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How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You?

How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You? Causes, Symptoms, Timeline, Seizure Risk, Cold Turkey & Best Treatment Options

What are Benzodiazepines?

In 2013, it was estimated that about 14.7 million American adults filled a benzodiazepine prescription. This number was up 67% from just 6 years earlier (Bachhuber, 2016). Benzodiazepines are a substance that is also referred to as a tranquilizer and carries a high potential for dependency. The benzo detox process can lead to serious withdrawal side effects and professional medical assistance is advised. [1]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: [2]

  • Over 90% of all prescription and illicit benzodiazepine-involved overdose deaths also involved either prescription or illicitly manufactured opioids, highlighting the dangers of co-using opioids and benzodiazepines.
  • Benzodiazepines were involved in nearly 7,000 overdose deaths in 23 states from January 2019 to June 2020 – 17% of all drug overdose deaths.
  • Illicit benzodiazepine deaths increased 520% (from 51 to 317) from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020.
  • Prescription benzodiazepine deaths increased 22% (from 921 to 1,122) from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020.
How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You?
How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? suddenly stopping or greatly decreasing benzodiazepines can be life-threatening.

Benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos” and “downers”) are sedatives commonly prescribed to treat insomnia, anxiety, and other conditions. They work by slowing down the central nervous system and decreasing brain activity. The effects typically last between 6 hours to over 24 hours. Benzodiazepines are also produced and distributed illicitly.

Prescription benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin), and illicit benzodiazepines include etizolam, flualprazolam, and flubromazolam. It is important to use benzodiazepines only in the amount, frequency, and manner prescribed by a doctor.

Benzodiazepines may cause a variety of adverse reactions:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Loss of motor control
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Paranoia
  • Memory problems
  • Restlessness
  • Delirium
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations

Benzodiazepines, particularly those having a rapid onset, are abused to produce a euphoric effect. Abuse of benzodiazepines is often associated with multiple-substance abuse. Diazepam and alprazolam are used in combination with methadone to potentiate methadone’s euphoric effect. Cocaine addicts use benzodiazepines to relieve the side effects (e.g., irritability and agitation) associated with cocaine binges. Benzodiazepines are also used to augment alcohol’s effects and modulate alcohol withdrawal states.

Are you or somebody you know at serious risk of an overdose because of drug or alcohol abuse? If so, please call 911 right away.

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The doses of benzodiazepines taken by abusers are usually in excess of the recommended therapeutic dose. Benzodiazepines have been used to facilitate sexual assault. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports 69,506 case mentions, 25,070 single exposures, and 14 deaths associated with benzodiazepines in 2017. Among these poison control cases and single exposures, 16,429 cases, involving only a single substance, were due to ‘intentional’ versus ‘unintentional’ reasons. [3]

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

The benzo withdrawal symptoms will vary dispending on how the detox process is conducted. In a professional detox center where the client is weaned off properly, symptoms can occur and could include feeling sleepy and depressed, as well as sweating and chills.

How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? In an unmanaged situation, benzodiazepine withdrawal becomes much more serious and severe. When an individual stops cold turkey, the following symptoms may present:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Seizures

Rebound Symptoms

In addition to withdrawal symptoms, benzo detox most commonly also brings on rebound symptoms. Rebound symptoms are the return of symptoms that may have been present at the start of taking the medication and the symptoms may be heightened for a few days. This may include insomnia, anxiety, and stress. As the body regulates through the detox process, these symptoms will likely subside or reduce.

Factors that Influence Withdrawal Length & Severity

Physiological dependence on benzodiazepines is accompanied by a withdrawal syndrome which is typically characterized by sleep disturbance, irritability, increased tension and anxiety, panic attacks, hand tremor, sweating, difficulty in concentration, dry-wretching and nausea, some weight loss, palpitations, headache, muscular pain and stiffness and a host of perceptual changes. Instances are also reported within the high-dosage category of more serious developments such as seizures and psychotic reactions.

