Benzo Withdrawal & Overdose: What are the Signs?
12 January, 2023
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are prescription tranquilizers commonly prescribed medication in the United States. It is used to treat panic disorders, insomnia, seizures, anxiety, muscle tension etc. In addition, benzodiazepines are used as muscle relaxants. However, when these drugs are used in prescription drug abuse, it results in benzodiazepine addiction, resulting in high tolerance and dependence towards it.
In order to come out of benzodiazepine addiction, it is crucial to undergo timely treatments. In this regard, one must also be aware of the side effects and treatment procedures related to benzodiazepine addiction.
What are Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms?
The most significant challenge individuals addicted to benzodiazepines face is unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. It is prevalent to have an irresistible urge and cravings for the sedative. Individuals might find it challenging to get rid of benzodiazepines addiction without robust support from medical professionals. Professional help when detoxing from benzos is a must.
Here are the common symptoms of benzodiazepines withdrawal:
Detachment from reality
Hallucination and delusions
Anxiety and Insomnia
Nausea and vomiting
Headaches and muscle pain
Higher blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate
Not every individual with benzodiazepine addiction will experience all the above-mentioned symptoms. It varies from patient to patient. Even heart attacks are common for elderly individuals.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms are not specific in terms of severity and time period. Each patient will experience it differently based on the dosage of the sedative, the time period for which the sedative has been taken, misusing other drugs, having a pre-existing medical condition, taking another drug at the same time, etc.
The benzodiazepine withdrawal period is divided into three categories: early or immediate withdrawal, acute withdrawal, and protracted withdrawal.
Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Overdose
When consumed in regular doses, benzodiazepine helps cure anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Individuals who consume prescribed benzodiazepines generally feel drowsy. However, the symptoms accelerate when the sedative is consumed in a larger dose.
Increased doses of benzodiazepine result in fatal outcomes affecting an individual's physical and mental well-being. The symptoms of benzodiazepine overdose are as follows-
Weakness and drowsiness
Difficulty in breathing
Uncoordinated muscle movement
Extreme sedation etc.
One may also suffer from respiratory distress, physical trauma, and the absence of oxygenated blood. In addition, major benzodiazepine complications can result in bluish fingernails and tips, pneumonia, muscle damage, etc. Patients can also have jaundice, seizures, and severe itching.
Moreover, patients can develop paradoxical disinhibition; a reaction that is opposite to what is produced by the sedative; contradictory behavior of being aggressive, hostile, irritable, impulsive, etc.
How Do Benzos Work?
Benzodiazepines slow down all the nerve activity in the brain and help treat several neurological conditions. In addition, it soothes the central nervous system, diffusing anxiety and stress and minimizes its side effects on one’s mental health.
Benzodiazepines soothe nerve firings directly related to stress by leveling up the balance of gamma amino-butyric acid in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that communicates the calming sensation of pleasure and rewards to the brain cells. In addition, Benzodiazepines increase the dopamine level.
As dopamine is considered to be the chemical messenger that gets triggered to pleasure and reward, it will mold the brain to get used to pleasure, prompting individuals to seek regular doses of Benzos. When an individual suffers from anxiety, brain cells undergo overstimulation. To counter the overstimulation, individuals consume benzodiazepine, helping them lower anxiety symptoms.
However, individuals will develop a high tolerance level from long-term usage of benzodiazepine. As the level of tolerance towards the medication takes hold, the risk of an individual falling prey to addiction also increases.
Impact of Benzodiazepine Overdose on Health
Benzos fall under the category of central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which lower blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and core body temperature. In addition, it boosts the inhibitory effects of the neurotransmitter GABA. However, in the case of a Benzodiazepine overdose, these vital life functions become significantly lower.
Acute benzodiazepine overdose is marked by increased sedation clubbed with disrupted mental status. In addition, it results in diminished postural stability. Though benzodiazepine is beneficial to treat anxiety, the higher dosage of it will induce further respiratory depression, which further leads to coma and death.
What are the Treatment Options for Benzodiazepine Addiction?
Individuals suffering from benzodiazepine addiction can seek effective drug abuse treatment and therapies. Without treatment, the symptoms will escalate, leading to life-threatening complications like full-body seizures.
