Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepine (“benzo”) medicines are used for anxiety, other mood problems, seizures, alcohol withdrawal, and as muscle relaxants. If you have been taking a benzodiazepine for more than a few weeks, your body gets used to having it. When you stop taking the medicine, withdrawal symptoms develop.

Symptoms

The list of possible withdrawal symptoms is very long. Withdrawal can include pain, agitation, restlessness, shakiness, anxiety, headaches, cramps, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble sleeping, and diarrhea, among many others. More severe reactions can include chest pain, trouble breathing, seizures, delusions, hallucinations, high temperatures, and coma.

As the medicine clears from your system, your body readjusts to not having it. This period is called “detox.” Detox usually takes a few weeks. But it may take a few months if you have been taking benzodiazepines for several years. Symptoms will go away when detox is complete. If you have been taking benzodiazepines for a long time, you will likely need medical help to prevent severe withdrawals. This is accomplished through a closely monitored regimen where you gradually cut down and wean off of benzodiazepines over weeks to possibly months rather than stop them all at once (cold turkey).

Home care

The healthcare provider may prescribe a sedative to help reduce your symptoms. Take this medicine exactly as instructed. Don't take it more often than prescribed. Never take a sedative with alcohol.

General care

  • You will need good nutrition during detox. Eat 3 meals a day. Take vitamin and mineral supplements as directed.

  • Don't drink alcohol during your detox.

  • If you can, stay with family or friends who can help and support you as you detox.

  • Don't drive until all symptoms are gone and you are feeling better.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Withdrawal can last from a few weeks to a few months. Once you get past it, you will feel better. If you were misusing benzodiazepines, it is essential that you get support and treatment to stay off them. Your healthcare provider can help. Here are some resources for support:

  • Narcotics Anonymous: www.na.org (or check the phone book)

  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: 800-622-2255, www.ncadd.org

You may benefit from a residential detox program. There, you can stay overnight and get supervised attention and help. Look online or in the phone book for listings under Drug Abuse and Treatment Centers.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Severe shakiness

  • Increasing upper abdominal pain or vomiting

  • Hallucinations

  • Headache or confusion

  • Severe trouble sleeping

  • Depression

  • Feeling that you want to harm yourself or others

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing, or wheezing

  • Severe confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Very low or very high blood pressure

  • Seizure

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