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Page medically reviewed by Dee Johnson (Mbacp, MNCS), Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford.

Benzodiazepines, which are commonly known as ‘benzos’, are a type of prescription drug, designed to alleviate anxiety, insomnia and other conditions. While these medications can be effective in managing symptoms, if you abuse these substances or use them over a prolonged period of time, this can lead to physical dependence and the need for withdrawal.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a complex process that can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. However, with the right support, you can successfully get back on track. Here, we will explore the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, the timeline for withdrawal and the treatment that’s available to help you to withdraw safely.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms

If you stop taking benzodiazepine medication, you might experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary in intensity and duration, depending on things like:

  • The type of benzodiazepine you’ve been using
  • How long you’ve been taking it for
  • Individual differences, such as your overall health

Withdrawal symptoms happen when your body has become physically dependent on having the drug in its system. When you stop taking benzodiazepines, or reduce the amount you’re taking, your brain may struggle to readjust to functioning without the drug. This is what causes withdrawal symptoms.

The most common benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating and restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Sweating
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Some people might also experience more severe benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening. These include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you or someone you know is planning to come off benzodiazepines, it’s crucial that you seek medical guidance and support. A medically assisted drug detox programme will help to ensure that the withdrawal process is as safe as possible, minimising the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms and complications.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal timeline

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms tend to appear within a few hours to a few days after you last take the drug.

During the initial phase of withdrawal, which can last a few days, you might experience anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and irritability. This is what happens when your body is trying to get used to the absence of benzodiazepines and attempting to regain its usual balance, or equilibrium.

In the following weeks, you might start to experience more intense withdrawal symptoms. This phase usually involves heightened anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings and physical discomfort. This stage usually lasts for a few weeks, but some people might experience these withdrawal symptoms for longer.

After this acute phase, you might start to experience milder withdrawal symptoms that come and go over an extended period of time. These can include things like lingering anxiety and irritability, and difficulty sleeping. This is known as protracted withdrawal and it’s possible for these symptoms to persist for several months.

Types of benzodiazepines

There are lots of different types of benzodiazepines, each with their own unique properties and uses. Some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines are:

  • Diazepam – a long-acting benzodiazepine, commonly used for anxiety, muscle relaxation and for managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Alprazolam – a short-acting benzodiazepine, usually prescribed for anxiety disorders and panic attacks
  • Lorazepam – an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine, known for its anti-anxiety and sedative effects. It is also widely used in the alcohol detox process
  • Clonazepam – often used in the treatment of seizures, panic disorder and certain types of epilepsy
  • Temazepam – usually prescribed as a short-term sleep aid for insomnia

Benzodiazepines can be hugely beneficial when they’re used correctly. However, it’s important to note that they also have a risk of dependence and withdrawal symptoms if they’re taken for a long time, or if they’re misused.

If you have been prescribed benzodiazepine medication, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully and make sure you’re aware of the potential risks of the specific medication you’re taking. If you have any concerns or questions about your medication, it’s crucial that you speak to a healthcare professional, who will be able to offer advice and support.

Diazepam withdrawal

Diazepam, which is commonly known by its brand name, Valium, is a type of benzodiazepine medication. It’s usually used in mental health treatment, and has sedative, anxiolytic and muscle relaxant properties.

If you’ve been taking diazepam for an extended period of time, whether this has been on prescription or whether you have been abusing it recreationally, it’s likely that you’ll experience diazepam withdrawal symptoms when you suddenly stop taking the drug, or reduce how much you’re taking.

Diazepam withdrawal symptoms include many of the general benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, restlessness, depression, difficulty concentrating, sweating, headaches and gastrointestinal issues.

Remember, your doctor will be able to provide guidance and support to enable a safe and comfortable transition off diazepam.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal treatment

At Priory, we can provide expert benzodiazepine withdrawal treatment, helping to safely remove these substances from your body and take steps to address your physical and psychological dependence.

Our medical detox service offers a controlled environment, where you can safely withdraw from substances such as benzodiazepines. You’ll have round-the-clock care and monitoring, so we can make sure you’re as safe and as comfortable as possible. We’ll help you to manage any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms by using appropriately prescribed medication.

Once your body is free from the drug, you’ll be able to enter evidence-based benzodiazepine addiction treatment, if this is the best next step for you. Addiction therapy can play a crucial role in addressing the psychological factors contributing to your benzodiazepine use. Our addiction treatment programme can help you to get to the bottom of your addictive behaviours, develop coping mechanisms for the future and help you to achieve a life free from benzodiazepine dependence.

We offer evidence-based therapy, psychoeducation and access to support groups, helping you to get back on track. For more information, call us today or click here to book your free addiction assessment.

Getting back on track

Ultimately, benzodiazepine withdrawal is a challenging process, that needs support and professional guidance. Understanding the symptoms, timeline and available treatment is essential if you’re coming off benzodiazepines, or supporting someone through the withdrawal process.

While withdrawal symptoms might be distressing, it’s important to remember that with the proper medical supervision, you’ll be able to take steps towards a healthier future.

Start Your Journey to Recovery

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0330 056 6023 or book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT.

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