Many addicts believe they can quit “cold turkey.” As long as their willpower is strong enough, they assume they do not need rehabilitation or other long-term treatment. However, beating a drug addiction is not a matter of willpower, and quitting drugs cold turkey is extremely dangerous. Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are some of the most dangerous drugs to quit taking. Their withdrawals can be deadly, so if you are trying to stop them, you should seek medical detox.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are effective in treating several conditions. As a result, users may not be fully aware they are taking them. Benzodiazepines are usually used to treat anxiety or insomnia. However, they also effectively treat seizures and convulsions, nausea and vomiting, and alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are used for general anesthesia or muscle relaxation.
Valium and Xanax are two of the most common benzos. Others include Ativan, Klonopin, Serax, and Halcion. Fast-acting benzodiazepines begin working in as little as 30-60 minutes. Slower-acting agents take several hours to work. Action duration can be as little as 11 hours, or as long as three days.
Dangers of Certain Benzos
While all benzodiazepine withdrawal is dangerous, some drugs are more deadly than others. Xanax, in particular, has been called “The Dangerous Benzodiazepine.” Its half-life, or the time it takes for the drug’s blood concentration to fall to half its peak value after a dose, is around 11 hours in the average adult. Thus, the effects of Xanax come on quickly and potently. Conversely, Xanax wears off quickly, causing users to take more in search of its calming effects. Xanax addiction happens faster than addiction to other downers.
Valium is another particularly dangerous benzo. It is one of the most common benzodiazepines on the illicit drug market. Some users take large amounts of Valium to mimic the effects of small amounts of Xanax. For example, a person taking 100 milligrams per day of Valium is taking an equivalent 5 milligrams of Xanax. While this might not sound like much, both drugs are extremely potent in these amounts.
How Benzodiazepine Addiction Happens
Many people become addicted to downers without fully realizing it. They begin with a prescription for a legitimate anxiety or pain issue, but due to the short half-lives of the drugs, the effects don’t last long. Therefore, the addict builds up a tolerance for higher doses. His or her doctor may realize what is happening and refuse to prescribe more of the benzos.
In cases where one doctor refuses to prescribe a benzodiazepine, an addict may engage in “doctor shopping.” Many users report going to one clinic and complaining of an individual issue, meeting with a doctor, and getting one prescription for Xanax, Valium, or OxyContin. Then the addict will go to a different clinic, report a different issue, and get a prescription for another benzodiazepine. The user learns to mix benzos for maximum effects, but he or she also increases the risk of severe symptoms, overdose, coma, or death.
The Dangers of Withdrawal from Downers
Detoxing is the most dangerous phase for the addict. Benzodiazepines are designed to alter brain chemistry, so the patient doesn’t experience anxiety, insomnia, or any other ailment for which the medicine is prescribed. However, this efficacy is what makes benzodiazepine withdrawal potentially deadly. An addict cannot “quit cold turkey” because his or her brain and body are both intensely dependent on the drug of choice. Even with regular dosages of the benzodiazepine, long-term use can lead to withdrawal-type symptoms.
Benzodiazepine users typically receive little support or advice when trying to stop using. Depending on the drug, withdrawal may not set in for days or weeks, giving the addict a false sense of security. Once withdrawal is in full swing, pain can be so severe the user returns to his or her drug for relief. The potential for overdose is especially high in such cases.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms often begin with symptoms the drug was initially meant to treat. That is a person who experienced anxiety or panic attacks may have severe flare-ups. Restlessness is common, as are aches and pains; some addicts experience chest pain and may worry they have heart attacks. Cramps, numbness, dizziness, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, urgency, and incontinence may occur.
During withdrawal, the brain chemistry will undergo severe changes. Most benzo addicts report memory and concentration problems. Others develop paranoia or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Some users develop issues with perception, such as feeling that stationary objects are moving. Electric shock sensations and seizures can occur; if untreated, these may lead to coma or death.
Dealing with Benzodiazepine Detoxification Correctly
The safest way to undergo benzodiazepine withdrawal is with medical supervision. Contact your doctor or the professionals at a rehabilitation facility such as Reflections Recovery Center. Do not attempt to quit on your own, and do not lean only on family and friends for withdrawal care. Depending on your addiction, your doctor or another professional may recommend checking into inpatient treatment.
Seeking Help for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
If you or a loved one is addicted to benzodiazepines, get help now. Contact Reflections Recovery Center to learn about our program, which includes professional detox treatment & clinical therapies.