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Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment

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Benzodiazepine addiction treatment involves medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy), and relaxation techniques. 

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are one of the most frequently prescribed drugs for mental illness. Over 1 in 20 Americans fill a prescription for benzodiazepine each year for their mental health. 

Benzos are prescribed to treat:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Panic Disorders
  • Sleep Problems (Insomnia)
  • Muscle Spasms (Seizures)

Though not as addictive as narcotics or opiates, benzos can become addictive if you misuse/abuse them. Most notably, drug abuse can lead to potentially fatal overdoses. Benzo-related overdose deaths increased from 1,135 in 1999 to 11,537 in 2017, reported by the National Institutes of Drug Addiction (NIDA.)

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Benzodiazepine Addiction Fact Sheet

  • Benzo-involved overdose deaths skyrocketed by over 400 percent between 1996 and 2013. 
  • There was a 5-fold increase in admissions involving both benzos and narcotic pain medications from 2000 to 2010.

What is Benzodiazepine Detox?

Detoxing is the first step of benzodiazepine addiction treatment. It stabilizes your body and prepares it for further treatment. Benzodiazepine detox allows your body to safely get rid of the drug with medical supervision, thereby reducing the chances of benzo withdrawal syndrome and other serious side effects. 

During detox, your doctor will gradually lower the dosage. Dose tapering is necessary if you have used high doses over extended periods. Most experts recommend tapering over 7 to 14 days. Those who have used short-acting benzodiazepines – clorazepate (Tranxene), midazolam (Versed), and triazolam (Halcion) – may also need dose tapering. 

Depending on the type of benzo, medically assisted detox can last a few days to a few weeks. Because benzodiazepines are potent drugs, detox is often carried out in a specialized detox center or facility under the supervision of specialists, nurses, and other trained professionals. Self-detox is not recommended, and in some cases, can be dangerous.

What is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?

Withdrawal refers to a group of uncomfortable signs and symptoms that may occur when you stop taking an addictive substance. For example, some people may experience acute withdrawal after reducing the dose. 

Benzodiazepine withdrawal is common and can affect anyone who has used it long term. Symptoms can vary in severity and usually begin within 24 hours after the last dose. With proper treatment, most symptoms go away within a few days to a few weeks.

The occurrence, severity, and duration of withdrawal depend on:

  • Duration of benzodiazepine use
  • Dose
  • The pattern of misuse/abuse
  • Co-occurrence of a mental disorder
  • Use of other habit-forming substances, such as alcohol and opioids

Signs and Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

  • Tremor (shaking)
  • Flickering movements under the skin (fasciculations)
  • Muscle pain and stiffness in the legs, arms, back, neck, and jaw
  • Dizziness, light-headedness
  • Pins and needles
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Ringing in one or both ears
  • Unsteadiness
  • Confusion (especially in older individuals)
  • Reduced awareness of the surrounding
  • False beliefs irrelevant to reality
  • Experiencing things that do not exist
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Problems falling or staying asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty remembering names or dates
  • Problems with focus
  • Metallic taste
  • Low mood
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound, touch, or taste
  • Bizarre sensations (e.g. ‘cotton wool’ sensations)
  • Feelings of unreality
infographic of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms

Why Prescribing Benzodiazepines to Addicts Can Be Dangerous

Cautious prescribing is key to reducing the odds of benzodiazepine addiction. Years of research have found benzos safe and effective for treating many conditions, including alcohol withdrawal. Sadly, these benefits come at a price; benzos can themselves be addictive. No wonder the DEA has categorized benzos as Schedule IV drugs.

Prescribing benzodiazepines to anybody with substance use disorder can be a potentially fatal decision. According to NIDA, in 2019, about 16 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths also involved benzodiazepines. 

Using opioids with benzodiazepines can cause excessive sedation and dangerously slowed breathing – increasing the risk of protracted withdrawal, coma, or death. Moreover, the combination can cause problems with short term focus and reflexes. In such conditions, driving or using machinery is not recommended due to the potential risk of injuries. 

Benzodiazepines Treatment Options

Treatment may include detoxification (detox) and rehabilitation. Besides, you may need to take certain longer acting medications if you have severe withdrawal symptoms. A combination of medicines and counseling is often the most effective treatment. 

While detox removes the drug from your body, medications and counseling help, you stick to the treatment program. Once you have stabilized and no longer experience cravings, you will likely be transferred to another phase of treatment known as aftercare. 

Because benzos can be hard to quit, it is best to consult an addiction specialist. Notably, seeking treatment at a specialized facility protects you against harmful withdrawal and improves the chances of full recovery. These addiction treatment centers provide a wide range of therapies, including:

Benzodiazepines Addiction Treatment Medications

In addition to counseling, your doctor may also prescribe medications to:

  • Help you sleep, such as zolpidem (Ambien) and melatonin (Natrol)
  • Improve mood, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or escitalopram (Lexapro) 
  • Relieve anxiety and stress, such as clonidine (Catapres)
  • Control seizures, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol)

For benzo addiction, a combination of medicines and counseling is the best approach. You should seek professional help at a specialized facility if you or anyone you love has benzo addiction. Doing so will help quit the addiction, prevent relapse, and reduce the risk of overdose. Learn more about our admissions process and getting in touch with our licensed medical staff today.