Cope with the Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Eng
The number of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines (benzos) has gone up by a factor of three during the last 20 years, according to Reuters. While useful for the short-term management of anxiety and panic disorder, many patients who are prescribed these drugs by their well-meaning physicians end up on the path to an addiction that many drug experts say is worse than heroin. If you've been taking benzodiazepines, we'll give you some useful information to help you decide if stopping them is right for you, and ways to help you cope with the withdrawal symptoms, if you do decide to quit.
- 1 What Are Benzodiazepines?
- 2 What Are the Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome?
- 3 How to Cope with the Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal
- 4 Comments
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of drugs that work on the gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA-A) receptors in the brain. GABA-A is a neurotransmitter that regulates nerve cell activity, and benzos basically increase the effectiveness of GABA-A, which helps reduce the excitement of nerve cells and introduces a calming effect. For this reason, doctors often prescribe them to treat anxiety and panic disorder. Other uses include sleep problem management, as a muscle relaxant, and for managing seizures.
If you use benzos for a short time, less than four months, you can stop using them without ill-effect. The problem comes when you try to stop after using them for a prolonged period of time, such as a year or more. Many people have been using these drugs for five to 10 years or longer, and stopping causes them to experience benzo withdrawal syndrome, a collection of disagreeable and sometimes life-threatening symptoms that make quitting the drug very hard.
List of Common Benzodiazepines
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Prosom (estazolam)
- Doral (quazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Dalmane (flurazepam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
- Versed (midazolam)
What Are the Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome?
Everyone experiences benzo withdrawal differently, and not everyone will experience all of the symptoms listed below. In general, the longer you've been on the drug, the worse your withdrawal symptoms are likely to be.They are:
- Panic attacks
- Sleep problems
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea accompanied by dry heaving
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Headaches, even migraines
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Psychotic episodes
How Long Does Benzo Withdrawal Last?
The acute phase of withdrawal lasts from seven to 90 days, long enough to make a person quite miserable, but what's worse is that the symptoms can linger for up to two years. The symptoms come and go in a protracted cycle of feeling well and ill.
If you decide that you want to stop taking benzos, it is important that you don't try to do it on your own: you need to do it under the care of a doctor knowledgeable about benzo withdrawal. Also, do not attempt to go "cold turkey" as doing so can bring about the more dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures and psychotic breaks.
Most importantly, the advice herein is not meant to replace the advice of your doctor; it is meant to be undertaken in conjunction with proper medical care.
How to Cope with the Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal
Dealing with Nausea
Nausea and its unpleasant result, vomiting, can make you miserable and wish for a quick end. Here are some ideas for dealing with it:
- 1Try chewing on some cut ginger root, or eating and drinking things that contain ginger. For instance, there are some good ginger candies that you can find in many health food stores, and there's also ginger ale or ginger root beer you can try.Advertisement
- 2Snack on dry toast or soda crackers, especially first thing in the morning.Advertisement
- 3Avoid eating heavy meals, as they will likely make your stomach feel worse. Instead, eat light foods such as soup and stick with starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, or noodles.
- 4If strong food smells make your nausea worse, ask someone to make your meals for you or cook in a microwave. Another idea to reduce the smell of food is to eat it at room temperature, as food that has cooled doesn't smell as strongly as hot food.
- 5If your nausea is so bad that you can't function or can't keep even fluids down, then your doctor may be able to prescribe you with an anti-emetic such as Zofran or Compazine to ease your discomfort.
Dealing with the Pain
Aside from popping an Ibuprofen or Tylenol for your pain, here are some natural remedies that may help to soothe the aches of withdrawal.
- 1Turmeric is a root and part of the ginger family with anti-inflammatory properties. It's a spice so you can use it in food, but you can also make a tea with it. If you don't care for tea or enjoy cooking, you can always take it in capsule form: one to two milligrams per day ought to do it.
- 2Devil's claw root is a herb that contains the active ingredient harpagoside, useful in relieving pain. It's taken in capsule form of about three to 100 milligrams per day. Keep your dose low if you have a sensitive stomach.
- 3Capsicum/capsaicin is found in of all things, chili peppers. Used as a skin cream with between .025 to .75 percent capsaicin, it soothes sore muscles.
- 4Comfrey extract is another herb mixture that's used topically in the form of a skin cream. Apply this cream three times daily to sore areas.
Coping with Anxiety/Panic
It's unfortunate that a symptom of benzo withdrawal is anxiety since the reason your doctor prescribed them for you was to deal with your anxiety. It's a classic catch-22, and it can make you want to pull your hair out if you think about it too much. Here are some healthier ideas to help you manage your anxiety.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises where you control your breathing and focus your mind on it not only help distract you from your panic, they also help to relax you due to their rhythmic nature and through the engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that regulates your body functions while you're at rest. Here is a breathing exercise to try. You can find more here if you're interested.
- 1Breathe in and out slowly, letting yourself become aware of the rhythm of your breathing. Don't try to control your breathing yet, just keep breathing naturally. You want to just focus your mind on your breathing.
- 2Now, breathe in for a count of four.
- 3Hold your breath in for a count of seven. If you get lightheaded, then just hold it for four and build up to seven
- 4Breathe out for a count of eight.
- 5Repeat the previous three steps four times.
There is nothing like a furry friend to help calm you and relieve your anxiety. There is something so relaxing about stroking a dog or a cat's soft fur while talking to them about your day. If you have a pet, hug and snuggle with them. Stroke their fur in long slow movements. Just the act of rhythmically stroking your pet's fur is very calming.
Aromatherapy for Anxiety
Another way to manage your anxiety is to use essential oils with a diffuser to scent your environment with calming scents that also have uplifting mood effects.
Types of Diffusers
There are four different types of diffusers:
- 1Terracotta diffusers: Terracotta jars, disks, and necklaces have porous surfaces that allow the oil to pass through and diffuse its scent through a room or around you, in the case of the necklace. Place a few drops of oil inside the jar, disk, or necklace and the scent will last throughout the day.
- 2Dish and candle diffusers: Fill the dish with water and add a few drops of essential oil to it. The candle will heat the dish, and the essential oils will evaporate into the air. Be sure to check the water level in the dish because it will evaporate quickly
- 3Electric Diffusers: Electric diffusers work the same way that dish and candle diffusers do, except without the candle. Add a few drops of essential oil or oils to a container of water, put the container inside the electric diffuser and plug it in. Just as with the dish and candle diffuser, check the water level regularly.
- 4Ultrasonic Diffusers: Ultrasonic diffusers use ultrasonic waves and water to mist the room with scent. Follow your diffuser's instructions regarding how many drops of essential oil or oils to use. Ultrasonic diffusers are also programmable, so you can set intervals for when it should send up puffs of mist redolent with your favorite oil's fragrance.
Essential Oil Blends for Anxiety
The following are recipes for essential oil blends for use in a diffuser that are good for countering anxiety:
- 1Bergamot/Clary Sage/Frankincense
- 8 drops bergamot
- 4 drops clary sage
- 4 drops frankincense
- 12 drops sandalwood
- 8 drops bergamot
- 2Lavender/Clary Sage
- 12 drops lavender
- 8 drops clary sage
- 4 drops rose
- 4 drops lavender
- 8 drops mandarin
- 4 drops vetiver
Categories : Mental Health
Recent edits by: Kathy McGraw