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If you’ve heard of Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium, you’ve heard of a benzodiazepine. Frequently prescribed to treat anxiety, promote sleep, help with panic disorders, manage seizures, and in some cases to help manage severe alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepines (frequently referred to as “benzos” for short) depress the central nervous system.
Just like almost every other drug on the market that affects the brain, those who take benzos risk developing an addiction. With addiction, there are side effects to the detox and withdrawal process.
Before we explore what to expect during a benzo detox and withdrawal process, let’s understand what types of drugs we’re dealing with first.
Understanding the Different Types of Benzos
Part of the benzo withdrawal process is determined by how long it takes the drug to leave the bloodstream. This is particularly applicable to benzos as they are often categorized by their potency and how short- or long-acting they are in our system.
Short-acting benzos include Halcion (triazolam), Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), and Versed (midazolam).
Long-acting benzos include Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), and Librium (chlordiazepoxide).
If a dependency on short-acting benzo has developed, withdrawal symptoms may start within 10-12 hours of stopping the drug. For longer-acting benzos like Valium, for example, withdrawal symptoms may take a few days to appear.
The Side Effects of Benzo Abuse
When used as prescribed and for their intended purpose, benzos are still a safe and effective class of medication. However, when overprescribed, illegally obtained, and/or taken recreationally, chronic benzo use can lead to tolerance and subsequent dependence.
Side effects of benzo abuse may include gastrointestinal problems, musculoskeletal issues, impaired memory, focus, and attention, loss of self-confidence, numbed emotions, and even suicidal ideation. Other issues may include frequent absences from work/school, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, poor work or academic performance, and greater risk of abusing more than one drug (called polysubstance abuse).
How Long Does it Take to Withdrawal: A Benzo Detox Timeline
According to a study completed in 2016 by The Mental Health Clinician, benzodiazepine abuse has reached epidemic levels. This abuse is especially common when the benzo is used with other drugs. Most commonly, there is a primary drug of abuse which is often alcohol or an opioid, and the benzo is the secondary drug of abuse.
In addition to the type of benzo used (whether it is short-acting or long-acting), there are other factors that affect the detox process and withdrawal timeline. If the benzo was used with other drugs, how it was ingested, the duration of use, and how much was used each time play a role.
Despite these variations, there are some common expectations for those who quit using benzos.
The first, more acute phase of a benzo withdrawal may begin 10-12 hours after the last dose of the drug and can last seven to 90 days. The second stage called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may last months to years. Even though short-acting benzos might generally have a shorter-term withdrawal process, it’s important to note that benzos often take longer to withdrawal from than most people anticipate.
Prepare for the Benzodiazepine Detox Symptoms: What to Expect
As the body flushes the benzos out of its system in an attempt to return to a normal state, it will undergo a variety of symptoms. Ironically with benzos, the withdrawal symptoms mimic the very symptoms the drugs are prescribed to help the individual manage.
A few hours – Seven days: Commons symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, and nausea. There is a risk of seizures; medical supervision is required.
Seven days – two weeks: Longer-acting benzos continue to leave the system. Detox symptoms include rebound anxiety and insomnia.
15+ days: Acute symptoms begin to fade. Other symptoms from PAWS may begin including drug cravings, depression, and irritability may appear at any time. Treatment should be continued.
The Most Important Things to Know About Quitting Benzodiazepines
Quitting benzos is a longer process than most expect, and it’s not an easy process. Just like quitting opioids or other alcohol, do not go cold turkey. The process will be difficult to manage and cravings will often lead the user back to the drug. Since benzos are frequently abused with other drugs, quitting is a process that should involve the care of a medically-trained professional who can monitor the symptoms and make the situation as comfortable as possible. Getting clean is absolutely possible. Although it may be a difficult process that is at times uncomfortable, many have done it and gone on to live healthy, sober lives.
For help with treating a benzo addiction, or more information about a benzo withdrawal detox, and to speak with a benzo treatment expert confidentially about how you or a loved one can get the help you need to find freedom from addiction. Please contact us today.