Benzodiazepines, commonly known as “benzos,” are sedative drugs often used to medicate various anxiety-induced conditions.
They are widely available in prescription form, and about 20% of people who misuse benzos get them from their doctor. Addicted users can also access them through family, friends, and other routes.
Some examples of this type of drug include:
There is a reason that they are only prescribed for a few weeks at the most, as the prolonged use or abuse of any drug from this family can cause brain adaptations that lead to physical and psychological dependency. Dependency to benzos occurs quickly, sometimes even occurring within a few weeks of the first dose.
If you have recognized signs of benzo addiction in yourself or a loved one, we can help. Cirque Lodge offers a medically assisted treatment (MAT) for benzo addiction that treats dependency in a safer, more effective, and more comfortable way.
Benzos work by increasing the effectiveness of the neurotransmitter GABA. This is the chemical responsible for calming the nervous system. To do this, it binds to receptors, which act as GABA docking stations. Once it has landed, it slows down the communication of nerves in the brain. Benzos make these receptors work more efficiently to take in much more GABA.
The prolonged presence of benzos in the nervous system causes the body to adapt. Users build a tolerance to these drugs, and with time neural receptors sometimes change in structure. When a user stops taking benzos, the structural and chemical changes leave the brain out of balance.
This build-up of tolerance is described as physical dependence. Dependence is a medical condition that can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms when a user tries to detox alone.
People with benzo dependence will experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop using them. There is also a possibility of “rebound” symptoms or a return and worsening of the symptoms their initial benzo prescription treated.
The symptoms specific to withdrawal relate to the type of benzo used and the effects it was developed to produce. Benzo withdrawal can bring on any or all of the following symptoms:
The intensity and length of these withdrawal symptoms vary depending on a few factors. One critical factor is whether you have stopped using a short-acting or long-acting benzo. Independently of physical dependence, short-acting benzos such as Xanax stay present in the body for up to two days. Long-acting benzos such as Valium are in the system for as long as ten days.
Other factors can prolong the physical withdrawal period, including:
Prolonged or intense withdrawal symptoms can lead users to relapse. They are also dangerous when they are not managed as they can lead to intolerable psychological distress and physical symptoms.
Treatment for benzo addiction or abuse does not have to be miserable.
Detox with medical aid can make withdrawal more comfortable for anyone who has developed physical dependence. It can also make withdrawal a much safer event for people who meet the following criteria:
MAT at Cirque Lodge involves evaluating the withdrawal symptoms of our clients and prescribing medication to alleviate any harmful effects.
We sometimes administer other benzodiazepines at safe doses to treat acute withdrawal symptoms before slowly tapering out over the course of a few weeks for a more gentle detox. We also prescribe other forms of medication approved to treat anxiety and its collection of related symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms sometimes peak in a few days, but they may also carry on for weeks or months. Medical detox in a supervised facility gives our clients access to ongoing support and continual evaluation during this period.
Benzo abuse implies extreme peaks and falls in the user’s GABA levels, which can shock the system and challenge healing. When our medical team recommends tapering treatment, the objective is to initially stabilize the client’s GABA levels before slowly reducing the dose amount to allow the body to recover.
The first step we take in the detox process is to assess our clients’ tolerance level to benzo use. After this, we will prescribe a drug from this family, often switching to a longer-acting type that will not produce a rush.
The two long-acting, slow-onset medications we are most likely to prescribe are:
Rapid reduction is not always wise, so we may initially prescribe a lower or equivalent dose depending on the case.
After this, we slowly lower the amount of the drug we prescribe, typically by about 10% per week. Our team of medical and psychiatric staff supervising the process may choose to adjust this depending on your particular needs.
Not every case of benzo addiction requires a taper method to recover. Sometimes it is more appropriate to prescribe beta-blockers, antidepressants, or other medications approved to treat anxiety. This is particularly true in clients who have not developed a high degree of dependency on benzos, but every individual is different.
Some other medications that we may prescribe include:
The detox process helps our clients rebalance their body’s physical functioning.
We also provide ongoing psychological support and counseling for the rest of your stay. Residents at Cirque Lodge receive a personalized set of cognitive and experiential therapies built around the 12-step program. These therapies are designed to build up resilience against drug abuse and relapse in the long term and are a key part of rehabilitation.
We recognize that the abuse of benzos is often tangled up with feelings and coping strategies related to underlying conditions. Benzodiazepines are most commonly prescribed as a treatment for anxiety-related symptoms. Many users who abuse them without prescription are using them to self-medicate for undiagnosed or untreated co-occurring disorders.
Dual diagnosis at Cirque Lodge allows us to start taking apart this complex web. We want to get at the real underlying causes of addiction, and that means starting with the whole picture. With this knowledge, our medical and therapeutic teams can customize your treatment to improve your health from all sides after detox.
For more information on our holistic treatment program at Cirque Lodge, see here.