A medically-supervised drug detox program is the first step toward benzodiazepine addiction treatment. Detoxification is basically tapering the dose of benzodiazepines till the sedative is eliminated from the body. Those who are consuming the medicine for a long time will undergo potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) proves effective in treating long-term benzodiazepine (BZD) addiction. The therapy is put into action in three stages.
Firstly, it focuses on curing anxiety and insomnia and finding the root causes of benzodiazepine use. Then therapists regulating the cause use the same to enhance the patient's compliance with the taper program followed by the effective management of the benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms. Lastly, they aim to prevent relapse by falling back on regulatory behaviors and other cognitive strategies.
The significant advantage of following CBT therapy is that it targets to treat of the addiction by emphasizing the underlying physical and mental condition that results from prolonged use of benzodiazepine. In addition, by addressing the issue that prompts them to continue with the usage of benzodiazepine, therapists can help patients to come out of the disease eventually.
MAT: Medication-Assisted Treatment
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is another effective way to treat benzodiazepine addiction. It proves even more efficacious when backed by counseling and behavioral therapies. Several Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications are used to cure substance use disorder. These approved MAT medications come in both forms: oral tablets and injections. Some MAT medications are Naltrexone, Buprenorphine, Disulfiram, Methadone, and more.
For instance, Naltrexone proves effective in blocking the euphoric and sedative sensation that individuals experience from consuming an addictive substance.
Flumazenil is a commonly used medication by medical professionals during emergencies. It is an effective antagonist that reverses the sedative sensation of benzodiazepine.
Individuals suffering from benzodiazepine addiction also face severe mental health issues. These issues must be addressed to help individuals come out of it completely. In this regard, seeking a dual diagnosis treatment program will prove effective. The treatment facility helps to deal with both benzodiazepine addiction and mental health issues.
Those who consume benzodiazepine for a long time are likely to face withdrawal symptoms. The optimal treatment required to cure benzodiazepine abuse is predominantly psychological and behavioral therapies.
Signs That Indicate One Is Addicted to Benzodiazepine
Individuals are considered to be addicted to benzodiazepine if they develop the following symptoms, which are very common to any drug withdrawal symptoms.
Consuming large-scale drugs more than what is actually prescribed
Spending a significant amount of time acquiring the drug
Intense cravings towards benzodiazepine
Using the sedative despite physical and psychological issues.
Consuming it despite facing interpersonal and social issues.
Using benzodiazepine with other addictive substances like alcohol
Avoiding occupational and daily activities
Urge to take large-amount for experiencing the pleasurable effects.
Failing to limit or stop using the usage of benzodiazepine even after several attempts.
Undergoing benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms while cutting down the usage of the sedative.
In conclusion, benzodiazepines are effective in treating several mental health issues; however, one must be mindful while using them. Taking it in larger quantities will result in benzodiazepine addiction, disrupting an individual's physical and mental health. The short-term usage of the medicine proves effective. However, the long-term usage of the sedative will prove counterproductive for one’s health.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are some of the common benzodiazepines?
Some of the common benzodiazepines are Alprazolam (also known as Xanax), Midazolam, Lorazepam (Ativan), Diazepam (Valium), Midazolam (Versed), Clonazepam (Klonopin), Restoril (Temazepam) etc.
Who should avoid taking benzodiazepines?
Medical professionals will not prescribe benzodiazepine to individuals who have any chronic lung disease or extreme breathing issues, liver or kidney ailments, sleep apnoea, or a neuromuscular condition known as myasthenia gravis.
What happens if benzodiazepines are consumed with other medication?
The sedative will prove fatal if it is combined with other medications resulting in negative health consequences and can also result in one’s demise.
How does benzodiazepine addiction affect the body during pregnancy?
Chronic use of benzodiazepines proves harmful to the body during pregnancy causing negative effects on the newborn like lower birth weight, stomach abnormalities, autism, breathing problems, heart abnormalities, Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD), and other serious conditions.
What is stabilization and maintenance therapy?
Patients who do not want to stop using benzodiazepines and are on the verge of relapse or harm need stabilization and maintenance therapy. Maintenance therapy and drug replacement programs involve a half-life substitute that medical professionals use to help patients tide over intoxication and withdrawal symptoms.