04 Jun How to Detox from Benzo Addiction
It should be of little surprise that drug and alcohol addiction remains one of the most significant public health crisis facing citizens across this country. There is a growing trend within the U.S. of over medicating and over prescribing people that has led to more than 21 million citizens over the age of thirteen struggling with substance and abuse addiction. According to SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Services Administration, only ten percent of these 21 million addicts, will seek treatment for their addiction.
Although scant few people seek a life of addition, there are a variety of reasons why many begin abusing drugs; physical pain, mental anguish, stress, social pressures, pleasure-seeking, depression. Some people walk willingly into the arms of addiction through recreational drug use, and still, others unwittingly stumble into the trap of addiction. Many of those who naively enter that deadly lair do so through the door of a doctor’s office; it begins with a symptom and ends with a doctor’s prescription.
One such substance many forget in the drug epidemic discourse are benzodiazepine medications, the fourth most commonly prescribed type of drug on the market. You might know it as Xanax, Ativan, or Valium, but the term benzo encompasses most any type of anti-anxiety medication. While these drugs are incredibly effective in the short-term, long-term use has been linked to severe health issues, addiction, and overdose. In the last decade, benzo abuse overdoses increased fourfold, with over 9,000 Americans overdosing from benzos in 2017 alone.
The vast majority of people who take benzos, genuinely need them, and never intend to become dependent upon the drug, but as with just about any medication, they do not discriminate by intentions; benzo addiction can snare ever the strongest of people. For those who are imprisoned by their benzodiazepine addiction, it is understandable if, at times, it feels like all is lost, that there is no way free. But, it is a lie that their addiction convinces them is true. It is not. Freedom can be won, but it cannot be won easily; it is an arduous and painful path that starts with drug detox.
Drug addiction is a multivariable psychosocial occurrence, because of that, it should not be unsurprising that the drug detox process is just as complex. At its essence, benzo detoxification is the elimination of benzos influence from the body. This process is multi-stepped, although what most people think about detox is the medically supervised process whereby a substance abuser is supervised and guided as they experience the acute withdrawals that come along with most substance addictions. While that actual physical detoxification period is an absolutely crucial step towards recovery, it is by no means the final step, just the hardest step to take safely by one’s self. So, if you think you are addicted to benzos, here is how to detox and get clean.
Interventions for Benzo Addicts
If you are not dealing with benzo addiction, but have a loved one who struggles with it or attempts to hide their dependency, then this pre-detox section is for you. Perhaps you have reached that breaking point, you have had the epiphany that your loved one will not seek help unless you do something about it; you have concluded they need an intervention. While this is obviously a scary process, there are various steps you can take to help you shepherd them into a detox program and recovery.
If handled poorly, an intervention can do more harm than good, but if you prepare for it, it can quite literally save your loved one’s life. Addiction is an inherently selfish thing, in that the user is often so focused on their addiction that they do not realize how much of a negative impact it can have on their loved ones. Even if they react negatively at the moment, staging an intervention could be the push that gets the ball rolling. Consider these tips:
- Pick a solid team – Interventions are meant to be conversations, not blame games or big fights. The goal of an intervention is to convince your loved one they need help. Keep the group small and intimate; everyone in the meeting should be someone with a close personal connection to the benzo user. These people should have the mutual respect and admiration of the user and ideally will have known them prior to their addiction so they can point out the issues.
- Bring in a specialist – Ideally, it would be helpful to have either a medical or spiritual professional who regularly deals with such conversations. It is quite common for families to hire interventionists.
- Chose a leader – Once the small group has been selected, a main speaker should be chosen. They will be the voice that moderates and steers the conversations away from blame or arguments and towards solutions.
- Pick the right setting – The time, place and state of the user should all be considered. Staging an intervention in the home might seem like every other conversation before, so, a neutral ground may be better. Ideally, the discussion should also take place when the benzo user is not currently on their medication, this way they are able to understand and respond without being influenced by the drug.
- Stick to the script – There is a clear goal in mind, usher the benzo addict into detox. Do not start fights, start coming up with solutions and discussing what to expect from rehab.
The Three Steps of Benzo Detox
A benzo detox consists of three stages that are all intended to help the addict get clean and stay clean. While detox is safer for benzo users than for opioid addicts or alcoholics, it is still a very uncomfortable and potentially deadly experience, which is why it is smart to detox under professional supervision within a medical facility the three stages are:
- Stage 1 – The Evaluation: Detox begins with the benzo user speaking with medical professionals. This interview includes a blood test and a thorough mental and physical evaluation to ascertain the roots of addiction. By diagnosing the regularity of use, the potency of the dose and other such details, a medical evaluator will be able to create a unique treatment plan suited for that benzo user. A thorough analysis will also help them to find any underlying psychological or medical conditions that also require redress.
