. However, relying too heavily on benzos can be the start of a crippling cycle of addiction. A few pills before or during anxiety attacks can lead to a full-blown psychological and physical dependency, radically transforming one problem into another. If the prescription use becomes prescription abuse, then benzo detox becomes necessary.
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What Are Benzos?
Benzos are a part of a class of drug knows as tranquilizers and are generally prescribed for anxiety disorders. As one of the most prescribed drug types in the United States, benzos are used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, alcohol withdrawal, and seizures. While addicting for many patients, benzos are not as dangerous as compared to other drugs. So, professionals have categorized benzos as Schedule IV controlled substances.
In order to produce stress-fighting results, benzos target Gamma Amino Butyric Acid, or GABA, receptors in the brain. These receptors are part of the GABA system, a complex structure within the central nervous system that addresses stress signals. In high anxiety times, the GABA system releases additional molecules designed to stimulate calming feelings and reduce the physiological effects of anxiousness.
However, in some individuals, the GABA system doesn’t work as it should, causing severe and ongoing anxiety in normal situations. Benzos stimulate the body’s natural stress management techniques, allowing those with anxiety disorders to live a healthier, happier life.
The term “benzodiazepine” applies to numerous medications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved roughly 15 of them. These drugs can be divided into three distinct classes: short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting.
Short-acting benzos include Versed and Halcion and act extremely quickly once within the body. Responses are fast, and peak onset is often within an hour or less. Intermediate-acting benzos, like Xanax and Ativan, take a little longer to take effect, peaking within a few hours. These medications are often best for insomnia, due to the fast-acting behavior and quick effects.
Long-acting alternatives like Valium, on the other hand, take longer to affect the body, but results have a longer duration. Long-acting benzos can trigger more severe withdrawal symptoms for those who develop usage dependencies.
Addiction to medications like Xanax isn’t as publicized as dependency on substances like cocaine or heroin, but benzo abuse is just as dangerous. Although physicians typically approve short-term benzos use to treat stress and anxiety, misuse has the potential to lead to addiction. After all, medications like benzos specifically alter brain chemistry through the artificial generation of molecules that bind to receptors. This is what affects mood and reduces stress. However, extreme chemical changes in the brain put prescription users at risk of developing dependence and, ultimately, benzo addiction.
Over time and with regular use, the body and brain develop a tolerance toward benzos. Most users respond to this tolerance by taking their medications more frequently, at more massive doses, or both to achieve the same desired results as the initial prescription dosage. However, increasing dosages can intensify side effects and make it much harder to stop using. In time, even casual users may find it more challenging to quit benzos use.
For most users facing a benzo addiction, breaking the habit is almost impossible without professional benzo detox. A team of detox professionals— especially ones that offer comprehensive inpatient support— can help you take the first steps toward rehabilitation and lifelong sobriety.
Signs of Benzo Addiction
Although benzos are legally available through a doctor’s prescription, it is imperative to use it as directed. Misusing benzos can turn into a life-changing habit.
Generally, high doses can lead to loss of inhibitions, trouble focusing, and erratic driving. However, you may also notice signs like:
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Hostility or aggression
- Blurred or double vision
- Amnesia or memory loss
- Stomach cramps or vomiting
- Dizziness or muscle weakness
Due to the differences between the numerous forms of benzos available, symptoms may differ from person to person and from pill to pill.
Consequences of Benzo Addiction
Benzo overdose is possible but rare. In general, an overdose will cause slow, shallow, or labored breathing, severe fatigue, and weakness. Overdoses rarely cause death or coma unless mixed with other substances, like alcohol. Still, benzo-related death rates are on the rise . Those who take benzo should never mix their prescriptions with alcohol or other drugs, but addicted individuals may be less likely to follow this recommendation.
Benzo Detox and Withdrawal
As with most addictions, quitting benzos without medical help can lead to uncomfortable or even painful withdrawal symptoms. Due to the physical component of dependency, long-term users are especially at risk. In most cases, quitting Valium, Xanax, Ativan, or similar brands of benzos requires medical intervention from a trained physician. Severe anxiety is a frequent side effect of withdrawal in all benzos, which makes the compulsion to keep using extremely strong.
