Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed medications, and almost 65% of those taking benzos are women. Several factors contribute to this, including higher anxiety and sleep issues. Unfortunately, benzos are highly addictive. Therefore, continued use can lead to benzo addiction. Benzodiazepine addiction treatment can help with substance use disorder and underlying mental health issues.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are prescription medications used to treat a variety of mental disorders and ailments, including severe anxiety, panic attacks, and epileptic seizures. Because benzos can be highly addictive, they are generally for short-term use only.
Types of Benzos
Most benzos come in pill or tablet form, but some brands like Valium can be injected. Even though benzos are legal when prescribed, they are also available on the black market. On the street, benzos are often known as downers, bars, fries, or ladders.
Common benzos include:
Although benzos are effective when prescribed, they are dangerous and can
be addictive. If you feel the negative effects of benzo dependence, you should seek benzodiazepine addiction treatment.
How Do Benzos Affect the Body?
Benzos bind with neurons called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors that slow brain function and relieve stress. However, they can also lead to a euphoric high or buzz. This feeling is followed by prolonged sedation.
Using benzos other than prescribed is considered abuse. For instance, some people crush and snort benzos, which amplifies the drugs’ potency. This increases the risk of overdose. Benzos also slow breathing and heart rates, which can lead to seizures, go into a coma, or even die.
Side Effects of Benzodiazepines
Common side effects of benzos include:
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired coordination
Benzo Addiction: Mixing Benzos and Other Drugs
Mixing drugs is always risky, but mixing certain drugs can be dangerous and even fatal. For example, combining benzos and alcohol can lead to fatal respiratory depression. Because benzos are rarely a user’s only drug of choice, the American Academy of Family Physicians summarizes the following findings:
- 15% of heroin users consume benzos daily.
- 73% of heroin users consume benzos weekly.
- Almost 90% of methadone users consume benzos regularly.
- Roughly 41% of people suffering from alcoholism regularly misuse benzos.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Addiction
Because benzos are prescribed drugs, people often overlook the warning signs of abuse. However, abuse can quickly turn into benzo addiction. Knowing the signs and symptoms of benzo addiction can help you catch it early.
Signs and symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction include:
- Blurred vision
- Blacking out
- Passing out
- Mood changes
- Impaired coordination
- “Doctor shopping”
- Asking others for their pills
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Mixing benzos and other drugs
- Inability to stop
- Withdrawal symptoms
Long-Term Effects of Benzo Addiction
Benzo addiction is one of the hardest addictions to beat because of their impact on brain functions. Depending on different factors, benzo addiction can have long-term effects on cognitive brain functions, such as:
- Impaired concentration and memory
- Decreased reaction time
- Loss of coordination
- Decrease in inhibition
- Permanent cognitive defects
- Muscle stiffness
- Sexual dysfunction
Benzo Addiction and Withdrawal
Benzo users often build a tolerance after taking high doses for a long time. As tolerance builds, people need a higher amount to achieve the same effect. At this point, when a person stops using, withdrawal symptoms begin. Furthermore, withdrawal symptoms affect those prescribed the drug the same as those who get it illegally.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms are emotionally and physically painful. They can also be life-threatening if a person stops “cold turkey.” However, the severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the doses and length of benzo addiction.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
The most common symptoms of benzo withdrawal are often called “rebound” symptoms. They can appear within one to four days of stopping benzo use. They depend on the benzo used, the amount used, and how often a person used. Symptoms typically last up to ten days and include:
- Sleep problems
- Increased tension
- Panic attacks
- Trouble concentrating
- Excessive sweating
- Racing heart
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Changes in perception
- Hand tremors
Less common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Psychotic reactions
- Increase in suicidal thoughts
The timeline of withdrawal is unique to each person’s benzo addiction. The following is a general timeline of withdrawal.
First 6-8 hours: Typically, the first signs of benzo withdrawal are anxiety and insomnia. They appear in the first few hours after stopping. For those taking short-acting benzos, symptoms typically appear within six to eight hours.
Days 1-4: Rebound effect symptoms are peaking. Other symptoms that begin peaking are increased heart rate and breathing, sweating, and nausea. If people used long-acting benzos, the first signs of withdrawal will appear.
Days 10-14: Symptoms of withdrawal typically last 10-14 days before fading away, but withdrawal symptoms of long-lasting benzos begin to peak. Unfortunately, long-lasting benzo withdrawal symptoms don’t disappear for three to four weeks from stopping use.
