Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox Timeline

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox Timeline

Authored by Defining Wellness    Reviewed by Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis    Last Updated: August 17th, 2021


Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis Medical Reviewer
Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

Every year, thousands of doctors in the United States prescribe benzodiazepines to their patients. Benzodiazepines have a calming, sedative effect that relieves anxiety and helps people get to sleep at night. For some, benzodiazepines are a drug that they keep on hand for emergency situations. But for others, benzodiazepines are an addictive substance that they use to escape the stress of their day-to-day lives. When their prescription runs out, they start seeking benzodiazepine from illicit sources so they don’t lose the “high” that they get from the drug.

Benzodiazepine addictions interfere with every aspect of your life, including your physical health, emotional health, and relationships with friends and family members. Eventually, you might decide to tackle your addiction head-on. Experts will tell you that detoxification is the first step of the recovery process. During your detox, you’ll stop taking benzos and wait for the drug to leave your system. As your body adjusts, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms gradually taper off and become manageable, allowing you to move to the next stage of treatment.

Some clients are hesitant to start treatment because they don’t want to deal with withdrawals. Detoxification can be challenging, but when you detox in a professional facility, you’ll be much safer than if you tried to detox at home. Knowing what to expect is half the battle, so here’s a rundown of the typical benzodiazepine withdrawal and detox timeline.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines a benzodiazepine, or “benzo,” as a prescription sedative that increases certain neurotransmitters in your brain. Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium are all common benzos.

Benzos make up a large percentage of prescriptions in the United States. Doctors commonly prescribe benzos to treat anxiety and insomnia, but they also treat seizures and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Some doctors prescribe benzos to help their clients relax before surgery. Others use them as muscle relaxers.

Most benzos come in pill form. Because of their high potential for abuse, many doctors prescribe benzos only for emergency use. However, a doctor might prescribe benzos for everyday use under extreme circumstances. Benzos have a number of side effects, including:
• Nausea
• Fatigue
• Lightheadedness
• Confusion
• Dizziness
• Slurred speech
• Weakness
• Headaches
• Constipation
• Memory lapses

The side effects get worse if you take benzos over a long period of time. You could feel irritable, confused, or detached from reality. Other side effects include weight gain and persistent memory problems. These side effects are common in people with benzodiazepine addictions as well as people who take benzos according to their prescription.

What Happens When You Detox From Benzos?

It’s impossible to recover from your addiction until you’ve fully detoxed. This means stepping away from your regular life until the benzos have completely left your system. Withdrawal symptoms are common in people recovering from benzo addictions–in fact, you only need to take benzos for three weeks to experience withdrawals. Here’s a rundown of the most common symptoms:
• Body aches
• Hallucinations
• Nausea and vomiting
• Panic attacks
• Seizures
• Delusions
• Dissociation
• Strange bodily sensations
• Insomnia
• Depression
• Anxiety

Everyone experiences withdrawals differently. You might experience half these symptoms, a few of them, or an uncommon symptom that’s not on the list. In addition to withdrawals, you will likely experience benzo cravings. This is another reason why it’s important to detox in a safe facility–you won’t have access to drugs, eliminating the possibility of relapse during this time.

What’s the Withdrawal and Detox Timeline?

The timeline starts as soon as you stop taking benzos. You might notice the first symptoms creeping in within 24 hours after your last dose. Similarly, the anxiety, insomnia, and other issues that the benzos treated might start to come back. It could take up to a few days before you enter the next step of the timeline.

The next stage can last anywhere from a week to a month. During this time, you’ll experience the most severe withdrawal symptoms. It’s especially important to detox in a medical facility during this time. If you don’t, you could suffer from severe side effects that lead to complications. You’re also more likely to relapse, especially if you’re not getting treatment for your symptoms.

Eventually, the symptoms taper off into the final stage. This stage could last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In the last stage, you might experience symptoms like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and mood swings. A counselor could help you manage these issues without turning back to prescription drugs.

Could Withdrawal Lead to Complications?

Some people try to “tough it out” at home when they detox. Unfortunately, this puts you at a greater risk of complications. Here are some issues that you might experience if you don’t detox in a medical facility:
• Grand mal seizures
• Self-injury when you experience strange bodily sensations, like the feeling of bugs crawling on your skin
• Hallucinations and delusions, causing panic attacks and other frightening experiences
• Relapse to relieve the symptoms
• Taking other drugs to relieve the symptoms, causing a completely different issue
• Health problems related to the symptoms, like dehydration from persistent vomiting or diarrhea

A medical facility could help you taper off instead of dropping the benzos right away. Unlike other drugs, you can’t abruptly stop taking benzos without the risk of complications. Rehab facilities offer 24/7 monitoring and treatments that could ease the side effects, giving you a more comfortable experience.

Which Factors Could Make Withdrawal More Severe?

You might experience more severe withdrawal symptoms if you’ve been using benzos for several weeks or months. Similarly, a high dosage or prescription to multiple benzos could increase your symptoms. Some benzos, like Xanax, leave your body quickly, so you’ll experience side effects in less than a day. Others, like Klonopin, take a day or two to leave your system completely.

Your age, weight and metabolism could also affect your withdrawal timeline. If you’re taking other drugs or have health conditions, that could also make withdrawal more difficult. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen, but a doctor could assess your situation and tell you what to expect.

