Benzo Flu: Benzodiazepine Detox and Withdrawal
Today, benzodiazepines are one of the most misused prescription drugs on the market. In fact, in 2021, an estimated 3.9 million people misused prescription benzodiazepines, whether for recreational or self-medication use. Benzos are challenging for users because they are highly addictive in that they are both dependence inducing and in that they result in significant withdrawal symptoms. Someone who starts using may be forced to keep using until a point when they can afford taking up to five weeks off to be sick – and that can be extremely difficult for many.
Benzodiazepines are mostly used under close supervision with medical doctors with Risk Evaluation and Mitigation programs in place. However, if you’ve been using before those measures were put in place, slipped through the cracks, or started using recreationally, you could easily be dealing with a significant drug dependence. Quitting benzos means withdrawing from them and doing so means seeking out medical care so you can do so safely. Benzo flu is the term used to refer to withdrawal – which can be two or more weeks of significant medical side effects.
What is Benzo Flu?
Benzo flu is the street term used to refer to the withdrawal period for benzodiazepines. Benzos significantly impact large areas of the brain and change the chemical and hormonal output of the brain. This means that withdrawing from them can be significant and can be dangerous.
In most cases, benzo flu results in symptoms like:
- Heavy sweating
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Insomnia or sleeplessness
- Mood Swings
- Shaking and tremors
These symptoms typically start out fairly light and increase over the first few days. Most people start shaking and sweating and will feel like they have the flu. You may also have a runny nose and watery eyes. These typically happen as your brain re-adapts to changes in chemicals like neurotransmitters. Here, GABBA, dopamine, and serotonin are the most effected.
Here, withdrawal is often called a “flu” because you basically have to take several weeks off work. You will be too sick to work. And, you may spend the entire time coughing and vomiting, just like with the flu.
What’s the Timeline for Benzo Withdrawal?
In most cases, you can expect benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms to last for about two to five weeks or a bit longer. In some cases, you might also suffer from post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which means that withdrawal may last for up to three months. In each case, it’s important to ensure you have medical monitoring so you can get intervention and treatment if things start to go wrong.
In addition, the severity and longevity of symptoms will depend on what kind of benzos you’re taking, how heavy of a user you are, and how long you’ve been taking them. Your gender, age, body fat, and other factors will also play a role. For example, benzos are stored in body fat, which means that the withdrawal process will take longer if you have more body fat.
In most cases the withdrawal timeline look something like:
- Early Withdrawal – Early withdrawal starts within about 12 hours of your last dose but as early as 6. You’ll typically start craving more of the drug. That will evolve into anxiety which will continue to escalate over the course of the day. If you normally take benzos to treat panic attacks, the lack of benzos could also trigger panic or anxiety attacks. Most people also can’t sleep.
- Peak – Symptoms escalate over the first 1-5 days. This will mean that every day, symptoms are worse than the day before. This stage can last for up to 14 days if you have long-acting benzos. Here, you’ll develop extra symptoms like sweating, anxiety, panic, nausea, vomiting, general malaise, and headaches. You’ll also be at risk of hallucinations and paranoia. Most people also tremble, and you may have seizures. However, if you do, it is important to contact your doctor immediately.
- Plateau – Symptoms will stop escalating and will be about the same for about 2-5 days or for up to 3 weeks for long-acting benzos. During this stage, the symptoms will remain about the same and won’t continue to escalate. Therefore, if you’re suffering from severe withdrawal effects, you may need medical treatment so that it stays safe.
- Recovery – Withdrawal symptoms will start to taper off and will take 5-15 days to go away for short-acting benzos and up to 4 weeks for long-acting ones. Here, the intensity of symptoms gradually declines, and some symptoms may fall away altogether.
This extremely long and intense withdrawal is often why many doctors prefer to use a tapering schedule for benzos. This means you’ll cut your benzo dose in half every week to every few days, reducing the amount of benzos in your system slowly. You’ll still feel bad for the entire time, but you won’t be putting yourself at risk of life-threatening seizures. However, if you’re struggling with addiction and seeking behavior or self-control around benzos, this approach may not work for you.
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Risk of Seizures
Anyone who withdraws from benzodiazepines is at significant risk of seizures. Benzos interact with the GABBA receptors in the brain, which results in seizures during withdrawal in every substance known to interact with GABBA. (E.g., alcohol). In addition, some 20% of all persons withdrawing from benzodiazepines have a risk of grand mal seizures. These are significant seizures that can threaten your life and your long-term health if left untreated. For this reason, it’s extremely important that you either take a medically monitored tapering program to reduce benzo usage or that you receive anti-seizure and convulsant medication and detox under medical monitoring. Benzo withdrawal can have life threatening complications.
What is Benzodiazepine Detox?
Detox means getting medical monitoring and support during your withdrawal. Depending on your situation, you are also significantly likely to be recommended into a tapering schedule first. However, if your doctor doesn’t think you can safely manage a tapering schedule, you’ll likely be recommended into a clinic for treatment and detox instead.
Tapering – You might be asked to switch to a lighter benzodiazepine. You might also be asked to cut your dose down over about 10 weeks first. This will reduce the danger involved with detox. However, if you’re struggling with addiction, tapering programs rarely work.
Medical Monitoring – Your detox should include medical monitoring to ensure nothing goes wrong. That means checking in on your health, responding in case of alarming side effects, and giving you the medication and treatment you need to withdraw safely. Often that will mean reducing the intensity of symptoms. However, it may also mean simply responding in case of seizures or to prevent seizures.
Behavioral Health Treatment – Many detox programs integrate early behavioral health interventions to ensure you have the tools to stay off of benzos once you get clean. Of course, you’ll still need follow-up treatment for addiction and drug dependency. However, early-stage behavioral health interventions can help you to withdraw in a more comfortable fashion because you’ll have support, motivation, and help at every step.
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepines, it’s important to get help. That should normally start out with a visit to your primary healthcare provider – where you can talk about your usage, get input on tapering, and get a referral to a detox program and treatment program. Having medical monitoring during your benzodiazepine withdrawal can be lifesaving, so it is important that you check into a detox center to ensure you have the care you need.
Good luck getting off of benzodiazepines.
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