A Closer Look At Benzodiazepines: An Unassuming Killer

Benzodiazepines have been around since the late 1950s, and they were marketed as being an alternative to barbiturates and as minor tranquilizers.

When they’re prescribed for short term usage, they can be very useful for the treatment of insomnia, anxiety, seizures and after surgeries. However, when people take them for more than two to four weeks, they can become dependent on them, which can often lead to addiction.

One of the most surprising things about using prescription drugs like benzos is the fact that many people get hooked on them accidentally. Even when they follow their doctor’s directions to the letter, they can still develop a serious problem. And when they try to quit, they are assaulted by a range of uncomfortable – and sometimes deadly – withdrawal symptoms.

Plus, benzodiazepines are increasingly becoming a popular recreational drug as well. Abusers often take high doses alongside alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and other prescription drugs as well.

In order to understand how dangerous this addiction is, it’s important to look at what medications fall into this class, and what you can look for to determine whether you or someone you love is abusing benzodiazepines or has become addicted to them. 

On top of that, it’s also helpful to know what to expect in terms of treatment for this dangerous addiction.

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What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, also referred to simply as benzos, is a class of drug that’s used to essentially slow down the brain’s activity. It does so by interacting with special chemicals to reduce the brain’s electrical activity. Due to this slowing effect, these drugs are classified as sedative-hypnotics.

These drugs can come in handy for a number of different conditions. Most notably, disorders that involve increased activity in the brain can be treated with benzos. These conditions include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Epilepsy
  • Alcohol withdrawal

Benzos are available by prescription only. That means that they can only be obtained through a licensed physician or psychiatrist. However, many benzodiazepine abusers also get their fix through illegal means. This might include buying them on the streets from drug dealers or taking them from friends or family members that have a legitimate prescription.

In fact, one study found that the overwhelming majority of prescription drug abusers obtain these drugs from people with a proper prescription. They may buy extras off of them, take unused doses, or even steal them.

Benzodiazepines are also referred to on the street as “Benzos,” and they can be very dangerous with prolonged usage. Even though doctors have recently tried to prescribe alternate drugs to their patients because of the risks involved with this classification, there are some who still heavily prescribe them. They are: 

  • Valium (generic name: diazepam)
  • Ativan (generic name: lorazepam)
  • Xanax (generic name: alprazolam)
  • Klonopin/Rivotril (generic name: clonazepam)
  • Restoril (generic name: temazepam)
  • Rohypnol (generic name: flunitrazepam)
  • Dalmane (generic name: flurazepam)

It is so easy to become dependent upon benzos because they actually do work really well for their intended purpose. However, it’s easy to develop a tolerance after only a short time of using them, which can lead to using increasing amounts as time goes on. 

We know that benzos can be especially helpful for certain conditions that involve increased electrical activity in the brain. But how do they help? What do they do on a cellular level?

Well, to understand how these drugs work in the brain, it helps to know a bit about how the brain works in general. Everything we do – all of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and instincts – are driven by electrical activity in specialized brain cells called neurons. Every action and everything we experience matches up with a particular pattern of electrical activity in these neurons, of which the brain has 100 billion.

Whether or not these neurons light up with electrical activity is controlled by the amount of excitatory and inhibitory chemicals they’re exposed to. If the excitatory chemicals outnumber the inhibitory ones, the neuron lights up and transfers an electrical pulse to other neurons. If the inhibitory ones win, then the neuron stays inactive.

GABA (or gamma-aminobutyric acid) is one of the brain’s main inhibitory chemicals. Benzos like Xanax and Ativan interact directly with this chemical and make it much stronger. And as a result, many of the brain’s neurons become far less likely to fire off electrical signals.  

The levels of these chemicals (called neurotransmitters) go up and down constantly throughout the day. However, in individuals with certain mental disorders (insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.) the excitatory neurotransmitters are always beating out the inhibitory ones. Benzos, then, can help return the brain’s neurotransmitters to their proper levels by increasing the strength of the inhibitory chemicals.

When benzodiazepines are taken in the long-term, though, the body eventually adjusts to them. It does so by increasing the potency of the natural excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. As a result, patients commonly must increase their dosage to get the same beneficial effects.

And over time, they can develop a physical dependency that may lay the groundwork for addiction.

