Benzodiazepines are a class of medication used for the treatment of anxiety and other kinds of mental disorders where the person suffers a great deal of stress or agitation. These are called depressant medications, and they work by slowing or depressing the activity of the central nervous system, and a slowed down nervous system generally means a more calm and relaxed person. Medications in this class include Xanax, Valium, and Ativan, and used properly, can provide quality of life and freedom from suffering for many people struggling with a mental illness.
Unfortunately, benzodiazepines can be abused and are an addictive medication. Doctors are becoming more hesitant to prescribe them because of their addictive properties. What makes benzodiazepines worse is some of the problems that come from this medication, when people try to get off them. Let’s look at some of the things that people need to know about benzodiazepine withdrawal.
First, the symptoms of the withdrawal will be coming in waves. What this means is that generally there will be new sets of symptoms or side effects coming in in the first 4 days, a new set coming in lasting another two weeks, then there will be the return of the anxiety that the benzos were being used to treat. That will last until some other form of treatment is used to combat it.
Second, consulting with a medical professional is always recommended before stopping any medication. Benzodiazepines may cause more problems if the person stops cold turkey. It may be less dangerous in the long run to cut the dosage back slowly, rather than quit cold turkey. Depressant substances, in general, may be dangerous to quit completely without titrating it down.
Third, be prepared for sleep disturbances. REM sleep disruption, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and other sleep problems can come from the withdrawal of benzodiazepines. This is over and above the return of any anxiety based sleep disturbances that the medication was treating in the first place. While this may not be as physically dangerous as other symptoms, think about what it feels like to go without sleep for a night. Two nights. Three nights. It’s torturous even to imagine, and that is what may happen in withdrawal.
Fourth, a lot of the success depends on motivation. Whatever that motivation may be, to save a marriage, repair a relationship, keep a job, it has to be there, and that is a strong indicator of successful managing of withdrawal symptoms. While there may be a lot on the line for people suffering from an addiction to benzos, that may be precisely the reason they get clean.
Fifth, it can be deadly. While it is an ultimate worst-case scenario, it is a possibility with severe cases of benzo withdrawal. The shock to the system mentioned earlier can be powerful enough where the sufferer enters a coma, from which they eventually die. It is that dangerous of medication when abused.
It is important to say again that benzodiazepines can free people from the chains of anxiety, and let them live an ordinary life many take for granted. But addiction to, and withdrawal from benzos can have terrible, even deadly consequences as well. It is important to work with your healthcare provider to make sure it does not happen to you or your loved ones.