- Stage 2 – Stabilization: This is the stage most people think of when they hear the words rehab or detox. This is the scary part, the daunting phase, where a user has to “white knuckle it” in anguish and flush their system of all the toxins. Doing so frees their body from the physical dependence on the drug. While it is no doubt, uncomfortable, the stabilization process for benzo detox is relatively less painful than detoxing from alcohol or opioids. That said, withdrawal syndrome symptoms of benzos can be both physically and emotionally painful, as well, as life-threatening for some users who stop instantly. Generally, the longer and higher the dose the longer and more severe the withdrawal symptoms. Such symptoms include:
- Aches in muscles and joints
- Panic Attacks
- Stage 3 – Guiding a benzo patient into treatment – The real work cannot begin until the user is in a clear state of mind. This final most crucial stage of the benzo detox process is the most essential since it is what leads to lasting change and recovery. In many cases, the benzo addict was prescribed the drugs to battle anxiety disorders or phobias, and these did not suddenly go away. For most, they actually got worse. Drug detox helps with the physical dependence, but it does not deal with the root psychological issues. The patient will find and enroll in a drug rehabilitation program, which stats have shown to be enormously helpful in fighting a relapse.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab
Selecting the type of treatment center can be tricky. There are a variety of different places, prices points and specialties but generally, they are grouped into two basic categories of rehab: inpatient and outpatient.
Inpatient Treatment – Also known as residential care, inpatient is the more expensive of the two options since a benzo patient checks in for a period of time that generally lasts anywhere from one to three months, although it very much depends on the user. For most benzo users, 30 days should be more than sufficient unless there are other addictions or underlying issues. Because they spend the entirety of that time there, a benzo patient must take time off work or school to complete rehab. At a residential program, the benzo patient will first undergo stabilization under the care and supervision of medical professionals.
During that stage, they will monitor your vitals, encourage you, pump you with liquids, and possibly give you lesser drugs to help wean you off of your benzos. Once the patient is clean, a focus is placed on healthy living and attempting to deal with the roots of addiction. This involves counseling, both individual and group, therapy, workshops, exercise, and various activities. The goal of many of these activities is to instill good habits and to help the benzo addict form other coping mechanisms for addressing their phobias or anxieties. As you might imagine, such treatment centers are quite expensive since it pays for your medical supervision, boarding and lodging, not to mention that many of these places are located in beautiful settings.
Outpatient Treatment – Outpatient care is significantly less expensive than residential care since you do not stay there for nearly as long a time. Outpatient care generally consists of helping you weather the withdrawal/stabilization period of detox and letting you return home after that. Once detox is complete, professionals encourage a benzo user to get both one on one and group counseling. Outpatient is ideal for people who cannot take time away from work or family, or who do not have the money to pay for staying somewhere for a month’s time. Realistically, while it is not the best method for an opioid user or alcoholic, outpatient care is actually ideal for a benzo user since the stabilization is not nearly as brutal or dangerous. Regardless of the type of rehab they go to, both will encourage the benzo user to get involved with a recovery program or some variation of AA.
Tips For Those About to go Through Benzo Detox
- Gather your loved ones around you – Honesty is one of the most vital aspects of the recovery process and helps a benzo addict truly recover. Family and friends can provide support, encouragement, and challenge you. Going through recovery on your own is extremely difficult and is infinitely more helpful if you have a team assisting you.
- Go to a medical facility – Even for benzo addiction, quitting cold turkey can be a terrible idea, that could also be deadly for those who suffer from seizures. Whether you choose inpatient or outpatient treatment, detoxing from benzos under medical supervision is the way to go. These places also help you prepare for the recovery portion and connect you with recovery programs.
- Consider a lighter prescription – Your doctor may prescribe you something less potent to help wean you off the benzos. You also may want or need some form of sleep aid. Sleep is a vital component of recovering from initial detox, so consult your doctor about these possibilities.
- Hydrate – Water helps the body run and function normally. Hydration is essential even if you are in peak condition, but when you are going through withdrawals, dehydration from sweating and nausea is common. Lack of water can lead to cramps and other issues, so be sure to maintain your water and electrolyte intake.
Detox is the first step of a lifelong staircase. Many climbing that path stumble, with over 50% of addicts relapsing at some point in time. While you should do everything in your power to prevent addiction such as therapy, support groups, exercising, eating healthy and sleeping regularly, know that relapse is always possible. Because of that, you have to remain vigilant in your fight, but you must also not give up if you do slip. Perhaps it will take more than one trips to detox, maybe not; every person’s journey is different.
Guarnotta, Emily. “Benzodiazepine Withdrawal.” Drugabuse.com. 15 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/benzodiazepines/withdrawal/
Crane, Marisa. “How Long Do Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms Last?” American Addiction Centers. 15 Mar. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/benzodiazepine/length-of-withdrawal
“Benzos.” Detox.net. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.detox.net/benzos/