While drugs like Xanax and Ativan may seem new, the truth is that benzodiazepines have actually been around for quite some time.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), they were first discovered in the 1930s by Leo Sternbach, a chemist working for the Hoffman-LaRoche Company. It wasn’t until 1957 that benzos were first introduced to the public, however, when the company released Librium, an anti-anxiety medication.

Benzodiazepines were first lauded as a safer alternative to barbiturates, another central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Physicians and medication prescribers found that benzos had a beneficial effect on disorders like anxiety without the dangerous respiratory depression caused by the more outdated barbiturates.

However, as these drugs became more widely prescribed in the 1980s, experts began voicing concerns about the addictive potential of these drugs. These concerns were particularly geared towards elderly patients, who often experienced more severe side effects of the drugs.

As a result, legislation was passed to categorize these drugs as potentially harmful. But even still, benzodiazepines like Xanax are still one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S. today.

As with so many other drugs, benzodiazepines have claimed the lives of a number of celebrities in recent years. Here are just a few of the most notable.

  • Amy Winehouse
  • Brittany Murphy
  • Adam Goldstein
  • Michael Jackson
  • Heath Ledger
  • Anna Nicole Smith
  • Whitney Houston
  • Mike Starr

For many benzo abusers, getting high on these drugs is mostly about the calming sensation that they provide. An especially strong sense of wellbeing, a release of stress, and a relief from worries and cares are often cited as the main benefits of a benzodiazepine high.

According to one user, StaySedated, from the drug forum Bluelight:

depending on dose, benzos at lower doses produce relaxation, stress/anxiety relief, feeling content with one's self and/or increased self-confidence, sedation, and drowsiness. lower doses generally feel similar to one or two alcoholic drinks. 

as dose increases, a drunk like intoxication sets in and effects can include: lowered to loss of inhibitions, euphoria, slurred speech, poor or loss of coordination, impaired or loss of judgement, aggression, talkative or increased social mood, heavy sedation and drowsiness, excitation, and other alcohol like intoxication effects.

However, this is also often accompanied by drowsiness, fatigue, and a lack of coordination.

Many people also tend to combine benzos with other drugs in order to intensify the effects. When mixed with other CNS depressants like alcohol or opioids, the effects can be even more calming. That being said, mixing this drug with others can also increase the likelihood of a dangerous and potentially fatal overdose.

Benzodiazepines and opioids, for example, are both commonly abused together. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “More than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines.”

That’s because both of these drugs are powerful respiratory depressants, meaning they slow down breathing. And when they’re combined in high doses, the body becomes unable to maintain healthy breathing levels and, eventually, can die as a result. 

The Difference Between Benzodiazepine Dependency, Abuse, & Addiction

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to defining a person’s relationship to a drug. Are they addicted or just physically dependent? Is any drug use considered abuse? And how do you know when someone truly is addicted anyway?

Benzodiazepine Addiction Information

In order to answer these questions, it’s important to know the difference between three key terms: dependence, abuse, and addiction.

Physical dependency is the result of using an addictive substance over and over again. It’s a condition that’s marked by the body being unable to function normally without using the substance. Someone physically dependent on a drug will exhibit tolerance and/or withdrawals.

It’s important to recognize that just because someone is physically dependent on a substance does not mean they are addicted. Patients all over the world regularly experience tolerance to medications over the course of treatment, even when those medications are taken according to a doctor’s orders. That doesn’t mean they have developed a full-blown substance use disorder.

Physical dependence, then, is not the same as addiction.

Using a substance doesn’t always mean you’re abusing a substance. Instead, abuse is defined as using a substance in a way it wasn’t meant to be used. That can mean drinking far more than the recommended amount of alcohol or taking pills that weren’t legally prescribed to you.

In terms of illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine, using them at all is considered abuse since these drugs are 100% illegal. But with prescription drugs like benzodiazepines, there’s much more grey area in terms of what makes is abuse.

For benzos, all the following scenarios would be considered abuse:

  • Taking the medication without a proper prescription
  • Using someone else’s dose, even if you have the same condition
  • Taking more of the medication than what’s prescribed
  • Taking the medication at a time that isn’t prescribed
  • Mixing benzodiazepines with other substances like alcohol or marijuana
  • Giving or selling your legally prescribed benzos to others

Addiction has been defined by a variety of reputable organizations in a number of different ways.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), it’s defined as:

a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is:

a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction of these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.

And the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines addiction as:

a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.

Essentially, addiction comes down to continued compulsive drug use despite the negative consequences.