Withdrawal from normal dosage benzodiazepine treatment can result in a number of symptomatic patterns. The most common is a short-lived “rebound” anxiety and insomnia, coming on within 1-4 days of discontinuation, depending on the half-life of the particular drug. The second pattern is the full-blown withdrawal syndrome, usually lasting 10-14 days; finally, a third pattern may represent the return of anxiety symptoms which then persist until some form of treatment is instituted. [4]

Physiological dependence on benzodiazepines can occur following prolonged treatment with therapeutic doses, but it is not clear what proportion of patients are likely to experience a withdrawal syndrome. It is also unknown to what extent the risk of physiological dependence is dependent upon a minimum duration of exposure or dosage of these drugs. Withdrawal phenomena appear to be more severe following withdrawal from high doses of short-acting benzodiazepines. Dependence on alcohol or other sedatives may increase the risk of benzodiazepine dependence, but it has proved difficult to demonstrate unequivocally differences in the relative abuse potential of individual benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline

Much like detoxing from other prescription drugs, benzo withdrawal timelines can differ from case to case. For someone who was using short-acting benzos, withdrawal symptoms may begin to present themselves in as little as 6 to 8 hours. If a longer-acting benzodiazepine was used, it could be 24 to 48 hours before symptoms are observed. Withdrawal symptoms typically last about 4 days. Rebound symptoms may last about 2-3 days from when they begin.

Early Withdrawal Symptoms

During the early stages of withdrawal, the person may notice the symptoms of the condition that the drug was treating start to return, or rebound. For example, symptoms of anxiety or insomnia may come back or get worse without the drugs.

Mid/Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

During the acute withdrawal phase, doctors may monitor the person and recommend other drugs to control problematic symptoms.

Long-Term/Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms

Supportive counseling and other targeted therapies or medications may help a person manage the symptoms and improve their quality of life. Symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You?
How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? Many benzo users who stop taking the drug experience rebound symptoms, which is a return of original symptoms, like anxiety or insomnia, but in greater severity.

You may also experience PAWS. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, is the condition of continuing to experience drug withdrawal symptoms—for weeks, months, or years—even though you’ve completed a drug addiction treatment program and are no longer “using.” Other names for post-acute withdrawal syndrome include post-withdrawal syndrome, prolonged withdrawal syndrome, and protracted withdrawal syndrome.

In general, the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome are similar to the symptoms of anxiety and mood disorders. They may range from mild to severe in a single individual; they may also go away entirely for a period of time and then reappear. [5] Some of the most common symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome include:

  • Problems with thinking (cognitive) tasks, such as problem-solving, learning, or memory recall
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Depression

Less often, a person may experience:

  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Problems with social relationships
  • Cravings for the addictive drug they used
  • Pessimism or lack of interest (apathy)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased sensitivity to stress

Stress can make any of these symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome worse, but this can also happen without any apparent cause.

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Dangers of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? Benzodiazepine detox can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. However, proper care can reduce the likelihood of developing these symptoms and ensure a safe detox process. Typically, this means that the individual detoxing will be weaned off of the substance slowly. Depending on their biology, dosage, and frequency of use, the time it takes to tapper off will vary.

Benzodiazepines can be an important treatment option for treating disorders for which these drugs are indicated. However, even when taken at recommended dosages, their use can lead to misuse, abuse, and addiction. Abuse and misuse can result in overdose or death, especially when benzodiazepines are combined with other medicines, such as opioid pain relievers, alcohol, or illicit drugs. Physical dependence can occur when benzodiazepines are taken steadily for several days to weeks, even as prescribed. Stopping them abruptly or reducing the dosage too quickly can result in withdrawal reactions, including seizures, which can be life-threatening.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Seizure Risk

Patients who have been taking a benzodiazepine for weeks or months should not suddenly stop taking your benzodiazepine without first discussing a plan for gradually getting off the medicine with your health care professional. Stopping benzodiazepines abruptly or reducing the dosage too quickly can result in serious withdrawal reactions, including seizures, which can be life-threatening.

