Benzodiazepine Withdrawal: Symptoms, Treatment and Timeline

Medications such as benzodiazepines can be prescribed as an effective way to treat certain health conditions. When those medications themselves become a threat to an individual’s health, it is time to learn how to safely stop their use. The symptoms, treatment and timeline are important factors in understanding how to manage benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Benzodiazepine Treatments

Man-made medications, benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, seizures, and other conditions. The drug acts by causing mild to severe depression of the nerves with the brain, also known as the central nervous system. Anxiety and seizures are often caused by excessive activity of the nerves in the brain. Benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter known as GABA, a chemical used by nerves to send messages to each other. The medication is also used as a sedative and is prescribed as a treatment for insomnia.

Habit-Forming Drugs

Although benzodiazepines have valid indications for certain medical conditions, they are also habit forming and can lead to dependence and addiction. People who use the drug can develop a tolerance, meaning they will need higher doses to achieve the same effect. The medication is also frequently misused, because of its effects on the brain.

Effectiveness Timelines

Benzodiazepines come in different forms, under different brand names. Each of these also has a different timeline for their effectiveness, referred to as their rate of onset. Valium and Tranxene have fast onsets and usually begin working with 30 to 60 minutes. Serax has a slow onset. Ativan, Klonopin and Xanax have intermediate onsets.

Each of these types also has a different duration within the system. Tranxene and Halcion are considered to be short-acting agents with durations of three to eight hours. Xanax, Ativan, Prosom and Restoril are intermediate-acting agents and have durations of 11 to 20 hours. Librium, Klonopin, Valium, Dalmane and quazepam are long-acting and have durations of one to three days.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Managing withdrawal symptoms properly is critically important for an individual’s health and safety. Sudden withdrawal can cause severe consequences. Stopping the use of the medication can cause symptoms that start within 24 hours of the last dose and that can last from a few days to several months. Withdrawing is even more challenging for the individual who has become dependent or addicted to the drug.

Individual symptoms from withdrawal will also depend on the half-life of the drug, defined by how long it takes for the drug’s active substances in the body to be reduced by half. Short-acting drugs such as Xanax can result in withdrawal symptoms appearing quicker after the last dose than long-acting drugs such as Valium.

Withdrawal Symptom Timelines

Shortly after a person stops taking benzodiazepines, early withdrawal symptoms may start to appear. The individual taking the medication for a specific condition may also notice the symptoms of that condition starting to return. When they stop using the drug, they may see the return of their anxiety or insomnia, for example.

After the initial withdrawal symptoms, a period of acute withdrawal will begin, typically within just a few days. These symptoms might last from 5 to 28 days, or even for several more months for some people. This is the phase in which most of the symptoms of withdrawal will occur. Most people believe this is the most difficult phase of withdrawal from benzodiazepines.

Symptoms can include physical aches and pains, muscle spasms, hyperventilation, anxiety attacks, trouble concentrating, nausea, hypersensitivity, vomiting, panic attacks, depression, hallucinations and delusions.

Withdrawal symptoms that last longer, sometimes 12 months or longer, are known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS. These symptoms can include depression, mood swings, anxiety, insomnia and poor concentration.

Supervised Withdrawal and Treatment

Supervised and closely monitored detoxification is critical for the safety and well-being of the individual withdrawing from benzodiazepines. Not only can the withdrawal symptoms be physically damaging, they can also cause a great deal of stress that can affect a person’s mental health and quality of life.

Treatment starts with the detox process under the guidance of a healthcare professional. The individual can then learn coping strategies and develop tools that will enable them to process the withdrawal more comfortably and safely. Treatment for withdrawal from benzodiazepines will typically involve tapering to make early withdrawal symptoms more manageable, along with supportive counseling and other targeted therapies designed to help the individual overcome their dependence and addiction.

Addiction Treatment in Tennessee

Addiction can be overwhelming. Know that you are not alone. If you or your loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, help is here. The team at Cumberland Heights understands how difficult it can be to overcome addiction. That’s why we provide clinically advanced care to people throughout the state of Tennessee. To learn more about addiction treatment through Cumberland Heights, contact our admissions team today.