It’s also an actual brain disease, not some sort of moral failing or character flaw. And it’s marked by physical changes in the brain that have been observed by brain imaging studies. It’s these changes that scientists believe account for the inability of addicts to regulate their own behaviors and control their substance abuse.

It’s also worth remembering that addiction and physical dependency are not the same. An individual can be dependent on a drug without being technically addicted. And in that same vein, someone can be addicted without being dependent (though many addicts are). 

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What Are the Signs of Being Physically Dependent on Benzos?

Physical dependency is characterized by two conditions in particular: tolerance and withdrawal.

Tolerance occurs when the person no longer responds to the drug in the way that person initially responded. Stated another way, it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same level of response achieved initially.

- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Over the course of using an addictive substance regularly, the body physically adjusts itself to adapt to the drug. This occurs because the human body is constantly trying to achieve what’s called homeostasis – the state of internal stability or equilibrium.

As a result, certain chemicals become stronger or weaker, cell receptors grow and die off, and the high from a drug becomes much less intense. In order to achieve an equal high, then, someone with a higher tolerance needs to take more of the drug or a more potent version.

If you or someone you know is needing to take more benzos to get the same effect, that’s a classic sign of tolerance. And it means that a physical dependency has likely developed.

“Withdrawal describes the various symptoms that occur after a person abruptly reduces or stops long-term use of a drug. Length of withdrawal and symptoms vary with the type of drug… In many cases, withdrawal can easily be treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction.”

- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Withdrawal is often thought to be one of the most difficult steps of getting clean. And with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, anxiety, and tremors, it’s easy to see why.

These symptoms occur as a direct result of the body becoming dependent on a drug. That’s because using the drug has become such a part of the routine that the body is actually unable to function normally without it.

The time it takes for the body to readjust to life without the drug depends on the substance as well as the frequency of use and the physical makeup of the individual. However, people hooked on benzodiazepines can expect to feel the acute effects of benzo withdrawal for anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks.

If you or someone you know experiences uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms when not taking benzodiazepines, they’re likely physically dependent on these drugs and are especially in danger of developing a full-blown addiction.

Benzo withdrawal is widely cited as being one of the most uncomfortable withdrawals out of any substance of abuse. Many people even claim that it’s the worst out of any drug.

The online drug forum Bluelight conducted a poll surveying which drugs members of the forum thought had the worst withdrawal syndrome. Around 14% of respondents pointed to heroin as the worst. About 5% said alcohol while the same number reported meth or amphetamines as the hardest to get through.

However, a whopping 38.71% reported benzodiazepines as having the most difficult withdrawal. And when you take a look at the especially long list of symptoms that may crop up when quitting, it isn’t much of a surprise.

According to Professor Heather Ashton of the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, these symptoms may include:

Physical Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Pain/stiffness - (limbs, back, neck, teeth, jaw)
  • Tingling, numbness, altered sensation - (limbs, face, trunk)
  • Weakness ("jelly-legs")
  • Fatigue, influenza-like symptoms
  • Muscle twitches, jerks, tics, "electric shocks"
  • Tremor
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, poor balance
  • Blurred/double vision, sore or dry eyes
  • Tinnitus
  • Hypersensitivity - (light, sound, touch, taste, smell)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms - (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, pain, distension, difficulty swallowing)
  • Appetite/weight change
  • Dry mouth, metallic taste, unusual smell
  • Flushing/sweating/palpitations
  • Overbreathing
  • Urinary difficulties/menstrual difficulties
  • Skin rashes, itching
  • Fits (rare)

Psychological Symptoms

  • Excitability (jumpiness, restlessness)
  • Insomnia, nightmares, other sleep disturbances
  • Increased anxiety, panic attacks
  • Agoraphobia, social phobia
  • Perceptual distortions
  • Depersonalisation, derealisation
  • Hallucinations, misperceptions
  • Depression
  • Obsessions
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Rage, aggression, irritability
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Intrusive memories
  • Craving (rare)

On top of this long list of symptoms, there’s also the added risk of life-threatening seizures. Many withdrawal syndromes from other drugs have side effects that are uncomfortable, but not dangerous on their own. Benzos, however, can cause a serious change in important brain chemicals over time. And when someone hooked on these drugs attempts to quit, they may experience serious seizures and even die as a result.

Alcohol is the only other drug with dangerous withdrawal symptoms (delirium tremens) that can be directly life-threatening. It’s worth remembering, however, that any drug can have withdrawal symptoms that may indirectly cause deadly complications.

