san diego area
Benzo Abuse + Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome—often abbreviated to benzo withdrawal—is the cluster of symptoms that emerge when a person who has taken benzodiazepines(either medically or recreationally) undergoes dosage reduction or discontinuation. Development of physical dependence and or addiction and the resulting withdrawal symptoms, some of which may last for years, may result from either drug seeking behaviors or from taking the medication as prescribed.
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 retching 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.
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 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.
Here are some of the common tranquilizers and sleeping pills, and their generic names.
• Valium (diazepam)
• Ativan (lorazepam)
• Xanax (alprazolam)
• Klonopin or Rivotril (clonazepam)
• Restoril (temazepam)
• Rohypnol (flunitrazepam)
• Dalmane (flurazepam)
• Imovane (zopiclone)
• Ambien (zoldipem)
• Lunesta (eszopiclone)
A Story of Benzos, Anxiety + Addiction
It’s easy to become dependent on tranquilizers. People sometimes become dependent on tranquilizers inadvertently. You can become dependent on them if you take tranquilizers for more than a few months. For example, if you followed your doctor’s orders and never abused your prescription, you could still experience significant withdrawal symptoms if you stop them suddenly.
This is a true story about dependence to prescription tranquilizers (sometimes called benzos). Unfortunately, it is a story that happens almost every day. Cynthia (not her real name) came to me after ten years of being prescribed Ativan. Although the story is about Ativan, I have heard similar stories about all tranquilizers.
Cynthia was a happy young lady at twenty years old. She rarely took Tylenol for a headache. Life was good, except for her stressful job. Then one day Cynthia felt a tightness in her chest and had difficulty breathing. Her heart began to race. Her palms were sweaty and her hands were shaking. She was overcome with worry but didn’t know what she was worried about.
Cynthia went to her doctor who listened to her story and told her that she was experiencing an anxiety attack. The visit lasted less than 15 minutes and at the end of the visit, he handed her a prescription for Ativan. The tranquilizer worked exactly as expected initially.
Within a few days, Cynthia was more relaxed, and she was sleeping better. Sometimes she slept so soundly that she woke up feeling groggy the next morning. But that passed. Even the stress of work was easier to handle. Both Cynthia and her doctor were relieved.
For the next two years, Cynthia continued to use Ativan on and off as needed. She never abused it and never used more than her prescription. For two years her doctor kept on prescribing Ativan with little reassessment. As time went on Cynthia started using it a little more often.
Eventually, she was taking a tranquilizer almost every day. Sometimes her family doctor would simply renew the prescription over the phone. Cynthia was just happy that the anxiety attacks had gone.
By the end of the third year, Cynthia was concerned and approached her doctor. Was Ativan addictive she wondered? He assured her it was not. But Cynthia had her doubts and she persuaded her doctor to take her off the drug. One week later, Cynthia was hit with a series of anxiety attacks. She felt a little guilty that she questioned her doctor, and he immediately restarted her on Ativan. What Cynthia didn’t know was that the anxiety attacks may have been avoided if she had been tapered off the drug correctly. In fact, suddenly stopping tranquilizers can be dangerous.
There is a significant risk of seizure, strokes, heart attacks, or hallucinations if you stop tranquilizers suddenly. Two years later, still not convinced that this was the harmless drug her doctor said it was, Cynthia took herself off the tranquilizers. The withdrawal was rough. Cynthia experienced all kinds of symptoms, including anxiety, mood swings, and poor concentration.
Her husband started to lose patience. But she persisted. Then one day, her boss told her that she had to take on more responsibilities at work. Cynthia tried to explain that she was going through a difficult time and that she wasn’t sure she could take on more stress right now. But her boss said that the company was restructuring and Cynthia’s job might be on the line.
Despite all that stress, Cynthia managed to remain off the pills and get through the withdrawal. But during that time she didn’t dare see her doctor once, because she was afraid that if he made the slightest suggestion she would lose her resolve and go back on Ativan.
