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Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms, and Treatment

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that act as depressants on the central nervous system.[1] When you are dependent on or addicted to benzodiazepines, your body adjusts to the presence of the substance and begins to need it to function properly. As a result, suddenly stopping the use of these drugs will cause you to experience symptoms of withdrawal. 

If you take benzodiazepines, you may have received a prescription from your doctor. These medications are commonly used to treat anxiety, seizure disorders, or sleeping issues. However, some people buy these medications from drug dealers on the street, as they are highly addictive and habit-forming.

Common types of benzodiazepine medications include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax) 
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Some benzodiazepines are short-acting while others are long-acting, so the benzodiazepine withdrawal timeline can vary from one medication to another. The severity of withdrawal may also vary depending on how long you have been addicted. Regardless of your situation, attending a medical detox program can help you detox safely and comfortably.

What are the Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?

Benzodiazepines are not intended to be taken long-term because these drugs are highly addictive. Prolonged benzodiazepine abuse causes the body to become both physically and psychologically dependent. If you take benzos for a long period and then suddenly stop, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal. 

The withdrawal symptoms associated with benzodiazepines can range from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening without medical attention. This is why you should always receive help from a professional detox program. 

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal may include:

  • Nausea 
  • Sweating 
  • Headaches 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks 
  • Tremors 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Seizures 

Seizures can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are not receiving medical care. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Almost all the withdrawal seizures reported were grand mal seizures. The severity of seizures ranges from a single episode to coma and death.”[2] 

The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline 

Everyone who experiences benzodiazepine withdrawal will have different symptoms and a varied timeline because certain personal factors play a role in how severe symptoms become and how long they last.

Some of the factors that contribute to the length of benzo withdrawal include:

  • How long you were taking benzodiazepines 
  • The dosage you were taking 
  • Whether you were abusing the drug or taking it as prescribed 
  • If you were misusing other substances at the time 
  • Your overall physical health 
  • Whether you have underlying mental health conditions 

Benzodiazepine withdrawal occurs in three phases: early, acute, and protracted. How long each phase will take depends on your factors, however, there is a general timeline that most individuals follow.

Early Symptoms

The early stage of benzo withdrawal begins shortly after you stop taking the drugs. When your withdrawal symptoms will begin depends on the half-life of the specific benzodiazepine drug you were taking. For example, short-acting drugs like Xanax will cause withdrawal symptoms to appear faster than long-acting drugs like Valium. 

During this stage of withdrawal, you may notice symptoms of anxiety, irritation, and panic. These symptoms are often called “rebound symptoms” because they are the same symptoms benzodiazepines are meant to treat in the first place.

Acute Symptoms 

Acute withdrawal begins after the early phase, generally within a few days after your last dose. This stage of withdrawal usually lasts somewhere between 5 to 28 days, depending on how long and how frequently you were abusing the medication. 

This stage is when the most severe symptoms of withdrawal will occur, meaning the risk of experiencing seizures is the highest. If you are detoxing in a medical facility, you will be given medications to limit the symptoms of withdrawal and prevent cravings from occurring. For example, doctors often prescribe long-acting benzodiazepines to help you slowly taper off of the drug you are addicted to.

Protracted Symptoms

Most of the symptoms subside after the acute phase of benzodiazepine withdrawal, however, some people may experience prolonged symptoms. This is known as protracted withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). 

According to research completed by the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, about 10-25% of people who use benzodiazepines long-term experience withdrawal symptoms that last 12 months or more.[3]

The common symptoms of protracted withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia 
  • Anxiety 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Loss of sex drive 
  • Depression 
  • Mood swings 

What Happens During Benzodiazepine Detox?

When you go to a benzodiazepine detox center, you will be assessed to determine your personal needs. The doctors and medical staff will create a treatment plan for you that will address all of your medical and psychiatric concerns associated with withdrawal. 

The most common form of treatment for benzodiazepine withdrawal is the tapering method. In many cases, the tapering method for benzos includes switching one type of drug for another. For example, if you were taking a short-acting benzodiazepine you will be given a long-acting one. 

Over time, your doctor will gradually decrease the number of benzodiazepines you are taking. This prevents you from experiencing the negative side effects of withdrawal and keeps you safe from dangerous symptoms like grand mal seizures.

After you complete the detoxification process, you will be encouraged to transition to an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program. These programs help you identify the root causes of your addiction, allowing you to heal from them and prevent a relapse from occurring in the future.

Finding Help for Benzodiazepine Addiction

If you or a loved one suffer from benzodiazepine addiction, it’s time to seek help. The withdrawal symptoms associated with benzos can be severe and life-threatening, making it imperative that you receive professional medical attention.

Patients who visit the Mandala Healing Center struggle with a variety of addictions. Our caring and attentive team are ready to help each patient find solutions for lasting sobriety and truly heal from within. We are acutely aware that every individual has a unique set of needs. Accordingly, our alcohol and drug detox programs are personalized for each individual, utilizing evidence-based practices and holistic approaches.

If someone suffering from addiction attempts to become clean or sober without medical supervision, he or she may suffer from potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, heart attacks, and severe anxiety and depression. The Mandala Healing Center provides patients with safe, supportive, medically supervised detoxification.

Contact us today for more information on how to get started.