How Are They Abused?

These drugs are abused in a number of ways.

In most cases, the most common method of abuse is taking more of the drug than what’s prescribed. This can be as innocent as taking a dose early to taking twice as much as directed, just for the high.

Benzos are typically abused by taking them orally rather than snorting or smoking.

Benzodiazepines can be abused on their own. And when they are, “death and serious illness rarely result,” according to WebMD. But many users choose to mix these drugs with other substances like alcohol or opioids.

Added to that, benzodiazepines have also been used as a type of “date rape drug” due to the impairment that they can cause. These drugs can also easily be added to alcoholic drinks in powdered form and in some cases, they have little to no taste.

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How Do You Know If You’re Addicted to Benzos?

One of the hardest parts of getting help for a benzodiazepine addiction is actually acknowledging that there’s a problem in the first place. Denial and addiction often go hand in hand. And for many, refusing (or being unable) to recognize their substance abuse problem is the biggest barrier to recovery.

In fact, a national survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that a whopping 89.2% of all addicts don’t get the treatment they so desperately need. That’s 17.7 million Americans that aren’t getting proper help. And it’s all because they’re so deeply entrenched in denial about their addiction.

Knowing how to spot the signs of a benzo addiction, then, is crucial for getting on the road to recovery. And thankfully, there are plenty of ways to help identify what a benzodiazepine problem looks like.

  • A Short Online Addiction QuizOne of the quickest and easiest ways of determining if you’re addicted to benzodiazepines is by taking a short online addiction quiz. This quiz covers some of the most telling signs of a benzo addiction and only takes a few minutes to complete. It’s a simple way of getting a general idea of if you really do have a problem or not.
  • NIDA’s Self-Assessment ToolsThe self-assessment tools listed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse offer a much more in-depth way to see just how bad an individual’s substance abuse really is. These tools range from simple, several-minute tests to highly detailed questionnaires that can take half an hour to complete.
  • The DSM-V Guidelines for AddictionThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is one of the most widely used and trusted catalogues of mental disorders today. It’s what many psychiatrists and physicians use to diagnose their patients. And in this manual is 11 criteria for what constitutes a substance use disorder.
  • A Professional AssessmentLast but not least, enlisting the help of a qualified professional for an assessment is one of the best ways of identifying an addiction. This can come from a licensed physician or psychiatrist. Or it can come from an addiction facility itself. Many of these programs employ licensed staff that are qualified to diagnose an addiction. Plus, getting in touch with them will allow individuals to ask questions, make comments, and get a more personalized evaluation of their condition. 

What Are the Side Effects of Abusing Benzos?

Addiction is an absolutely devastating disease. And as with any addiction, developing a benzo abuse problem can have a number of very serious impacts on your life. These may include:

  • Jeopardizing social and family relationships
  • Endangering your career and education
  • Legal troubles
  • Financial difficulties
  • Losing control over your actions
  • No longer enjoying old hobbies

However, it’s also important to recognize that a benzodiazepine addiction can also cause a number of both short-term and long-term health effects as well. These range from symptoms as fleeting as dizziness to others as serious as permanent brain damage.

And the more you understand these side effects, the better able you’ll be to make an informed decision about treating your addiction.

Like many other prescription meds today, benzodiazepines have a long list of potential side effects. According to Medical News Today, these include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Trembling
  • Impaired coordination
  • Vision problems
  • Grogginess
  • Feelings of depression
  • Headache

For people who take these drugs according to their doctor’s prescription, these side effects can be a bit of a nuisance. But when these drugs are abused and taken in large doses or with other substances, these side effects can be especially severe.

At higher doses, benzos can also cause a number of additional side effects as well. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) points out that these additional short-term side effects may include:

  • Slowed reflexes
  • Mood swings
  • Hostile and erratic behavior
  • Euphoria

The long-term effects of these drugs are still being examined today. However, research has shown that taking benzodiazepines over an extended period of time can lead to:

  • Impaired thinking, memory, and judgment
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness, lack of coordination

Added to that, Professor Heather Ashton of the Institute of Neuroscience points out that a variety of other long-term effects may occur as well, particularly in the elderly. These effects include:

  • Emotional blunting
  • Aggravation of mood disorders
  • Paradoxical stimulant effects
  • Brain damage 

What Does A Benzodiazepine Overdose Look Like?