Days 15+: People who are highly dependent on benzos may have post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), which are random, sharp symptoms that occur months after quitting. Tapering down benzo use in medical detox programs can prevent post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
Post-Acute Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
PAWS often last six months or more. Symptoms include:
- Constant anxiety
- Chronic insomnia
- Trouble performing complex tasks
- Poor concentration
- Loss of sex drive
Rebound Anxiety and Insomnia
Benzos are mainly prescribed for mental health issues such as anxiety. For this reason, stopping the use of benzos brings back the mental problems it was treating. This is known as the rebound effect. Generally, the rebound effect lasts two to three days.
However, rebound effects are not withdrawal symptoms. Whereas withdrawal symptoms are the body’s way of adapting to the lack of benzos, rebound effects are the return of old symptoms.
Benzo Addiction and Dual Diagnosis
Many people with benzo addiction have a co-occurring mental disorder like depression or anxiety. This is why a thorough evaluation and dual diagnosis treatment is essential. For example, a person treated for benzo addiction and not their co-occurring bipolar disorder will quickly relapse when a manic episode begins. If both the benzo addiction and bipolar disorder are addressed in treatment, though, then lasting recovery is possible.
Common co-occurring disorders and benzo addiction include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Antisocial personality disorder
Treatment for Benzo Addiction at New Directions for Women
At New Directions for Women, we understand that women face unique challenges in benzodiazepine addiction treatment. For this reason, each woman’s treatment plan is designed around her benzo addiction needs. Specifically, our treatment plans include innovative holistic therapy options.
Whether you’re a young woman, a woman with children, or a mature woman, we have a program to fit your needs. Since almost 70% of women seeking treatment have children, they’re left choosing between their sobriety and their kids. At New Directions for Women, we offer daycare services and residential services that include living with your children.
In addition to our inpatient benzodiazepine addiction treatment, we offer intensive outpatient and intensive sober living programs. Each program is designed to encourage sober life skills and lifelong recovery.
The first step in benzodiazepine addiction treatment is ridding the body of the drug. It’s crucial to enter a medical detox program because benzo detox at home is dangerous. Above all, stopping “cold turkey” can be fatal. However, medical interventions can lessen the withdrawal symptoms that include seizures and suicidal behaviors.
Additionally, medical detox helps reduce the discomfort of withdrawal. At the same time, it lowers your chance of relapse. While detox typically lasts seven to 10 days, it can last for months, depending on the benzo addiction.
Medical detox often involves tapering down from benzos. This can mean decreasing the dose or prescribing a less potent one. Tapering down depends on the severity of benzo addiction and the type of benzo misused.
Tapering off may include prescribing less potent benzos. Doctors may prescribe diazepam (Valium) or clonazepam (Klonopin). These drugs are long-lasting and less potent. As a result, withdrawal symptoms are kept at bay while reducing the dosage.
Although most people with benzo addiction taper off in detox, other medications may also be prescribed. They can help ease the symptoms of withdrawal during detox and include:
- Buspirone: People with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and a history of addiction are often given buspirone. It relieves the emotional effects of withdrawal without risking dependence.
- Flumazenil: This drug treats benzo overdoses. Although, it may reduce withdrawal symptoms of long-acting benzos. Flumazenil attaches to the pleasure receptors and blocks the effects of benzos. Furthermore, it aids in rapid detox. But, it can make withdrawal worse and is used with caution.
Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment
Treatment centers like New Directions for Women offer both inpatient and outpatient benzodiazepine addiction treatment. Although people with a mild benzo addiction may do well in outpatient treatment, inpatient programs increase the chance of long-lasting recovery.
Inpatient treatment provides a distraction-free environment. As a result, people focus on healing and building a life in recovery. Generally, inpatient programs last 28 to 90 days or more depending on the severity of their benzo addiction. Nonetheless, both programs offer individual, group, and family therapy to emphasize recovery.
Benzo addiction is a chronic disease. Similarly, recovery from benzo addiction is a lifelong process. Because of thoughts, moods, social expectations, and daily stress, treatment focuses on relapse prevention. The best way to prevent relapse is with ongoing therapy and support groups.
People in inpatient benzodiazepine addiction treatment may need ongoing intensive support after completing the program. When a supportive home environment is not available, our intensive sober living facilities provide a safe environment to continue recovery. From detox to lifelong support groups, we give women the best opportunity for lifelong recovery from benzo addiction.
Help for Benzo Addiction at New Directions for Women
If you or a woman you love is struggling with benzo addiction there is help. Our caring intake coordinators are waiting to answer your questions. Contact us today and start your journey to emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness.