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Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome Explained

Addiction to benzodiazepines is treated by tapering a user off the substance. This process involves using a less-potent, and easier to control, benzodiazepine and gradually decreasing the dosage. In this way the effects can be observed and managed. While the body is being deprived of a substance it has been steadily conditioned to need, the person is actually going through withdrawal.

Numerous symptoms of withdrawing from benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, fall under the blanket term ‘benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome’. It includes symptoms of both psychological and physical substance dependence, which are often co-existent.

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What Is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome?

Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome refers to a set of symptoms experienced by addiction sufferers as they try to overcome their addiction. In rehab, it usually occurs during the detox stage. It is a sign that a user has developed a high tolerance for the drug, which has in turn led to taking larger doses to retain the same intoxicating effects.

In some cases, prolonged treatment with a therapeutic dose can result in experiencing benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. The length of the withdrawal syndrome depends on how severe an addiction is. Likewise, those at the early stages of addiction may experience some symptoms but not others.

Types of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome

There are various types of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome which have different symptoms and causes.

Very severe forms, typically involve nausea, some weight loss, psychotic symptoms and seizures, while hand tremors, irritability and sweating characterise milder types.

One type of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is caused by the user’s initial addiction to a substance, another may develop while receiving a less potent benzodiazepine in a treatment facility. The latter is usually easier to manage and is accompanied by significantly less severe symptoms.

Cause of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome

Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is typically caused by prolonged use of benzodiazepines. Different medications have varying levels of addictiveness, and the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms will largely depend on the exact substance an individual was addicted to.

As a user continues to abuse a benzodiazepine, their building tolerance prompts them to take more of the drug at a higher frequency, usually resulting in substance dependence. Because of their dependence on the drug, the body reacts adversely to being deprived of it, resulting in a benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.

During the withdrawal stage, there is a risk that the drug used to taper users off a potent benzodiazepine will result in a benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. This is why, during a medically supervised inpatient detox, it is used only for the prescribed period and in the prescribed doses.

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Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome typically include sleep disturbance, increased tension, irritability and weakened concentration ability. These symptoms increase in intensity before reaching a peak, after which discomfort gradually declines.

Individuals who took extremely high dosages of benzodiazepines and developed severe addictions and dependencies are at risk of experiencing severe symptoms such as seizures and psychotic reactions.

The symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome usually have a pattern. Anxiety and insomnia typically begin within one to four days of discontinuing use of the drug, based on the half-life of the particular substance. The second pattern is the full-fledged withdrawal syndrome, which may last 10 to 14 days. Lastly, a third pattern may involve the return of anxiety symptoms, which are likely to persist until treatment is provided.

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