Contact your health care professional if you experience withdrawal symptoms or your medical condition worsens. Go to an emergency room or call 911 if you have trouble breathing or other serious side effects such as seizures.

Can You Die from Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?

Yes. Benzo addiction can have social and psychological effects on those who struggle with it. Some may find these effects to be the greatest difficulty they face. For others, it is the physical effects that are the scariest. When one stops taking benzodiazepines without tapering off, severe symptoms such as tremors, seizures, and even death can occur. For this reason, professional treatment at a medical detox facility is critical. 

Contact your health care professional if you experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Catatonia (unable to speak, rigid body, repetitive and meaningless movements)
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (shaking, shivering, irregular heart rate, sweating)
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear)
  • Thoughts about killing yourself or someone else
  • Mania (euphoria, delusions, overactivity)
  • Psychosis (false beliefs)

If you’re experiencing the overdose symptoms from benzodiazepine, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Benzodiazepine overdose should be treated in a hospital, so it’s important to contact emergency services immediately. This could mean the difference between life and death for you or your loved one.


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The greatest risk of using benzodiazepines and a reason to get into a benzo addiction treatment program is that of potentially overdosing. With a propensity for developing a tolerance, the longer someone takes benzodiazepines, the greater dosage they will likely need to take to achieve the desired effect, and the greater the risk of overdosing. A sedative, benzos cause breathing to slow. IN turn, less oxygen is directed through the lungs to the brain and the rest of the body. When a dose too great is taken, breathing slows to the point of being fatal.

If you notice the following signs in your loved one, they may have overdosed on benzos:

  • Blurred Vision
  • Uncontrolled muscles twitching
  • Trembling
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired mental coordination

Benzodiazepine Cold Turkey

Benzodiazepine addiction can be detrimental to you or your loved one’s well-being. Withdrawal can be fatal and stopping cold turkey is not advised. It is essential to seek a qualified medical detox program and access to supportive therapeutic interventions. Going “cold turkey” can be fatal and the FDA cautions that healthcare professionals create a patient-specific plan for reducing dosage and managing withdrawal when someone wants to stop taking benzodiazepines. [6]

To reduce the risk of acute withdrawal reactions, professional healthcare will advise the patient to use a gradual taper to reduce the dosage or to discontinue benzodiazepines. No standard benzodiazepine tapering schedule is suitable for all patients; therefore, creating a patient-specific plan is a must to gradually reduce the dosage, and ensure ongoing monitoring and support as needed to avoid serious withdrawal symptoms or worsening of the patient’s medical condition.

How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You?
How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? While long-term benzo users are at higher risk for developing dependence and withdrawal, stopping benzos after as little as 4 weeks of use can result in withdrawal.

Detox Benzodiazepines Safely

Professional treatment at a medical detox facility is critical to avoid life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Once the benzo detoxification process has been safely completed, then an individualized treatment plan is developed. During treatment, individuals who have struggled with benzo addiction will learn skills and tools to help them stay off of these drugs and lead a better life.

Benzodiazepine Detox Near Me

Understanding the specialized substance abuse treatment system and benzo detox, however, can be a challenging task. No single definition of treatment exists, and no standard terminology describes different dimensions and elements of treatment. Describing a facility as providing inpatient care or ambulatory services characterizes only one aspect (albeit an important one): the setting.

People experiencing severe symptoms of substance abuse, co-occurring mental health disorder, or previous complicated withdrawals and relapse may greatly benefit from various inpatient drug rehab center programs. Inpatient rehabilitation facilities provide individuals struggling with alcohol or drug abuse with a structured, stable, and secure environment void of all temptations and distractions to help clients focus solely on their recovery. This inpatient drug rehab center also provides 24/7 support and medical care to help mitigate any medical complications during their stay. In addition, inpatient rehab centers provide clients with comprehensive medical detox, dual diagnosis treatment, various types of therapy, and counseling programs.

How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You?
How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? Benzodiazepine withdrawal can pose many medical and psychological dangers. Seek help now. 

