Benzodiazepine Use Signs, Withdrawal Symptoms, and Side Effects

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Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used to treat various conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms. They work by slowing down activity in the brain and nervous system. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin). However, long-term use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped or reduced.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a dependence on a benzodiazepine or any other substance, Guardian Recovery Network can help. We will work with you to develop an individualized and effective program to help you recover from addiction and get you on the road to long-term recovery. We believe in the benefits of a full curriculum of clinical care, beginning with medical detoxification, transitioning into a higher level of treatment, and concluding with personalized aftercare planning. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options in your area.

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Physical & Psychological Side Effects of Using Benzodiazepines

The most common side effect of benzodiazepine use is drowsiness, leading to difficulty concentrating and impaired judgment. It can induce an initial euphoria or a false sense of well-being, but other psychological side effects are much less pleasant.

Short-Term Side Effects

  • Drowsiness and sedation.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Impaired coordination and balance.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Headaches and dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Memory problems.

Long-Term Effects

  • Cognitive impairments, including memory and attention deficits.
  • Emotional blunting and decreased empathy.
  • Increased risk of accidents and falls.
  • Respiratory issues, especially when combined with other central nervous system depressants.
  • Paradoxical reactions (e.g., increased anxiety or aggression).
  • Risk of dependence and addiction.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Dependence & Addiction

When someone dependent on benzodiazepines stops using the drug abruptly or significantly reduces their dosage, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary in severity and may include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Restlessness and insomnia.
  • Irritability and agitation.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Sweating and tremors.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Headaches and muscle pain.
  • Seizures (in severe cases).

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines can vary depending on the specific drug, dosage, duration of use, and individual factors. Abruptly stopping or significantly reducing the dosage of benzodiazepines can lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms, which can be both physical and psychological. It’s important to note that withdrawal should be done under medical supervision to ensure safety and minimize discomfort. The following are common withdrawal symptoms and a general timeline associated with benzodiazepine withdrawal:

Early Withdrawal Symptoms (within 1-4 days):

  • Anxiety and restlessness.
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances.
  • Irritability and agitation.
  • Tremors and shaking.
  • Sweating and increased heart rate.
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Poor concentration and memory difficulties.

Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (5-14 days):

  • Heightened anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Increased irritability and agitation.
  • Profuse sweating and tremors.
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).
  • Headaches and muscle pain.
  • Sensory disturbances (tingling sensations, hypersensitivity).
  • Cognitive difficulties (confusion, memory impairment).

Extended Withdrawal Symptoms (can persist for weeks to months):

  • Lingering anxiety and mood swings.
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia.
  • Persistent fatigue and low energy levels.
  • Difficulty with concentration and memory.
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness.
  • Sensory disturbances.
  • Cravings for benzodiazepines.

It’s worth noting that the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary widely between individuals. Some individuals may experience more intense or prolonged withdrawal symptoms, particularly if they have been using benzodiazepines for an extended period or at high doses.

It is highly recommended that individuals seeking to discontinue benzodiazepine use do so under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare professional. Gradual tapering of the dosage over time is typically the preferred approach to minimize withdrawal symptoms and ensure safety.

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What Symptoms are Caused by an Overdose From Benzodiazepines?

An overdose of benzodiazepines can have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences due to their impact on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. The symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose can vary depending on the specific drug taken, the amount consumed, and individual factors. It’s important to seek immediate medical assistance if an overdose is suspected. Here are some common symptoms of a benzodiazepine overdose:

Central Nervous System Depression:

  • Profound drowsiness and sedation
  • Extreme confusion and disorientation
  • Slurred speech and impaired coordination
  • Muscle weakness and loss of motor control
  • Respiratory depression (slow, shallow breathing)
  • Coma (in severe cases)

Cardiovascular Effects:

  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Slow heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Weak pulse
  • Cyanosis (bluish discoloration of lips and extremities)
  • A person who is overdosing on benzodiazepine can also experience:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Blurred vision and dilated pupils
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Seizures (in rare cases)

What Should You Do if Someone Overdoses on Benzodiazepines?

If you suspect that someone has overdosed on benzodiazepines, it is crucial to act quickly and seek immediate medical help. Here are the steps you should take:

Call Emergency Services

Dial the emergency services hotline or local emergency number (e.g., 911 in the United States) to report the situation. Provide clear and concise information about your suspicions of a benzodiazepine overdose. Stay on the line and follow any instructions given by the operator.

Stay with the Person

Monitor their vital signs, such as breathing and pulse rate. If they become unconscious, position them on their side to prevent choking on vomit. Try to keep them awake and engaged in conversation to help monitor their condition.

Gather Information

If you can, gather any relevant information about the situation. Try to find out what type of benzodiazepine they may have taken, the dosage, and the time of ingestion. Providing this information to medical professionals can help them deliver appropriate treatment.

Avoid Additional Substances

Do not give the person anything to eat or drink unless directed to do so by emergency medical personnel. It is important to avoid administering other substances, including home remedies or medications, unless healthcare professionals advise them.

Cooperate with Medical Professionals

Once emergency medical services arrive, provide them with accurate and detailed information about the situation. Be prepared to answer questions about the person’s symptoms, medical history, and any medications they may be taking.

Benzodiazepine Abuse & Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

In many cases, individuals who abuse benzodiazepines may also experience co-occurring mental health disorders.

Individuals with undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders seek out benzodiazepines to self-medicate. They may use these medications to alleviate anxiety, depression, or sleep disturbances. However, self-medication can worsen the underlying mental health condition and lead to a cycle of dependency and abuse.

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Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment for Withdrawal Symptoms & Effects

Benzodiazepine addiction can be a challenging condition to overcome, particularly due to the potential for severe withdrawal symptoms. If you develop a dependence on benzodiazepines, discontinuing use or reducing dosage can lead to a range of withdrawal effects. Effective therapy for benzodiazepine addiction involves addressing the addiction’s physical and psychological aspects, managing withdrawal symptoms, and promoting long-term recovery.

Treatment may include medically-supervised detoxification, medication-assisted therapy, peer support groups, and psychological support. Therapies found to help treat addiction include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational therapy, contingency management, and family therapy.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-45-Detoxification-and-Substance-Abuse-Treatment/SMA06-4131
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/benzodiazepines-opioids
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1441411/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6513394/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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