Overdoses are the most physically destructive side effects of developing a benzodiazepine abuse problem.

Added to that, many benzo abusers tend to mix these drugs with other substances like alcohol, opioids, or uppers like meth or speed. These mixtures can result in a wide range of symptoms during an overdose.

As a result, not everyone will be able to spot the signs of an overdose right away. And even less will know what to do to keep the victim safe.

That’s why it’s so important to know exactly what a benzodiazepine overdose looks like and how best to treat it.

The first step to helping someone going through a benzodiazepine overdose is recognizing the signs. Only then can you administer care and contact emergency service workers – the key to saving a life.

Some signs of an overdose on benzodiazepines include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma

Benzodiazepines by themselves do not cause as many deaths as other drugs like alcohol, cocaine, or opioids. In fact, deaths involving these drugs alone have remained relatively stable at under 2000 every year since 2002.

However, when benzos are combined with other drugs, they can be incredibly dangerous. While these drugs alone only led to less than 2000 overdoses in 2016, they were involved in a whopping 10,684 deaths total according to NIDA.

And 8,791 of these also involved opioids, too.

Benzo overdoses then are particularly deadly when combined with other drugs so this should be avoided at all costs.

The first and most important step in treating a benzodiazepine overdose is contacting emergency services. Do not hesitate. Do not second guess. And do not try to convince yourself that everything is going to be okay. If you notice the signs of a benzo overdose, call 911 immediately.

The experts on the other end of the line will be able to send an ambulance to your location while walking you through steps you may need to take to help. This might include performing CPR, getting the victim to drink water or take certain medications, or inducing vomiting. In any case, it’s important to listen to their directions and follow them completely.

If you do need to step away from an overdose victim at all, be sure to put them into the recovery position. This position is vital for preventing the victim from choking or experiencing many other serious complications. Even if you only step away from the victim for just a minute, placing them in this position could end up saving their life.

When the ambulance arrives, the emergency service workers will be able to provide more comprehensive care and transport the victim to a hospital.

In the end, contacting emergency services early and answering their questions honestly are both key to the best outcome of a benzo overdose.

What to do if a Loved One is Addicted to Benzodiazepines

If you suspect that someone you love is addicted to benzodiazepines, you'll want to encourage him or her to get professional help to stop using them. Benzodiazepine addiction treatment centers are designed to address the unique needs of those who are facing this type of addiction. Please be forewarned that you may come up against some resistance when you bring up professional treatment. It's very common for those who use benzos to believe that they're perfectly fine because the medications were prescribed to them by a doctor. However, there could be many different factors at play here. Your loved one might have a doctor who doesn't realize how long he or she has been taking them, or the medications could be prescribed by more than one doctor, which is against the law.

If you are in need of help with communicating the importance of benzodiazepine addiction treatment, an intervention is something you might want to consider. Interventions are often very useful in getting people to realize their need for professional drug treatment.  

What Is Benzo Addiction Treatment Like?

The best way of ensuring a full and proper recovery is by partnering with a professional benzodiazepine addiction treatment program.

Most programs will have two goals in mind: to keep patients safe and to teach them the right strategies to stay sober.

Safety – One of the primary purposes of a professional treatment program is to keep patients safe while they push through their recovery. This is especially important during the withdrawal phase of benzo addiction recovery. 24/7 nursing, a high staff-to-patient ratio, licensed physicians, and prescription medications are just some of the characteristics of a professional program that help keep patients safe throughout.

Strategies – A professional program will also employ a number of behavioral therapies, individual counseling sessions, and group talk therapy meetings. These treatment techniques are aimed at rewiring the brain of an addict, allowing them to adopt healthy new life strategies to prevent relapse and stay sober.

The 3 Critical Steps to Recovery

Effectively treating a benzodiazepine addiction requires three crucial steps: Detoxification, Rehabilitation, and Aftercare.

Physical dependency is common in addicts. And when it comes time to get clean, the body needs time to readjust to life without the addictive substance.

This is what’s known as detoxification. And it can be tough.

Symptoms like nausea, tremors, diarrhea, anxiety, and depression are common. And for drugs like benzodiazepines, they can be particularly severe too. Many users actually end up turning back to pills again simply to relieve some of these symptoms.

And what’s worse is that the benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome can actually last 1 to 4 weeks.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can also be deadly without proper medical oversight. In fact, it is one of only two drugs that can have directly fatal withdrawal symptoms.

As such, it’s critical for anyone trying to get clean from benzos to seek out professional help. Trying to detox at home alone can cost you your life.

Rehabilitation is the second critical phase of treating a benzo addiction. Unfortunately, many people are under the false impression that detox alone is all that’s necessary for a healthy recovery.

The truth of the matter, however, is that rehabilitation is just as important as detox, if not more so.

According to NIDA, “medical detoxification is only the first stage of addiction treatment and by itself does little to change long-term drug use."

While in rehab, patients undergo a variety of therapies. These will likely include one-on-one counseling, group talk sessions, and behavioral therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Contingency Management Interventions, and 12-Step Facilitation Therapy.

In general, there are three types of rehabilitation programs: inpatient, outpatient, and intensive outpatient.

Inpatient RehabilitationInpatient is the kind of program that most people imagine when they think of rehabilitation. Patients in this type of program are usually required to stay on the campus grounds at all times. That means eating, sleeping, and treatment all take place within the facility.

While this type of program typically boasts higher recovery rates, it can be quite disruptive to day-to-day life. Most patients won’t be able to attend school, work, or even certain family obligations at the same time.

An inpatient program usually lasts around 28 days but can run as long as several months for some.

Outpatient RehabAn outpatient program provides a lot more flexibility than an inpatient one. Rather than staying on campus for the duration of treatment, patients are free to do as they wish throughout the day, including going to work like normal. Treatment takes place during evening sessions several times a week.

With more flexibility, though, comes a lesser degree of care. Added to that, patients are not restricted from the outside world. And that can mean a higher risk of relapsing.

An outpatient program will generally last for around 3 months.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)An IOP tries to balance the flexibility of outpatient with the level of care offered at inpatient ones. Treatment sessions take place in the evenings but last several hours longer and take place more frequently throughout the week.

Recovering addicts who need a higher level of care but can’t afford not to work tend to find that IOPs are perfect for their situation.

An intensive outpatient program will also last for around 3 months in most cases.

The final step of recovery is aftercare. And it’s an important one. A problem that many recovering users come across is that once they leave a treatment program, it’s a bit of a rude awakening jumping back into daily life. And for many, being confronted with the old environments, situations, and people from their addicted days can quite quickly lead to a serious relapse.

That’s where aftercare comes in. Aftercare is focused on continuing the same healthy habits and mindsets learned in treatment once a program ends. This can help keep recovery at top of mind while also connected recovering addicts to a wider support network, a crucial factor in staying sober.

There are a number of aftercare support options for recovering addicts to choose from. Three of the most popular are 12-step programs, other local support groups, and outpatient programs.

  • 12-Step Programs – Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Prescription Pills Anonymous, and more are great sources of support and guidance when it comes to continuing with recovery. These groups are 100% free, widely available, and are scientifically proven to help prevent relapses.
  • Other Local Support Groups – While 12-step groups are undoubtedly some of the most popular support groups, there are still plenty of others to choose from. Some of the most popular include SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and LifeRing Secular Recovery. These groups offer an alternative source of support in case the 12-step program isn’t right for you.
  • Outpatient Programs – Finally, outpatient programs offer one of the best gradual steps down from an inpatient benzo addiction treatment facility. These programs offer the same structure and therapies of inpatient, but the sessions only take place in the evenings. For many people, staying connected with professional addiction counselors and programs provides a bedrock of support on which they can build a new sober life. 

Is Professional Addiction Treatment Really Necessary?

In short – YES.

A professional addiction treatment program provides a host of benefits. Some of the most important include: a safer benzo withdrawal, protection from complications, proven treatment methods, and a higher rate of recovery.

One of the biggest reasons to partner with a professional addiction treatment center during recovery is the fact that benzo withdrawal can often be deadly. Benzodiazepines are actually one of only two drug classes that have directly life-threatening withdrawals – alcohol is the other.

The most dangerous of the symptoms are seizures. And in many cases, these seizures are what are known as tonic-clonic seizures, the most damaging kind.

But why do benzos have one of the worst withdrawal syndromes?

It all has to do with the fact that benzos (and alcohol) interact with the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. These drugs work in the brain by strengthening GABA, thus producing the calming effects that benzodiazepines are taken for.

Over time, though, the body starts to adjust to the stronger GABA by boosting the potency of excitatory brain chemicals like glutamate.

