The term “benzo” refers to a class of drugs containing benzodiazepine, a Schedule IV substance that is intended to be prescribed as a sedative to treat muscle spasms, anxiety, seizures, and insomnia.
Commonly prescribed benzos include:
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Valium (diazepam)
- Ativan (Iorazepam)
- Restoril (temazepam)
While these and other medications can be effective treatments for anxiety, insomnia, and related issues, they carry a serious risk of dependence, addiction, and abuse.
Benzos Are Extremely Addictive
Benzo dependence and addiction can manifest very quickly. Pfizer, the makers of Xanax, explicitly states that the drug may not be effective after several weeks of continuous use and further cautions that the risk and severity of dependence are greater in patients consuming more than 4mg per day for duration of longer than 12 weeks.
How Benzos Affect the Brain
Benzos enhance the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain during benzo withdrawal, which functions as a natural inhibitor. The enhanced GABA works more effectively than usual, which creates a pronounced calming effect throughout the body.
Although benzos create a tranquilizing effect in users, these calming properties come with significant side effects that can be amplified when too much of the drug is taken. These side effects include:
- A sense of euphoria
- Memory loss
- Overly realistic dreams
- Shallow breathing
- Alternating pulse (from rapid to slow and back again)
As with any depressant, using benzos too often or in too large of a dose can significantly impact the brain’s ability to function normally. Prolonged exposure to benzos causes the brain during benzo withdrawal to adapt its chemistry to counteract the benzos’ sedative effects. This means that the brain during benzo withdrawal will feel overstimulated in the absence of benzos, and cause you to crave them to feel normal again.
Benzo Addiction and Withdrawal
Although benzos can be beneficial when used as directed, they are not intended to be taken as a long-term solution to any problem. This is because benzos are extremely addictive and can easily drive the people who use them to begin abusing them recreationally.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms typically present themselves within a day of your last dose, though sometimes the onset can occur in less than 12 hours. Once they begin, they can last for months or even years depending on how long the sufferer has been abusing benzos and the strength of the benzos being abused.
The strength of a person’s withdrawal symptoms depends on the half-life of the benzo they have been abusing, the user’s metabolism, and the length of time the user has been abusing the drug.
Although specific symptoms vary from person to person, you can typically expect them to involve one or more of the following:
- Sensations of pain and discomfort
- Restlessness, urgency, and panic
- Difficulty focusing
- Mood swings
- Seizures and seizures that will not stop (status epilepticus)
Medical treatments are available to help dampen the effects of these symptoms, which should be combined with counseling or therapy to help the victim cope with and overcome benzo withdrawal.
Things to Avoid While Going Through Benzo Withdrawal
Some foods and medications affect the same areas of the brain that benzos do. Anything that interacts with the brain’s GABA receptors should be avoided or consumed in limited quantities while you are going through benzo withdrawal. This includes:
- Artificial sugar
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Mood stabilizers
- Vitamins B and D