The severity of withdrawals will depend both on the medication in question, body chemistry, and length of use. Some benzos are less intense than others, making it easier to detox. Others, especially long-acting medications like Valium, can be especially challenging to purge from the body.
Some common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Muscle weakness
- Abdominal cramps
- Agitation or aggression
- Severe anxiety or worry
- Confusion or headaches
To make withdrawal as comfortable as possible, those who are struggling with benzo addiction should always detox in a certified and accredited rehabilitation facility.
The Importance of Benzo Detox
One’s ability to independently quit an abused substance is one of the biggest fallacies of addiction. After all, addiction is a disease, not a choice. And addicts cannot stop without help. This is especially true of brain-altering medications like benzos.
The nature of benzos makes detox an uphill battle. Some patients, especially those taking short-acting variations, may only need a few days to get over withdrawal symptoms. Others, however, may take multiple weeks to begin feeling normal once more. This is especially true for those addicted to medications with a longer half-life, like Valium. Plus, detoxing from benzos alone is dangerous. Without medical intervention, benzo withdrawal can have severe side effects like seizures, extreme anxiety attacks, or chronic insomnia. So, medically-supervised benzo detox is necessary for patient safety.
Undergoing Benzo Detox
Detoxification (detox) is almost always the first stage in inpatient rehabilitation. Once patients enter treatment, they start with a private detox experience, removed from others in recovery. Distractions like music, television, or Internet access are also cut off. This allows patients to work one-on-one with the medical staff to focus on nothing but recovery.
Doctors and nurses keep patients fed, hydrated, and properly medicated to minimize withdrawal symptoms during the time spent in detox. Most detox programs span from three days to a week or more and are generally customized based on a patient’s unique needs.
Acute Benzo Withdrawal and PAWS
The process of withdrawing from benzos happens in two stages: acute withdrawal and PAWS. Detox programs generally only address the first stage, although both are a significant part of the addiction recovery process.
During acute withdrawal, recovering substance abusers feel the most significant side effects. The first week or two of benzo detox is often the worst. Symptoms typically appear within two days of the last benzos dosage and will become more severe over the next five to ten days. During this time, most patients experience a full range of side effects including sweating, anxiety, muscle pain, and insomnia. Acute withdrawal usually fades within three to five weeks. Once it passes, most people in recovery go on to experience PAWS.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) refers to the lingering effects that endure after initial withdrawal symptoms fade. PAWS can last from several months to several years, but the side effects are not permanent and do decrease in time.
The length of time your benzo detox takes will depend on your specific benzo addiction and the severity of your dependency. However, programs follow one of two pathways.
The Benefits of Benzo Detox
If you have tried and failed to quit, or you are afraid to try, detox is the best possible way to improve your chances of success. With medical supervision, you can learn the best ways to stay mentally strong, resist cravings, and stay calm and focused throughout the process. Working with doctors and nurses provides a resource when times get tough and ensures access to medications like Flumazenil, as well as other aids like sleeping pills or anti-seizure drugs should problems arise.
While detox is crucial to the addiction recovery process, most licensed rehabilitation facilities have more to offer their patients in recovery. Rehabilitation provides tools that can help you stay strong against cravings and psychological pressures, making assimilation into the outside world easier.
Once detox is complete, and the withdrawal symptoms have dwindled, patients have the opportunity to participate in rehab programs like individual and group therapy sessions. These sessions are designed to boost self-esteem, teach coping techniques, improve stress management skills, build a supportive network of peers, and guide those in recovery toward a brighter, substance-free future.
Fighting Back Against Addiction
The number of people receiving treatment for prescription drug addiction has tripled since 2002 . This is a sad testament to the rise of drug abuse in the United States. If you or someone you love is struggling with benzo addiction or benzo dependency or is showing worrisome signs associated with use, you are not alone.
Our dedicated team of professionals includes doctors, therapists, and counselors who are eager to help you find your footing while overcoming addiction. Our intake counselors are standing by 24/7 to provide help at a moment’s notice. Call 513-909-2225 to get started on the road to a sober future.
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