How Common Are Benzodiazepine Addictions?

Studies have shown that benzos account for 16% of opioid-related deaths in the United States. In fact, over 130 people in the U.S. die from opioid overdoses every day. Despite this, benzodiazepine prescriptions have skyrocketed since the ’90s. Doctors have tripled the number of benzos that they prescribe and the amount that they prescribe to each patient. This puts an increasing number of people at risk for developing an addiction.

Benzo addiction is dangerous enough on its own, but many doctors prescribe benzos along with opioids. The amount of benzo and opioid prescriptions has nearly doubled since 2001, increasing the risk of overdoses and fatalities. Shockingly, adding benzos to an opioid prescription makes people ten times more likely to overdose. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has asked doctors to avoid prescribing benzos and opioids together as much as possible.

Altogether, benzos are one of the most frequently prescribed medications in the U.S.–and as a result, they’ve become one of the most common addictions. Mixing medications or drinking alcohol makes you more likely to suffer from an overdose.

Why Do People Get Addicted to Benzos?

There are dozens of reasons why someone might develop a benzo addiction, but many people turn to benzos because the calming, sedative feeling gives them relief from stress and anxiety. These people might suffer from depression, anxiety, delusions, PTSD, insomnia, and other mental health issues that interfere with their lives. Taking benzos makes their brain produce more dopamine–when they stop taking them, the dopamine production stops. Counseling is important for addicts because it treats the cause of their addiction and not just the symptoms.

What Can You Do When Your Anxiety or Insomnia Starts Coming Back?

If your doctor prescribed benzos to help you deal with anxiety or insomnia, these conditions might start to come back during the withdrawal process. Unfortunately, you can’t take benzos to relieve them. Here are some non-medical ways that you could deal with anxiety:
• Write about your feelings
• Close your eyes and take deep breaths
• Meditate
• Go for a walk
• Talk to a friend or relative
• Engage in a hobby
• Make something with your hands
• Talk to a counselor
• Watch a movie or TV show that will distract you

Similarly, here are some non-medical ways that you could deal with anxiety:
• Read a book, especially a boring one
• Meditate or take deep breaths until you feel relaxed
• Exercise before bed
• Get into a consistent routine
• Don’t use your phone an hour before you go to bed

Your doctor will have more advice about combating anxiety, insomnia, and other issues without resorting to benzos.

What Should You Do After the Detox?

You can detox from benzos, but it won’t help you if you don’t treat the root of your addiction. Otherwise, a relapse is practically inevitable. That’s why a treatment program is just as important as the detox itself. Treatment programs offer different types of therapy to help you improve your mental well-being and understand why you turned to benzos in the first place.

Your treatment program could include family therapy, hypnotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), trauma therapy, and anything else that you might need. Some programs include experimental types of therapy like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEFT). This helps you process trauma, learn coping skills, and gain self-confidence so that you can enjoy life again.

Once you leave treatment, you’ll need to incorporate healthy living into every aspect of your life. That’s why treatment centers offer nutrition and fitness plans so that you can get in shape and take care of your body. Many people are overweight or malnourished when they start their detox, especially if the benzos caused weight gain. Rehab gives you the opportunity to play sports, eat healthily, and learn exercises and meditative practices that you can use at home.

What About Aftercare?

Aftercare programs help you maintain a healthy lifestyle after you’ve detoxed and completed your rehab program. These programs might include counseling, group therapy, 12-step meetings, religious groups, alumni meetings, local classes, exercise groups, and more. Aftercare programs offer a community of peers that share your experiences with addiction. It’s hard to stay sober without education and support, so rehab facilities often make aftercare part of their treatment plan.

Are You or a Loved One Addicted to Benzos?

Defining Wellness Centers offers extensive treatment for people suffering from benzo addictions. We combine therapy with education to find the root cause of the addiction and then enable people to live healthier lives after they leave rehab. Our facility offers a chapel, nature area, art studio, fitness center, and dining room where our cooks prepare nutritious meals. In particular, Defining Wellness provides specialized care for people who have suffered from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Get in touch with us today if you’re thinking about taking the next step. You don’t have to sign up for a program today–our specialists are happy to discuss your options and figure out what works for you. Learn more about our treatments, therapies, and educational classes that help people get back on their feet again. We’re also happy to discuss the detox process if you want to learn more about detoxing in a medically supervised environment. In the meantime, visit our blog to learn more about addiction-related topics.

Ready to talk? Give us a call, or verify your insurance on our website to make sure that you’re a good fit for our program. We accept multiple insurance providers at Defining Wellness Center.

Family-owned and operated, Defining Wellness Centers is a true labor of love. My wife Robin and I, along with our children, are deeply passionate about wellness, mental health and addiction treatment.

We are a family, dedicated to helping other families. We created Defining Wellness with two central goals in mind: to share our love, understanding and compassion with clients and to utilize the best health and wellness modalities available today to treat addiction.

Our programs are built on a foundation of proven, evidence-based therapeutic techniques combined with cutting-edge bio-technological treatments, fitness and experiential learning. Our end goal is to provide the support and tools necessary for people become their best selves through emotional wellness and balance.