Benzodiazepines are a class of drug containing many medications that doctors prescribe to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and seizures. You might recognize them by some of their brand names, which include Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.1

While benzodiazepines can effectively manage symptoms on a short-term basis, using them longer increases the risk of physical dependence, patterns of abuse, and eventually, addiction. Some people have become physically dependent in as little as 4 weeks. People who are physically dependenton a medication are likely to experience some degree of acute withdrawal should they try to stop taking the drug, which may consist of several unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects.1

Due to these potential dangers, and because many people who try to stop on their own quickly relapse due to intense cravings for the drug, benzodiazepine detox should occur under medical supervision in a treatment program.

What Are the Signs of Benzo Addiction?

Benzodiazepine addiction is a problematic pattern of use leading to significant impairment or distress, with at least 2 of the following signs or symptoms present in a 12-month period:2

Withdrawal Symptoms and Detox Timeline

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms vary depending on how severe the addiction is. Often, people with benzodiazepine addiction also abuse alcohol or other drugs, which can further complicate the detoxification process. Some people experience withdrawal within a few hours of stopping benzodiazepines; generally, anxiety and insomnia occur within 1 to 4 days of stopping the drug.1,3 Others experience more severe withdrawal symptoms that can last 10 to 14 days or even go on for many weeks.3

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms vary depending on how severe the addiction is. When you want to recover from a benzodiazepine addiction, it may be tempting to try to quit using the drug on your own. However, when you either stop or severely cut back on benzodiazepines, unpleasant or frightening withdrawal symptoms can occur, including:3

Of these withdrawal symptoms, seizures are the most concerning and potentially life-threatening. Elderly people may additionally experience a heightened risk of falls and heart attacks when going through benzodiazepine detox.4

What Does a Detox Program Entail?

Detox is a word that may conjure up frightening images for many people, having seen lurid portrayals of drug withdrawal in movies or on television. So it’s natural that anyone considering detox will have many questions of what is actually involved in the process.
The purpose of detox is not to provide thorough drug addiction treatment. Rather, detox is a brief process that lasts a few days, at most, and involves getting a substance out of your body. When properly supervised, your withdrawal symptoms can be managed safely and with the least amount of discomfort possible.

When you or your loved one enters a benzodiazepine detox program, the team of professionals assigned to your case—called your treatment team—meets with you to explain what to expect during detox. In general, detox serves 3 purposes, including:5

As you move forward with an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, you will uncover and work through the underlying issues that led to your addiction in the first place. Without this process, many people go back to using substances when they are faced with these issues in the future.

Where Can I Find Detox for Benzodiazepines?

There are many different types of detox programs, and the best setting depends on your specific needs. It is important to have all the information about the different types of programs available in your area so you can make the most informed decision.

Generally speaking, the most common types of detox programs are:4

Medications Typically Used

There are limited medications appropriate for managing benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. Generally, a slow taper off a benzodiazepine is the preferred approach.4

What Happens After Detox?

An appropriate post-detox treatment program is necessary to give you the best chance of avoiding relapse. During your detox program, your treatment team develops a plan to transition you or your loved one into a treatment program that best suits your needs.

Not everyone wants the same type of detox program, nor does one program fit everyone’s needs. Researching your options and speaking to specialists in the recovery field can help you find the best fit for you.

Sources

  1. Tan, K.R., Rudolph, U., & Lüscher, C. (2011). Hooked on benzodiazepines: GABA A receptor subtypes and addiction. Trends in Neurosciences, 34(4), 188–197.
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  3. Pétursson, H. (1994). The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Addiction, 89(11), 1455–1459.
  4. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  5. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Quick Guide for Clinicians: Based on TIP 45: Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.