The problem, however, is that when patients try to stop taking benzodiazepines all together, GABA returns to its original (and lower) potency much more quickly than the excitatory chemicals do. And that means that those supercharged chemicals can often cause a burst of electrical activity in the brain since GABA is now too weak to counteract them.

Think of it like putting all your weight against a wall when suddenly, the wall instantly turns into paper.

Without the stronger GABA, the excitatory neurotransmitters can launch the brain into an electrical frenzy, resulting in life-threatening seizures.

Partnering with a professional treatment center is the absolute best way to ensure the safest, most comfortable withdrawal from these drugs as possible. The experts here will be able to both prevent and treat any dangerous seizures that may occur along the way.

It’s important, then, that anyone attempting to get off of benzodiazepines should never try detoxing alone. Doing so may end up costing you your life.

While tonic-clonic seizures are the most directly life-threatening symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, they aren’t the only ones that can cause serious—and even fatal—damage. There is also a range of other hazardous complications that may occur throughout the withdrawal process.

Below are some of the most common complications experienced during benzo withdrawal. Partnering with a professional facility can help both prevent and treat these complications should they occur.

As with many other drugs, the benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is often accompanied by serious gastrointestinal problems. These include vomiting and diarrhea.

In some cases, these symptoms may be so severe that they actually can cause malnutrition and dehydration. In addition to being deadly by themselves, these problems can contribute to a number of other serious conditions like heart palpitations, breathing problems, and even organ failure.

With a proper treatment program though, patients can be sure they’re getting the proper nutrition and hydration throughout their recovery process.

Vomiting can have a serious impact on nutrition and hydration during detoxification. But beyond that, it can also pose an additional danger due to the risk of choking and aspiration.

As hard as it is to imagine, some people who have attempted detoxing on their own actually have died by choking on their own vomit. This is particularly dangerous when individuals try to self-medicate to get through the hardest initial stages. Taking sedatives like sleep meds or even alcohol can make it harder for the body to react while choking. And since the brain is already out of sorts due to the withdrawals, the threat is even greater.

Aspiration is another problem. This is when an individual accidentally breathes food or vomit into their own lungs. The material can then block essential pathways or become infected, leading to serious problems like pneumonia, which can be deadly.

Having a nursing staff available 24/7 (which many professional treatment programs offer) can help prevent choking and aspiration and could end up saving your life.

Finally, cardiac events are not uncommon when going through benzodiazepine withdrawal. The influx of more powerful excitatory neurotransmitters can cause increases in blood pressure and even an irregular heartbeat.

In addition to simply being uncomfortable, these symptoms can contribute to an increased risk of heart attack or even stroke.

With a professional program, physicians and nursing staff will be able to both monitor and provide treatment for these conditions. What’s more, some of the medications used to keep these conditions under control are not available over the counter, making it even more dangerous to attempt detoxing at home alone.

Proven Treatment Methods

Without a doubt, one of the best things about a professional treatment program is the fact that the best ones only use what’s called evidence-based treatments. These treatments have been verified by cold hard science to help support sobriety. And when administered properly, they can be a driving force behind an addict’s full recovery.

The evidence-based behavioral therapies endorsed by NIDA are:

However, not all professional programs use only evidence-based therapy. And some, unfortunately, are not keeping up with the enormous body of work devoted to studying addiction and treatment. That’s why it’s critical to choose the right kind of program, not just the closest or the cheapest.

A Higher Rate of Recovery

Last but certainly not least, a professional treatment program also offers the best rates of recovery out of any other standalone methods. This includes 12-step programs, cold turkey quitting, at-home detox, and unguided abstinence.

In fact, drug addiction has a similar rate of relapse compared to other chronic diseases. Some estimates show that around 40-60% of addicts end up relapsing. For diseases like hypertension and asthma, the rates are 50-70%.

Partnering with a professional addiction treatment program can reduce this rate significantly. As long as evidence-based therapies are used, treatment is maintained for the full course of the program, and aftercare is established, the likelihood of maintaining sobriety is far higher than trying to quit alone.

The key is finding the right facility that checks all the right boxes. The higher quality the treatment, the more likely a recovering addict will stay sober in the long run. 

Getting Help from the Top Benzodiazepine Rehab Centers

You should definitely seek out treatment from one of the top benzodiazepine rehab programs in the Pacific Northwest if you have an addiction to one of these drugs, and here at Northpoint Recovery, we would love to talk with you about how we can help. To learn more about how you can leave this addiction behind and recover, please contact us today.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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