Using Benzodiazepines to Ease Withdrawal Pains
There are lots of recommendations on the Internet for methods of managing withdrawal symptoms during detox. Individuals who have been through withdrawal or who think they know what would work are often happy to offer advice about how to quit certain drugs.
When it comes to detox from alcohol and opiates, many of these recommendations include taking benzodiazepines – anti-anxiety medications like Valium or Xanax – to ease some withdrawal symptoms. However, this advice often doesn’t take into account the risks that may arise from using these substances to treat the discomforts of withdrawal. Balancing risks and benefits is important to the process of determining the types of treatment most likely to help each individual get through the uncomfortable detox process.
Uncomfortable Symptoms of Withdrawal
Drug withdrawal can be a frustrating process. Once a person has become dependent on a drug, the brain loses its ability to function without the drug; this results in a variety of unpleasant symptoms when the drug is stopped. Symptoms of withdrawal can be both physical and mental, and may include:
- Variations in sleep patterns
- Body aches and headache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in heart and breathing rates
- Mood changes
- Anxiety or paranoia
- Symptoms similar to a cold or the flu
Which symptoms manifest depends on the type of drug being taken, the degree of abuse or addiction, and the individual’s particular physical and mental attributes, among other factors.
How Benzodiazepines Help
Anti-anxiety medications can help to manage a number of the symptoms of withdrawal. In fact, benzodiazepines have been used to support comfortable withdrawal from a wide range of drugs.
Benzos are most commonly seen as a treatment for severe alcohol abuse or alcoholism. One of the risks of heavy, long-term alcohol use is a condition called delirium tremens – a severe withdrawal syndrome that can cause various serious symptoms, including seizures, and that can be fatal if the individual does not have medical support for detox from alcohol.As explained by the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, using benzodiazepines can help to manage agitation and seizures associated with alcohol withdrawal, and it can even help prevent delirium tremens from occurring during alcohol detox. Benzos make it possible to manage these uncomfortable symptoms and taper the individual down from intoxication until full detox is complete.
The AMA Journal of Ethics recommends using benzos like diazepam as means of treating withdrawal symptoms that occur with opioid withdrawal, which include:
- Muscle aches
Unlike alcohol withdrawal, opioid withdrawal is not likely to be deadly. However, there have been incidents of harmful or fatal reactions if an individual takes opioids and benzos together, due to extremely slow heart rate and breathing. For this reason, opioid use should be stopped before benzos are administered, and the process should always be supervised by an experienced medical professional.
Withdrawal from hallucinogen use can result in intense anxiety and agitation. This makes benzodiazepines the ideal treatment for hallucinogen withdrawal, according to an article from Medscape. Other hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms that are reduced through benzo administration are tachycardia – or abnormal heart rhythm – and high blood pressure.
An article from American Family Physician explains that benzodiazepines like diazepam can help to manage irritability and other mild withdrawal symptoms from stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. These drugs can also manage the intense depression and anhedonia that are inherent in withdrawal from these drugs.
Benzodiazepine Dependence Risks
All these studies and articles make it seem that benzos are an ideal drug withdrawal treatment. However, benzodiazepines themselves have a high addiction potential, which can result in severe health risks both for overdose and, in the case of detox, a potentially fatal withdrawal syndrome, as described in an article from Addiction.
There are many online references regarding ways to detox from various drugs at home using benzos. Some individuals might think that it’s an easy process to pop a few pills and get past uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms with no issues. However, because of the highly addictive nature of benzos and the risky withdrawal syndrome, it can be very dangerous to attempt withdrawal using benzos without the supervision of a medical professional. Doing so could result in replacing one addiction with another, potential overdose, or experiencing more severe or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms from the benzos themselves.
Benzos may be an important element of withdrawal from alcohol in particular and from other addictive substances in general. Still, the risks make it a challenge to use benzos as a self-treatment for addiction detox. Experienced addiction treatment specialists can determine the best benzo to use, the appropriate dosage, and the correct dosing and tapering schedule to avoid this treatment leading to a new addiction and the risks that come along with it.
To find medical professionals with the experience necessary to make this determination, the individual struggling with substance abuse can look for a research-based, experienced treatment program for support. Through these programs, the correct medical detox support can be found as well as supplemental therapy and peer support that round out programs shown to help people get through withdrawal and move forward into recovery.