Cynthia managed to stay off tranquilizers for a whole year and was feeling stronger all the time. Given enough time we know she would have done well. It takes about 2 years for patients fully recover from the effects of tranquilizers. But Cynthia’s mother fell ill and Cynthia took on the responsibility of her medical care.
One night, Cynthia suddenly woke up with her heart pounding in her chest. She had difficulty breathing, and she thought she was going to die. She went to the emergency room, and after a full examination was told that there was nothing wrong with her. She had experienced another anxiety attack.
The emergency room sent a follow-up letter to her family doctor who booked an appointment to see Cynthia. He said he wanted to refer Cynthia to a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist explained that Cynthia had a chemical imbalance and that this was the cause of her anxiety. He said that it was not uncommon, and there was an effective treatment for it. He assured her that it was not addictive, and his very words were, “You can take this medication for the rest of your life.” Then the psychiatrist did something that set Cynthia back another five years. He wrote her a prescription for Ativan.
Now events started to happen a little more quickly. The Ativan wasn’t as effective as it had been in the past, and there were days when Cynthia needed more than her usual dose. The psychiatrist agreed that on bad days Cynthia could take 1 or 2 more pills to deal with her anxiety. By the end, Cynthia was being prescribed 4 times her initial dose. But at each visit her psychiatrist reassured her that she was doing well. Gradually, he spent less and less time with her since the Ativan was working. Some visits consisted of him just writing a prescription.
Cynthia had become dependent on tranquilizers. The more she took them, the more her brain adapted to them, and the more she needed. Whenever she tried to slow down, her withdrawal symptoms forced her to start up again. The irony of tranquilizers is that they’re prescribed for anxiety and sleep. But the longer you take them the more they increase your anxiety and disturb your sleep.
The doctors had said that Cynthia could take these pills for the rest of her life. And sure enough, it was coming true. Tranquilizers are the perfect addictive drug. The longer you take them — the more you need them. After a while, Cynthia began to experience new symptoms. She started feeling depressed. Initially, she had a hard time describing it. She was less interested in things. She didn’t have as much energy as she normally did, and she wasn’t as happy. She complained to her psychiatrist who eventually decided to start Cynthia on an antidepressant. But he continued to prescribe the tranquilizer.
Most addictive drugs if taken long enough can cause depression. It is quite common with tranquilizers. Cynthia had been given a tranquilizer that caused depression, and now she was taking an antidepressant to counteract the tranquilizer. Ten years had passed in one person’s life. What started out as anxiety, probably brought on by work stress, had gradually escalated into dependence and depression.
Finally, it was Cynthia herself who took the initiative and sought help to come off her drugs. She was gradually tapered off her Ativan and counseled on post-acute withdrawal. Her withdrawal was uncomfortable, but with support she managed to get through it.
Cynthia completed her taper, went through withdrawal, and is now living a better life. Her symptoms disappeared after about two years. She will now happily tell you that she feels better than she’s felt in years, and that it’s good to no longer be dependent on tranquilizers.
How We Can Help You Quit Benzos for Good
If they’re that awful why do doctors still use them? Because they can be helpful if taken for a short time. Some people need them to deal with unusually stressful situations. But if you take them for longer than a few weeks or months, your body will adapt to them, your anxiety level will rise, and you will need more of them over time.
The Ajna Center offers a state-of-the-art, sub-acute detox protocol for those addicted to benzodiazepines in a luxury setting in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, just outside San Diego, California. Our program provides clients a safe setting where they can heal from the toxic damage benzos can cause on the body. The detox process for benzos varies depending on the person’s personal use and other factors. Once detox is completed the real work begins in the residential inpatient portion of our program. There, clients learn how to overcome addiction once and for all. Contact us today to learn more about The Ajna Center. If you are ready to take action we offer a FREE insurance benefits check here.