How to Detox from Benzodiazepine Safely

Last Updated: Apr 1st 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

How to Detox from Benzodiazepine Safely

The opioid crisis has captured the public’s attention for the past several years. Still, health officials in the United States are concerned that benzodiazepine addiction, often referred to as America’s other drug problem, are quickly becoming a serious threat. Problems can occur rapidly, and detoxing off benzos isn’t a matter of simply stopping.

If you’re ready to get off benzodiazepines, understanding how to detox from benzodiazepines safely, with the help of trained medical professionals, is the first step to recovery. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed; millions of people have been in the same boat.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, commonly known as “benzos,” are powerful medications that slow down activity in the central nervous system. They are widely prescribed to treat problems such as anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Although there are several types of benzos on the market, the most common include Xanax, Librium, Ativan, Klonopin, and Valium.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms can Begin Quickly

There’s little doubt that benzodiazepines are useful medications, but they are intended for short-term use only. All types of benzodiazepines can result in tolerance relatively quickly — as soon as a few days for certain short-acting benzodiazepines, and a month or two for longer-acting benzos.  

When the body becomes addicted to benzos it develops a  tolerance, so increasingly higher doses are required to reach the same level of effectiveness. With continued use, tolerance can lead to physical dependence within a few days or weeks. At this point, it becomes difficult to cope without the drug and attempting to stop results in cravings and other challenging benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. 

Benzodiazepine Detox: Withdrawal Symptoms

Research indicates that approximately 50 to 80 percent of people who have used benzodiazepines continuously for at least six months will experience some level of withdrawal symptoms when reducing use or quitting. 

The severity of withdrawal symptoms while detoxing from benzodiazepines varies widely depending on the individual and may range from mild to severe. Symptoms are unpredictable and can seesaw from day to day — mild or nearly nonexistent on some days, and extremely troublesome on other days. Eventually, the good days will outnumber the bad.

There’s no way to predict the intensity of benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, but the following may occur:

  • Cravings
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Lack of concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Nightmares
  • Restlessness
  • Weakness
  • Muscle tension
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Lack of coordination
  • Indigestion
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches 
  • Trembling 
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, or agoraphobia
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid mood changes

Although they are less common, severe benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can occur. People who stop suddenly, or those who have used benzos over a long period, may experience aching jaws or scalp, sinus pain, nosebleeds, changes in appetite, cravings for sweet foods, loss of libido, rashes or itchy, dry skin, depression, rage or aggression, and in some cases, hallucinations, paranoia, or even seizures.

The experts at 1st Step Behavioral Health can provide more information on benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal.

Inpatient Benzodiazepine Detox is Safer Than Detoxing At-Home

Some people can detox off benzodiazepine safely at home, with the ongoing support and advice of a physician. You may be required to pick up your daily dose at a clinic or pharmacy, and you may need to have a friend or family member with you around the clock for the first several days. While at-home detox works for some people, the risk of painful side effects is high. Relapse is also more likely.

Inpatient benzodiazepine detox is the best way to ensure your safety, especially if you have used the drugs for a long time, if previous attempts to stop have been unsuccessful, or if you’re also dependent on alcohol, opiates, or other drugs. Inpatient benzodiazepine detox is also advised if you have mental health issues or medical problems, or if you’re pregnant. 

Benzodiazepine detox centers offer many benefits that increase the chance of long-term success, including group and individual counseling, education, stress management techniques, family support, and aftercare.  You may receive antidepressants to relieve depression, or safer medications to help anxiety while detoxing from benzodiazepines.

Tapering Gradually: Common Benzodiazepine Detox Protocols

Detoxing of benzodiazepine “cold turkey” is rarely a good solution, as withdrawal can be challenging both emotionally and physically. In some cases, seizures and other life-threatening symptoms may occur when withdrawal is unmanaged by a physician. 

If you’ve become addicted to benzodiazepines, the safest way to detox is to reduce the dosage little by little with the advice and guidance of a medical professional until you are drug-free. Slower withdrawal affects the intensity of symptoms significantly. Some people who taper very slowly experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.  

Benzodiazepine detox protocol will vary depending on several factors depending on the dosage, length of time you have used the drug, your age, and your overall health. Your medical provider may recommend that you take doses at regular intervals throughout the day rather than waiting for times of stress. This allows the level of drugs in your bloodstream to stabilize before lowering the dose, thus minimizing the severity of withdrawal symptoms. 

Your doctor may recommend that you remain on a reduced level for days or weeks before reducing your dosage again, or she may prescribe a shorter-acting benzodiazepine before adjusting the dose, depending mainly on how you’re feeling.  Keep in mind that you may experience a temporary increase in symptoms following each reduction.

How Long Does it Take to Detox From Benzodiazepines?

There’s no way to know how long it will take to detox from benzos, but it depends primarily on how long you’ve been taking the drugs. If you’ve used benzos for only a few weeks or months, the reduction in doses will probably occur relatively quickly.

On the other hand, reducing the dosage will take longer — several months or as long as two or three years — if you have taken the drug for a long time. Try to be patient with yourself; everybody moves at their own pace, and rushing the process will make the experience more difficult and complicated than it needs to be. 

Although you may not notice positive changes right away, you’ll soon begin to feel healthier and more confident.

Get Help Detoxing of Benzos Today: Reach Out for Help

No one has to struggle alone. If you or a loved one is addicted to benzodiazepine, we’re here to support you, and our team of addiction professionals will guide you through each step of your recovery journey. Call 1st Step Behavioral Health at (855) 425-4846 for more information about our effective inpatient benzodiazepine detox, or contact us here.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.