Medically-Supervised Benzodiazepine Detox Programs
Benzodiazepine medications are commonly prescribed during the detox process for other substances of abuse, like opioids. They are recommended for use only for a short period of time and for a specific purpose.
Long-term benzodiazepine use is strongly discouraged, due to the risk of irreversible damage. However, benzodiazepines have been prescribed as the long-term treatment for many mental health diagnoses.
Benzodiazepine dependence is not unusual, and can occur in a short amount of time. Taking benzodiazepines for longer than a couple weeks is not advised, and many people who take benzodiazepines for longer find themselves developing a dependence. A person who is struggling with benzodiazepine dependence is encouraged to find a medical detoxification program.
Understanding Benzodiazepines And Their Interactions
Benzodiazepines are often used to treat anxiety and withdrawal symptoms of other substances. Used as a short-term medication, benzodiazepines can be quite effective.
Benzodiazepines typically relax nerves which helps to alleviate anxiety, prevent anxiety associated with panic disorder, and promote sleep. However, over time, benzodiazepines can lose their effectiveness, and the symptoms the drug is prescribed to treat can reappear.
There are many different benzodiazepines, and they stay in your body for different lengths of time. This is why it is important to take benzodiazepines exactly as prescribed. If a person takes too much at once, or takes the next dose early, there is a risk of overdose.
The way that benzodiazepines affect the brain impacts the potential for addiction. In addition to affecting the sedation area of the brain, benzodiazepines cause the same rush of dopamine (feel-good neurotransmitter) in the brain that opioids do. Long-term benzodiazepine use has been linked to significant, long-term cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dependence can occur after a short time of benzodiazepine use. It is dependence, and the withdrawal symptoms it leads to, that create the need for a detoxification program.
The following is a list of warning signs that a person may be misusing benzodiazepines and in need of addiction treatment:
- mood changes
- blurred visions
- impaired thinking
- poor judgment
- increased risk-taking behavior
- taking benzodiazepines with other drugs or alcohol
- doctor shopping (going to multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions)
- wanting to stop use and not being able to
Many of the following withdrawal symptoms can be avoided if a benzodiazepine detox program is followed. Many of these symptoms can be intense and, if not properly managed, can lead to continued benzodiazepine use.
The following symptoms may occur during benzodiazepine withdrawal:
- muscle pain/tremors
- concentration issues
- problems sleeping
- panic attacks
- heart palpitations
What Are Benzodiazepine Detox Programs?
It is recommended that the first step for a treatment program for benzodiazepine dependence is a medically supervised detox program. Stopping the medication “cold turkey”, or abruptly and without help, is discouraged, because withdrawal symptoms can result in psychosis, seizures, and even death.
Reducing the amount of benzodiazepines a person takes over time (called tapering) may help prevent and alleviate some withdrawal symptoms, and reduce the risk of relapse.
Tapering Off Benzodiazepines
Typically, during tapering, the patient will receive a lower dose of their current benzodiazepine or the doctor may decide to prescribe a weaker, long-acting benzodiazepine during this initial phase of the detox program. This is to attempt to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay, or at least reduce them to manageable levels. Two of the benzodiazepines usually prescribed are diazepam (Valium) or clonazepam (Klonopin).
Tapering using this method may take more than eight weeks, and usually has to be completed outside a treatment program or hospital setting. Being in a controlled environment is a factor that positively affects the outcome of treatment. Inpatient treatment programs can modify this timeline or an alternative rapid detox program may be used.
Rapid Benzodiazepine Detoxification (RBD) Program
This type of detox program can reduce the time it takes to detox from benzodiazepines from months to days. This method of detox is typically reserved for patients who have not used benzodiazepines long-term, but who need to be carefully monitored to ensure patient safety.
In this method, all benzodiazepines are stopped and flumazenil (Romazicon) is administered through injection or infusion. Flumazenil helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and at the end of approximately eight days, the patient is benzodiazepine-free.
Medications That May Be Prescribed During Benzodiazepine Detox
Buspirone (Buspar) is an anti-anxiety medication that can help during benzodiazepine detoxification. This medication has not been shown to cause dependence and has been found to ease emotional symptoms of withdrawal.
Buspirone is sometimes prescribed to a patient as they taper off benzodiazepines, because it can take over two weeks before results are noticed.
Treatment For Benzodiazepine Abuse And Addiction
Benzodiazepine detox programs are an important first step in benzodiazepine addiction treatment programs. Clearing any medications from the body that have sedative properties, like benzodiazepines, will be helpful during treatment. Being able to fully participate in therapy and education during treatment will likely help a person maintain sobriety.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has become dependent on benzodiazepines, there is help available. Please contact one of our treatment specialists today and allow us to help start you on the path to recovery.Article resources
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Misuse of Prescription Drugs