According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), benzodiazepine, or “benzo” drugs, are depressant medications that treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizure disorders. Benzodiazepines may even be used in treatment and detoxification from alcohol. They are legal when a doctor prescribes them, but some people may abuse these prescriptions or buy benzos illegally.
While benzos do have legitimate medical purposes, when people misuse them, they may develop a tolerance and become dependent upon them. This means that when they stop using benzos or reduce their doses, they will experience withdrawal. According to a report in Emergency Medicine News, some patients may even experience withdrawal symptoms when taking benzos under a doctor’s supervision.
What are symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal?
Some withdrawal symptoms associated with benzo withdrawal include:
- Uncomfortable body sensations like goosebumps or skin crawling
- Unexplained aches & pains
- Anxiety & depression
- Hallucinations: auditory, tactile and visual
- Dissociation from reality
- Grand mal seizure
- Hand tremors
- Stimuli hypersensitivity
- Irritability & restlessness
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea & vomiting
- Panic attacks
- Memory and concentration problems
- Racing pulse
- Visual disturbances
These symptoms usually appear two to four days after a patient stops taking benzos.
Given the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with benzos, patients may have to complete detox programs, where a medical staff provides care as their bodies rid themselves of benzos. If you have been taking benzo drugs and find it necessary to stop, you may be wondering if it is safe to complete benzo detox at home. Experts have conducted research to answer this question, and most agree that the appropriate detox procedure varies depending upon each unique patient’s experience with benzo withdrawal.
Benzo Detox Safety Considerations
As mentioned previously, benzo detox can involve uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms on their own can make it difficult to detox at home without medical intervention, but discomfort alone is not necessarily unsafe. That being said, some cases of benzodiazepine withdrawal can be severe, placing patients at risk of complications if they complete benzo detox at home.
Before learning about these complications, it is important to understand why benzo withdrawal occurs. According to a 2017 report in the New England Journal of Medicine, benzo withdrawal symptoms happen because the nervous system becomes hyperactive in the absence of the sedating effects of benzodiazepines. In addition to the previously noted withdrawal symptoms, patients who are undergoing benzo detox may experience blurry vision, dry mouth, elevated heart rate, tense muscles, and flu-like symptoms such as sweating. If a person stops benzo use suddenly, seizures are fairly common, and in severe cases, benzo detox may cause a person to experience delirium, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Not all cases of benzo withdrawal are severe, but some severe cases can be rather dangerous. For example, a review of the research on benzo withdrawal seizures was published in a 2011 edition of The Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. The review found that withdrawal seizures can occur during detox from various benzo medications, but they mostly occur in those who take high doses of benzos for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, some people may experience seizures after taking lower doses of benzos for periods of under 15 days. While some patients only suffer from one seizure during benzo detox, others have severe seizures, leading to coma or even death.
Deciding Whether to Detox from Benzos at Home
While some patients undergoing benzo detox will experience severe complications such as potentially fatal seizures, others will have only mild symptoms, so whether it is safe to detox at home will vary from person-to-person. In order to ensure safety, it is important to first discuss benzo detoxification with a medical professional, regardless of whether a patient ultimately decides to detox at home or in a hospital setting. A doctor can evaluate symptoms, review medication history, and decide whether it is safe for an individual patient to complete benzo detox at home.
According to a report in the professional journal Addiction, withdrawal is more severe among those who take high doses of benzos. It is also worse in patients who take short-acting benzos, which means their effects are relatively brief. People who take larger doses or who have been using a short-acting benzo may find that it is not safe to detox at home. Regardless of the safety of at-home detox, all benzodiazepine users should consult a doctor prior to stopping use of their medication to ensure that a medical professional is overseeing their detox process. It is important to be honest about the history of benzodiazepine use or abuse, so that the doctor who is monitoring the detox can choose the best plan of care to prevent complications.
What Will Benzo Detox Look Like?
For those who have mild to moderate symptoms, benzo detox can typically occur safely at home, but moderate to severe cases likely require care in a hospital setting. For someone who completes a safe benzo detox at home, a doctor will monitor as the patient gradually reduces his or her daily medication dose until it is no longer needed.
How long does benzo detox last?
According to the 2017 report in the New England Journal of Medicine, this process typically lasts for about six weeks, and it is generally the best treatment approach for benzo detox. In some cases, people taking shorter-acting benzos like alprazolam or lorazepam may switch to diazepam during benzo detox, as diazepam has longer-lasting effects, making the withdrawal process less uncomfortable. Experts writing for the British Journal of Medical Practitioners have cautioned that in order for benzo detox with dose reduction to be successful in an outpatient setting, patients must be committed to reducing their doses and compliant with the process.
Is benzo withdrawal worse if you take higher doses?
Since withdrawal from benzos tends to be more severe for those taking high doses of these drugs, the experts generally recommend that benzo detox occur in a hospital setting among patients taking large doses. For those taking the equivalent of 100 mg or more of diazepam each day, for instance, benzo detox at home may not be safe. If a patient is admitted to the hospital for benzo detox, medical staff will monitor symptoms as benzo doses are gradually reduced. One advantage of this process is that doctors can reduce doses without the patient being aware of the exact dose he or she is receiving.
In some cases, medical providers may choose an alternative treatment approach, such as using medications aside from benzos during the detox process. For instance, according to experts writing for the medical publication Australian Prescriber, anticonvulsant medications like carbamazepine and pregabalin may be useful during benzo detox.
Life after Benzo Detox
Following safe benzo detox, it is necessary for patients to receive ongoing care to address the underlying conditions that led to benzodiazepine dependence and withdrawal. For example, if a patient became dependent upon benzodiazepines because of severe anxiety, the patient would benefit from ongoing counseling or psychological services to treat the anxiety. On the other hand, if a person develops a benzodiazepine addiction as a coping mechanism for trauma or another stressor, therapy can help to address these underlying problems.
According to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine, cognitive behavioral therapy may be especially useful for treating patients after they have completed benzo detox, as it can teach coping skills and help patients to fight anxiety. In addition, some research suggests that this type of therapy is effective when used in combination with standard detox approaches, like gradually reducing benzo dose. Educational groups that teach patients about relaxation and healthy sleep habits can also be useful for recovering from benzo dependence. 12 step programs like Narcotics Anonymous or Pills Anonymous may be helpful in overcoming benzo addiction as well.
When making the decision to stop taking benzodiazepines, the first step, regardless of what specific treatment program a person chooses, it to seek advice from a medical professional. People may often wonder, “Is it safe to complete benzo detox at home?” While the answer to this question is that withdrawal management and detox can safely occur at home, it is also reasonable to conclude that it is never safe to simply stop taking benzo medications without first consulting a doctor.
Some cases of withdrawal may be mild, but there is also a potential for serious and life-threatening consequences, such as seizures. In addition, some patients may experience severe psychological side effects during withdrawal, such as paranoia and hallucinations, which can endanger a patient as well. While it may be safe to complete benzo detox at home while under a doctor’s care, at-home benzo detox is never safe without the advice of a professional. Reach out for help today if you plan to stop using benzos and put yourself through the detox process.
If you, or someone you love, are struggling with benzo withdrawal, Compass Detox in South Florida can help. Contact us today.