Five (5) facts about benzodiazepine withdrawal (you need to know)

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be debilitating. How can you support yourself during detox? Five (5) facts and considerations here. With a section at the end for your questions and comments.

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Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be debilitating. The limbic system in the brain kicks into overdrive. Symptoms such as extreme fatigue, depression, and panic are common. How can you support yourself during the months-years long process of detox from benzos? Quitting a benzodiazepine medication can be made easier if you are prepared for what to expect and equipped with the right information about what benzo addiction is, how you can find the best addiction treatment program for you, and the rehab process entail. Learn more in this Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment Programs and Help guide. With a section at the end for your questions and comments.

Benzos overexcite our minds and bodies

Before we talk about what you can do to support yourself when going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, let’s review how benzos affect the brain.

There are two opposing systems in the brain: the glutamate and GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) systems. Think of glutamate as the gas pedal: it excites things into action. GABA, on the other hand, puts on the brakes. Benzodiazepines damage GABA receptors so that glutamate is free to run rampant, overly exciting everything in our bodies.

Without enough working GABA receptors to calm down the excitement from glutamate, our central nervous system goes into overdrive. The limbic system, the region of the brain responsible for flight, fight or freeze kicks into action around the clock. We experience:

  • fear
  • terror
  • debilitating panic

Derealization and depersonalization are common withdrawal symptoms, as well. Severe depression, crushing fatigue, weakness, dizziness, burning skin, and a host of other debilitating symptoms can occur from taking a benzodiazepine.

We’re still learning about benzo withdrawal

It’s true that not everyone taking a benzo will experience a horrific withdrawal. Genetic mutations are the suspected culprits that cause the drug to mangle some brains but not others. However, the exact pathway of damage is not yet known.

What we do know about the experience of detoxing from benzo withdrawal comes from the collective stories of people who have survived it. The Internet is helping collect information about withdrawal and to disseminate more accurate facts to help people better navigate benzo withdrawal.

Five (5) benzodiazepine withdrawal facts

Here are five (5) of the facts that everyone taking a benzodiazepine should know:

1.  Going to a doctor who is not benzo-wise can make you worse.

Most doctors are not very well educated about the dangers of benzos or the withdrawal process and symptoms. It is important that you educate yourself by studying the Ashton Manual, the gold standard to date for getting off a benzo. You may want to join one of the new online benzo communities run by benzo survivors that are springing up in response to the global need for help and guidance in benzo withdrawal.

Rehabs and detox centers are not the place to go to stop taking a benzo. Both taper patients off very quickly, which shocks the brain so to speak. This can result in a more symptomatic and longer withdrawal.

TIP 1: Consult with a medical doctor with experience in benzodiazepine withdrawal.

2.  Time is the only thing that heals.

There are no pills, potions, or lotions that speed up the healing process or make it go away. Some things can take the edge off, however. Many of those things come with a steep price tag of their own to pay when you want to stop taking them. It may be better to gut out withdrawal without adding insult to injury.

Many drugs, vitamins and supplements make us worse, not better. Compiling the stories of so many that have gone though withdrawal we now know that vitamin D, vitamin B and magnesium often rev up our symptoms. Further, herbs and supplements that work on GABA receptors should be avoided. Kava Kava, Valerian, Phenibut, and Chamomille are known to cause problems.

Medical marijuana usually makes people have an increase in symptoms. Anxiety, depersonalization, derealization, fear, paranoia and panic can result from smoking or eating edibles. CBD, (cannabidiol) is a marijuana compound that does not cause a high. It is not psychoactive like THC. CBD has been shown to reduce seizures and pain. However, some people in benzo withdrawal react negatively to it. It is best to avoid the use of medical marijuana in benzo withdrawal.

Many naturopaths, acupuncturists and functional medicine doctors like to prescribe vitamins and supplements. You must do your homework before you agree to take any thing no matter how natural or organic it may be. Not sure how to find out if what you want to take is known to cause problems? Join one of the many online benzo groups and ask other members. Remember, we can’t rely on doctors (yet) because they are not educated about benzo withdrawal. They mean well, however, the often harm instead of help.

TIP 2: Avoid the following vitamins and supplements:

  • Chamomille
  • Kava Kava
  • Magnesium
  • Medical marijuana
  • Phenibut
  • Valerian
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin D
  • Any herbs and supplements that work on GABA receptors

3.  Watch what you eat. Food can trigger an avalanche of symptoms.

It’s not just drugs, vitamins, herbs or supplements that can cause an unbearable spike in benzo symptoms. Food can trigger very uncomfortable reactions as well. Many people going through benzo withdrawal become food sensitive. I couldn’t eat garbanzo beans without an increase in symptoms. Salmon revved up my symptoms too. Cane sugar and honey can increase withdrawal symptoms.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) needs to be avoided. It is an excitotoxin. Food additives, colorings, preservatives and artificial sugars can increase withdrawal symptoms. Sugar substitutes such a xylitol have been known to cause severe gastro problems. Caffeine and alcohol also make us much worse and should be avoided.

Benzo survivors usually try many different eating styles in order to feel better. Some try the GAPS diet, while others go Paleo. Some become strict vegans, while others just shun gluten. Diet is personal choice that only you can decide for yourself. Nothing to date speeds up the healing of the damaged GABA receptors, however, some diets do allow us to feel a bit better than others.

TIP 3: Find a diet that works for you. Look into GAPS, Paleo, vegan, or gluten-free diets. Avoid certain foods like:

  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sugars or sugar substitutes
  • Caffeine
  • Cane sugar
  • Food additives, preservatives, or coloring
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Honey
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Salmon

4.  Don’t up dose or reinstate unless it is to save your life.

One of the worse pieces of advice people are given in benzo withdrawal is to take more of the drug if they are struggling while tapering, or to reinstate (go back on the drug) if they are off.

A process called “kindling” can take place once you have been exposed to a benzodiazepine. No one knows exactly what takes place in the brain to cause this phenomenon. However, we know that it exists. If you go down in dose then go up, getting back down can be even harder the second time. The brain has been “kindled.”

If you are off the drug, especially for more than four (4) weeks, going back on the drug can backfire. You may become tolerant to the dose you reinstate on, and up dosing will not bring relief. You may be far more symptomatic and tapering may be brutally hard.

TIP 4: Keep moving down in dose. Once off, stay off, unless you feel your life may be in danger.

5.  Chances are good your old anxiety will be history!

Many people who have navigated benzo withdrawal find that the original complaint that drove them to see their doctor is long gone after withdrawal ends. You may be frightened in the midst of withdrawal and feel that your old anxiety has returned. That is your damaged brain misfiring fear.

You’ll know when withdrawal ends if you still have your original anxiety. (you’ll be able to seek appropriate help if you feel you need to do so.) Once we are healed, many of us feel we are made of titanium. We’ve lived through hell on earth. Nothing much ruffles our feathers. Chances are good that you will feel this way, too.

TIP 5: No matter how much fear, anxiety and panic you have in withdrawal, know that once your brain heals, it will fade away. The amount of fear you feel in the depths of withdrawal is not the way you will feel the rest of your life.

Freedom from benzos is a new beginning

Benzo withdrawal is not a walk in the park for many. However, getting free from the drug increases your health and possibly your life span. For the millions who have gotten free, a whole new life awaits! Many are happier and far healthier than they were pre-benzo or on a benzo.

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About the author
Dr. Jennifer Leigh is a Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Coach and award-winning author. She works with people worldwide to prevent and to heal addictions.
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