Inpatient drug rehab center programs usually begin with detoxification (detox) in a medically supervised detox program. These provide professional support and medical monitoring while the client flushes harmful toxins from their body gained during substance abuse. Detox is the initial, physical part of treatment. Once this stage is complete, clients most often move to the next level of care. [7]

Inpatient rehab center programs require clients to live onsite at the facility for the duration of treatment. Depending on the facility, the participant will be issued a bed in either a private or shared room for their stay. Each day, clients are required to attend counseling, therapy, classes, and different types of treatments every day for the majority of the day.

Inpatient Medication-Assisted Treatment

We Level Up treatment center can help with inpatient therapy programs exclusively. Because each client is different and requires unique, comprehensive care according to their situation, our staff of well-trained physicians and nurses first begin the client relationship with a detailed one-on-one assessment.

Detox

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines is an important first step to overcoming your addiction or drug dependency. However, withdrawal isn’t an effective treatment by itself. You’ll need further treatment and support to help you in the long term.  [8]

Often, benzo detox can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. However, proper care and medical supervision will greatly reduce the chances of developing these symptoms and ensure a safe detox process. This means that the individual detoxing will be weaned off of the substance slowly and carefully. Depending on their biology, dosage, and frequency of use, the time it takes to taper off varies but is usually achieved within a few weeks.

The longer and heavier the abusing of drugs, the more prolonged and more severe detox will be.  For this reason, going through the process sooner than later, and getting help, is critical to recovery.

Once fully admitted and evaluated, the 2nd stage of detox gets underway:  stabilization.  Based on the data provided during the admissions process, patient feedback, and the symptoms observed;  our experienced team of medical addiction professionals will provide care to keep the patient stable and as comfortable as possible. [9]

Programs, services, and treatments vary. We Level Up rehab center offers inpatient substance abuse treatment. Offering co-occurring treatments. We treat the entirety of addiction and behavioral health disorders including their secondary corresponding illnesses to improve long-term recovery outcomes. Get a free health assessment and find out what treatment options are most suitable for you. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment for drug abuse and dependence to help individuals identify negative thought patterns, emotions, and problematic behaviors and learn how to make healthy lifestyle changes that decrease the urges to abuse benzo and use other substances; paying particular attention to symptoms of psychosis, depression, and other co-existing mental health-related problems or dual diagnosis that are exacerbated by stress.

Counseling Services

Individual, group and family counseling services are offered in the majority of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to “get to the root of the problems”, improve communications and relationships, and motivate the abuser toward positive changes. . The structured guidance of a counselor helps the patient stay on track and in the right perspectives as they strive to achieve their potentials and goals of recovery.

How Does Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Kill You?
Detoxing from benzodiazepines cold turkey, or abruptly stopping them without any medical supervision, can lead to life-threatening complications.

Increasing awareness of high-risk situations and warning signs and developing avoidance strategies and coping skills for handling those situations is an important part of treatment known as relapse prevention and knowing what to do should relapse occur is equally important to ensure any long-term recovery success.

Our FREE 24-hour Hotline can help you with the resources for questions such as How does benzodiazepine withdrawal kill you? Get a free consultation now for your best-fitting treatment programs along with free rehab insurance verification. Call We Level Up today and speak with one of our addiction specialists to check your rehab insurance coverage and benefits.

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Sources:

[1] Benzo Addiction: Detox, Treatment & More by Level Up Lake Worth
[2] Drug Overdose – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[3] BENZODIAZEPINES – Drug Enforcement Administration
[4] The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[5] https://www.verywellmind.com/what-to-do-for-post-acute-withdrawal-syndrome-paws-22368
[6] FDA requiring Boxed Warning updated to improve the safe use of benzodiazepine drug class – Food & Drug Administration
[7] Types of Treatment Programs – National Institute on Drug Abuse
[8] Alcohol Misuse – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/treatment/
[9] Stabilization Treatment Program – We Level Up New Jersey