Benzodiazepines (benzos) are often referred to as “tranquilizers.” Xanax, Ativan, Valium and Klonopin are well-known benzos. They are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that have an effect on the brain similar to that of alcohol. It is extremely dangerous to drink alcohol or use other CNS depressants, such as opiates, while taking benzodiazepines.
Benzos are addictive with repeated large doses or prolonged smaller doses. Addiction can occur when therapeutic doses are taken over long periods. They are often abused for the purpose of getting “high,” since their effect is similar to drinking. Benzo intoxication can cause amnesia, hostility, irritability, disturbed dreams, and eventually lead to tolerance and physical dependence. Withdrawal can be severe — even life-threatening — and may require hospitalization.
There are dozens of benzodiazepine drugs available in the US and Canada, along with others such as Zolpidem (Ambien) and zaleplon (Sonata), benzo-like drugs with similar properties. Alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) are the most common benzos on the illicit market. Valium is one of the most-prescribed drugs in the world, and one of the most useful when properly used. Because it is so common, it is a widely-used recreational drug. Most adolescent abusers report getting it originally from the medicine supplies of parents or the parents of friends, but it is also readily available from dealers.
Benzodiazepines are particularly dangerous when used with alcohol and other drugs. Small amounts can produce a “synergistic” effect, where the combined effects of the drugs are greater than one would expect. Karen Ann Quinlan was a well-known victim of this synergism. She entered a coma after using relatively small amounts of alcohol, dextropropoxyphene (a codeine-like opioid drug) and Valium, and remained in it until she died from pneumonia ten years later.
Xanax is useful in the treatment of panic and anxiety disorders, and has been popular as a drug of abuse for the past couple of decades. Like Valium, it produces intoxication similar to alcohol. Its withdrawal effects are similar to those of Valium.
Generally speaking, all benzodiazepine drugs create withdrawal similar to the conditions they were designed to treat. They may include some or all of those mentioned below. Some people are able to reduce benzo use with little effort, but that is not usually the case and it should be assumed that there might be serious withdrawal issues. There is some reason to believe that genetic traits are associated with differences in withdrawal from benzos.
Long-term use of benzodiazepines will eventually result in tolerance (the need for more of the drug to have the same effect) and dependence (inability to stop without withdrawal), and they have been shown to cause problems with clear thinking, understanding and physical coordination that last for years after quitting in some cases, and that may prove to be permanent.
Benzo withdrawal is best monitored in a supervised medical setting until the acute symptoms have abated. Post-acute withdrawal, with reduced symptoms, can usually be handled on an outpatient basis. Withdrawal from high doses can include convulsions, stroke, coma and/or death, suicidal thoughts that sometimes lead to attempts, other forms of self-harm, homicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, confusion, manic episodes and even delirium tremens (DT’s).
Low-dose withdrawal is marked by any or all of the following: anxiety, agitation, restlessness, impaired concentration and memory, insomnia, increased sensitivity to light, sound and touch, restless leg syndrome (leg jitters), elevated blood pressure, depression (which can be severe), visual disturbances, mood swings and irritable bowel syndrome.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a dangerous medical condition that requires careful management, especially in the acute stage. Because of the danger of convulsion, blood pressure spikes and stroke, medical detox is highly recommended, where other medications can be utilized to reduce the effects of withdrawal and experts are on hand in case of problems. Medical detoxification makes the process not only safer, but much more comfortable. Sunrise Detox uses the latest approved protocols for benzo detoxification, and provides education and support to help clients through the initial phases and into the recovery process.