Withdrawal from any addictive substance, whether it be a prescribed medication, alcohol or an illegal street drug, is always difficult. At times, withdrawal or detoxing can be almost unbearable. The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, especially for benzodiazepine users.
What is a Benzodiazepine?
Benzodiazepines are prescribed for several medical disorders. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed to treat anxiety, panic disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, sleeplessness and alcohol withdrawal.
The most popular benzodiazepines are Xanax, Xanax XR, Klonopin, Onfi, Tranzine, Librium, Valium, Ativan, Restoril and Halcion. Alprazolam (Xanax), however, is the most commonly prescribed and abused benzodiazepine. Although Xanax or any of the other benzos mentioned are extremely beneficial for treating anxiety and other disorders, the drawback to using a benzodiazepine is when the patient either chooses to or needs to stop taking the medication.
Once the patient begins to cut back on their benzodiazepine medication, the withdrawal symptoms will begin, sometimes within hours.
What to Expect During Xanax Withdrawal
Unfortunately, I have experienced withdrawal from Xanax. Please understand that what I am about to describe is very similar to an extremely severe withdrawal. However, this does not at all infer that a different person will have the same experience.
At the time of my withdrawal from Xanax, I lived in Texas, but my psychiatrist was in New Mexico. My son and I were moving, and somehow my prescription got lost in the move. Due to this, I was forced to quit “cold turkey” from my dosage of two 2mg Xanax a day. Day one was almost intolerable. I wanted to sleep so badly, but could not even rest. I took approximately 6 baths that day, trying anything I could to ease the anxiety and panic attacks. It was impossible to eat, as I was nauseous even though I was hungry. The following days did not get better, although I was able to take an over-the-counter sleeping medication, so I did get a couple of hours of rest each night.
Driving was out of the question, as when I tried my vision was completely doubled and blurry. Around the 5th day out of 10 days total, I found it difficult to walk due to balance issues and my thought processing and memory was all but gone. My muscles cramped, I shook uncontrollably almost all day long, and I would cry for no reason for hours. I also did something that I want to caution anyone who finds themselves in this situation. I made a horrible mistake thinking that if I just took more of my antidepressant, it would ease my anxiety. The result of that decision caused me to have Serotonin Syndrome and had I not realized it when I did I most likely would not be here to write this article. On the 10th day, I had a friend who was able to drive me back to New Mexico and straight to my psychiatrist. In short, it was the worst 10 days of my life.
The point of my story is that what I should have done is gone straight to the emergency room to get help. If you ever find yourself in this type of situation, don’t repeat my mistake and get medical help immediately!
Short-Term and Long-Term Side Effects
Some research has shown that a number of individuals who have been taking benzodiazepines for a long period of time, or a high dose for a shorter period of time may have persistent or permanent issues with concentration, memory and/or a decreased resistance to stress and anxiety. It has also been proven that short-term memory is affected while taking benzodiazepines, even at a low dose and can be affected for a long period of time after quitting.
There are several signs that can be experienced throughout benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
The following is a condensed checklist of possible withdrawal signs:
- Abdominal pains and cramps
- Breathing difficulties
- Blurred vision
- Hypersensitivity to sound and light
- Aggressive behavior
- Flu-like Symptoms
- Heart Palpitations
Life After Xanax
Not everyone who cuts down or stops taking benzodiazepines will experience the same symptoms. At times, an individual may not experience any withdrawal symptoms at all, however, it is rare. For every individual, the timeline for symptoms of withdrawal will be completely different. The withdrawal can last for many weeks or months for some.
Unfortunately, there is just no way to predict a time frame in which a person will have regular withdrawal symptoms.
Becoming physically dependent on any form of benzodiazepine creates extreme changes in both your brain and your body. As such, I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous it can be to quit taking benzodiazepine medication without speaking with your doctor first.