As one of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States, many people are not aware of the potential dangers benzodiazepines pose. In addition to being extremely addictive, people taking a benzodiazepine for prolonged periods of time are at risk for developing withdrawal symptoms. Common side effects include:
• Feelings of depression
• Impaired memory
Benzodiazepines were intended for short-term use, typically two to four weeks in duration, however long-term use of these medications is becoming more popular. People taking these medications for longer periods of time are at high risk for developing a physical dependence. Once a person develops a physical dependence for a benzodiazepine, he/she will begin taking larger doses more frequently to achieve the same desired effect. This cycle can quickly spin out of control, and before the person knows it, he/she has developed a substance use dependency (SUD). People suffering from SUDs are extremely addicted to these medications, and the option for discontinuing use becomes more difficult. If takes a benzodiazepine continuously for longer than a few months and suddenly discontinues use, he/she is at risk for withdrawal symptoms including seizures, vomiting, tremors, muscle cramping and sweating. People who have developed an addiction to any benzodiazepine, should not attempt to discontinue using the medication at home, and seek medical assistance in order to safely taper of the medicine. Quitting “cold turkey” puts one at risk for severe health complications due to the withdrawal symptoms.
Pregnant and/or nursing women should avoid taking these medications as they have been linked to birth defects. There are studies indicating a link between long-term usage of benzodiazepines in older people (65 years of age and older) and an increased risk of dementia. Patients reporting drowsiness and grogginess to benzodiazepines are at greater risk for falls. Impaired memory and the inability to learn and retain new information have been linked to using these drugs (Harvard Health Publishing, 2019). It’s important to note that older individuals are more likely to experience these side effects.
Benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal symptoms
As previously mentioned, benzodiazepines were developed for short-term use to alleviate anxiety and insomnia. These medications are considered safe when following the proper dosage and duration advised by a physician, however, many people enjoy the calming effects of these medications and begin abusing them. Taking a benzodiazepine for longer than prescribed, increasing the dose without approval from the prescribing doctor or taking one of these medications when they are not prescribed to you are considered forms of benzodiazepine abuse. Those abusing these drugs put themselves in a great deal of danger. Taking these medications in conjunction with opioids or alcohol is also considered to be extremely risky behavior. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), hospital admissions related to the abuse of benzodiazepine drugs for people over the age of twelve rose from 22,400 in 1998 to approximately 60,200 in 2008 (Nordqvist, 2018). In fact, more than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involved benzodiazepines (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). Signs of overdose include:
• Blurred vision
• Slurred speck
• Lack of coordination
• Difficulty breathing
Due to the elevated risk for developing a dependency, it’s imperative that people are honest with their doctors about their use, or misuse, of benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline
Benzo withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on a variety of factors including the type of medication, dosage and the length of time the drug was used. Withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after the last dose and can last months, even years after discontinuing the medication.
1 – 4 Days:
This is the beginning stages of benzo withdrawal symptoms, which often mimic the symptoms the medication was intended to treat. People may experience anxiety, sweating, headaches and panic attacks.
5 – 19 Days:
Acute benzodiazepine withdrawal phase, where symptoms peak, is approximately at the two-week mark. People may experience insomnia, palpitations, seizures, muscle aches and pain, perceptual changes and hallucinations, depression, flu-like symptoms, nausea and dry retching and weight loss. This is when withdrawal symptoms are most severe.
Months – Years:
Benzo withdrawal symptoms may come and go and lessen in severity. Reduced symptoms can persist for up to one year or more depending on the severity of the addiction.
Treatment for benzodiazepine addiction
The first step towards treating benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal is to admit there is an issue. Be honest and true with yourself. If you are taking these medications in conjunction with alcohol or opioids, it’s crucial that you disclose this information. The team at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center understands the dangers one faces when attempting to taper down from an addictive medication. Patients undergoing detox receive 24-hour supervision from our team of licensed medical professionals. Should a patient exhibit signs of withdrawal, our caring staff will determine if administering a medication to offset any feeling of discomfort is appropriate. Each patient admitted to our nationally recognized drug and alcohol rehabilitation center receives a tailor-made treatment plan designed to meet the specific needs of that patient. Patients are treated with the utmost respect and dignity, and we make every effort to make our patients comfortable during the detoxification and treatment process.
From the moment a person picks up the phone to ask for help, we are here for them during their entire journey towards recovery. By providing full support with processing insurance, arranging transportation to our recovery center and introducing patients to our licensed medical team we provide patients with lifelong tools and techniques to achieve a life free from the restrictions of addiction.
It’s completely understandable for a person to be nervous or reluctant to reach out for help. That’s why we’re here. It’s our goal for every patient to feel safe, secure and welcome during their time with us. The Harmony Ridge Recovery Center team is 100% committed to your success and goes above and beyond to ensure every patient receives the dedicated care that he/she deserves. When you choose Harmony Ridge Recovery Center for your drug rehabilitation treatment, you will enjoy many amenities in a serene atmosphere that is in no way like a hospital. Patients enjoy the breathtaking mountain views, outdoor activities, full cafeteria, fitness room and an indoor heated pool. This is a true refuge for those seeking treatment who want to maintain complete focus on their recovery. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact us directly at 888-771-8372.
American Psychiatric Association (2018, December 17) Increasing use, and misuse, of benzodiazepines. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181217081756.htm
Nordqvist, J. (2019 March 7) The benefits and risks of benzodiazepines. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809.php
WebMD (2019) Benzodiazepine Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/benzodiazepine-abuse#1
Harvard Health Publishing (2019, March 15) Benzodiazepines (and the alternatives). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/benzodiazepines_and_the_alternatives
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018, March) Benzodiazepines and Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids