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Tranquilizer Withdrawal

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ARTICLE SUMMARY: Coming off tranquilizers requires medical help. Side effects can include poor cognitive function, seizures, or suicidal thinking. This article reviews medical protocols used during withdrawal and the safest ways to quit tranquilizers. More here.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Drug Classification

Q: What Type Of Drugs Are Tranquilizers?

A: Tranquilizers are a wider category of drugs which include barbiturates and benzodiazepines. These drugs have a calming effect and eliminate both, the physical and psychological effects of anxiety or fear.

Barbiturates belong in the category of central nervous system depressants that were used in treatment to sedate people or to help them with sleeping problems. While barbiturates were popular in the mid-20th century, nowadays they have been largely replaced by a group of drugs with similar properties called benzodiazepines.

Benzodiazepines are the most widely used group of sedative drugs that are known as “tranquilizers”. Due to their safety and improved effectiveness, they have largely replaced barbiturates in the treatment of anxiety. They also have hypnotic, anticonvulsant and muscle-relaxing activities.

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Withdrawal Syndrome Definition

So, what is withdrawal, exactly?

Drug withdrawal can be defined as a group of symptoms which arise after long-term use of a psyhcoactive medication changes. When doses are significantly lowered or the medication has been stopped…a drug-specific set of symptoms is expected. In the case of tranquilizers, both physical and psychological features that follow the abrupt discontinuation represent the “withdrawal syndrome”.

Indeed, quitting a tranquilizer after chronic use produces some uncomfortable symptoms. The difference is that if these symptoms are not addressed, they can damage your health.

Main Symptoms

Tranquilizer withdrawal occurs in both physical and psychological forms.

Physical symptoms include:

  • aches and muscle tension various areas of the body
  • headaches
  • insomnia and restlessness
  • muscle spasms, tremors, and numbness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • seizures
  • vision impairment (sensitivity to light and blurriness)

Psychological symptoms include:

  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • confusion and paranoia
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • poor cognitive functions
  • suicidal ideation

Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)

Often, acute detox is only the beginning of a long, recovery journey for someone coming off of barbituates or benzos. For some, it may take 2-3 years before their neurochemistry returns to normal. For others, things might get stabilized after only 2-3 months.

After the initial withdrawal symptoms ends, the post-acute stage begins. This period is often referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Other terms include post-withdrawal, protracted withdrawal, prolonged withdrawal syndrome and protracted abstinence.

While the physical cravings associated with addiction begin to diminish after the first few weeks, chronic use or abuse of tranquilizers causes a much bigger problem than physical dependency. It is during the post-acute stage of addiction that emotional and psychological symptoms of withdrawal begin to emerge and become dominant. These powerful reactions can sometimes take you on a roller coaster ride of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Despite the fact that each person experiences PAWS a little differently, the following symptoms are the most common:

  • anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure from anything beyond use of tranquilizers)
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • cognitive impairment
  • depression
  • difficulty solving problems and thinking clearly
  • extreme cravings
  • fatigue
  • inability to concentrate
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • lack of motivation
  • memory loss
  • obsessive thoughts
  • sudden mood swings
  • suicidal thoughts

Timeline

Those who are considering a detoxification program would probably like to know which symptoms develop first. If you or someone you know is planning to quit a tranquilizer medication, understanding the withdrawal symptom timeline can help.

Detoxing from an addictive tranquilizer is marked by a serious withdrawal processes. The majority of those who quit might still feel withdrawal symptoms for years. The usual dynamics of the withdrawal process goes like this:

1-6 Days: The first symptoms usually appear after the first two days of cessation. At the beginning of the journey, the symptoms are pretty mild. You might find it harder to fall asleep and go through frequent mood swings. Nausea, headaches and fly-like symptoms may start to take place.

7-14 Days: Have you heard the saying: “It gets worse before it gets better”? Well, this phase can be used to describe the second stage of withdrawal. By the time you reach the second week, the symptoms will mark their peak. Usually during this period, people have reported experiencing the worst symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, confusion, paranoia, seizures, and even suicidal ideations. This point of tranquilizer withdrawal is most dangerous.

One Month: After a month, the symptoms will still be present, but with a lesser intensity. You may be feeling the psychological effects of your addiction problem for some time, mostly the anxiety. However, by now the worst of the symptoms should be over at this point. Do not grow discouraged if you experience setbacks in the intensity of the symptoms. Fluctuations are normal and quite common as your symptoms continue to fade.

Several Months: It’s also common for people with more severe dependence or even addiction to tranquilizers to still be experiencing symptoms at this time, especially for those who were chronic users or have been taking a long-acting benzos. Some people may continue to experience symptoms for years later. Those with dual diagnosis might have the hardest time getting back on their feet.

Whatever you go through during withdrawal from tranquilizers know that it won’t last forever. Symptoms subside eventually at some point of your detoxification, or in other cases a little bit later than that. When choosing to trust this process into the hands of professionals you are giving yourself the chance to receive medical, psychological and emotional support from experts who will guide you back to a normal and drug-free way of living

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Withdrawal from tranquilizers has a different duration for everyone. We know that it may be frustrating to hear that each tranquilizer withdrawal experience is unique. But the truth is that it’s hard to predict the course, length, and outcome of your withdrawal experience. Still, medical specialists are trained and can help you quit tranquilizers with the minimum discomfort possible.

Symptoms usually begin to appear within 24 hours after you end your last dose and can last from a few days to several months. Still, the precise duration of the withdrawal symptoms is unique. Typically, the timeline depends on:

  • The length of use.
  • The strength, dosing, or frequency of dosing.
  • Individual metabolism factors.

Prolonged withdrawal isn’t uncommon, and might appear even after the usual symptoms subside. Roughly, about 10 percent of those who abused tranquilizers still feel withdrawal symptoms years after they have stopped taking the drugs.

Withdrawal symptoms from tranquilizers may be worse if you attempt to quit cold turkey, especially if your cessation is unsupervised by a medical professional. It’s usually recommended to taper off the dosage and attend therapy in order to manage symptoms.

Factors That Influence Duration

There is no specific timeline that dictates exactly how long tranquilizer withdrawals will last. Tranquilizer withdrawal duration and intensity depends on the following factors:

  • Concurrent abuse of other drugs or alcohol.
  • Dosage amounts.
  • Family history and/or previous drug or alcohol dependency.
  • Length of time you were taking tranquilizers.
  • Presence of underlying medical or mental health issues.
  • The method of tranquilizer administration.
  • The type of tranquilizer you take.

The term, “cold turkey” refers to quitting a drug abruptly, without a weaning period and with no professional assistance.


Cold Turkey

Many people assume they can stop using tranquilizers as easily as they began taking them. This belief is profoundly wrong. Very few people who abuse tranquilizers are actually aware of how dangerous they can be, even when taken as prescribed by a doctor.

Ceasing a tranquilizer all at once brings a real shock to your system. When a person is abusing a certain type of tranquilizer, the body becomes accustomed to the effects it causes, and without the drug, has no clue how to respond. As a result, your system tries to reset the brain’s normal neurotransmitter production levels.

In fact, stopping a tranquilizer suddenly can bring a long list of side effects that are hard for the body and mind to handle. Convulsions, seizures, psychosis, paranoia, and mood swings can occur due to withdrawal from tranquilizer drugs. These symptoms appear very quickly and suddenly. Their impulsive nature brings the mind and body to a situation of hopelessness. Just when they start to fade and your feel some relief, they often return and linger a little longer.


You should never consider quitting a tranquilizer without first consulting a medical professional. Choosing to detox on your own can cause an even bigger shock to your system, and make withdrawal symptoms worse than they need to be.


Safety Guidelines

Despite the challenges, withdrawing from tranquilizers IS POSSIBLE. What’s even more important, the detoxification process can be done SAFELY.

When considering to stop your tranquilizer medication, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor on how to do this in the best way possible. A doctor can provide you with a schedule which will give you an opportunity to slowly taper off the medication instead of quitting cold turkey. This is the best way to stop taking any drug. You can gradually lower your doses of tranquilizer medication over an extended period of time, making the whole process more manageable and less painful.

Tapering Benefits

Slow withdrawal means tapering dosage gradually, over an extended period of time. The main goal is obtaining a smooth, steady and slow decline in blood and tissue concentrations of tranquilizers so that the natural processes in the brain can recover their normal state. Recovery after long-term use of tranquilizers is similar to the gradual recuperation of the body after a major surgical operation. Mind and body healing is a slow process.

For benzo tapering guidelines, see Dr. Heather Ashton’s “Ashton Manual”.

Tranquilizers influence many of the functions of the body’s natural system, governed by the neurotransmitter GABA. As a result, GABA receptors in the brain reduce in numbers, and GABA function decreases. Sudden tranquilizer withdrawal leaves the brain in a state of GABA-underactivity, increasing the activity of the nervous system. However, a sufficiently slow, and smooth, elimination of tranquilizers from the body enables the natural systems to regain control of the functions which have been taken over by these drugs.

There is a belief among users that a very slow withdrawal from tranquilizers prolongs the pain and agony. Therefore some people think it is better to get it over with as quickly as possible. But this belief is based mainly in fear. The experience of most individuals is that slow withdrawal lowers the intensity and the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. However, there is no magic rate of withdrawal and each person must find the reduction rate that suits them best.

IMPORTANT: The reduction dynamics should be always made in accordance with a doctor. If something goes wrong and you feel that the schedule is too ambitious for you, you can always make another adjustment in accordance with your doctor. Do not by any chance attempt to make a tapering schedule by yourself, since you might hurt yourself.

Why Professional Detox?

If you are suffering from a severe dependence on tranquilizers or have been consuming large amounts of tranquilizers over a long period of time, you may want to consider the help of a specialized detox clinic. Why?

Mainly, for safety.

These professionally equipped centers will monitor your condition at all times, check your vital signs, and make sure none of the withdrawal symptoms become too intense to risk your life. Staff experts at detox centers will conduct a gradual tapering off schedule, and also prescribe you helpful medication to help you cope with some of the more difficult withdrawal symptoms.

Detox centers are also the first step on the journey to recovery. Though tranquilizers may be successfully out of your system, the impact of these drugs may still influence your mind. Addiction therapy programs are very useful in helping you learn coping skills to live a drug-free life. Cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, counseling and meditation will teach you the connection between your thoughts and actions and how they affect each other.

Medications During Detox

Although most people gradually reduce their tranquilizers dose until its safe to completely stop taking them, there are medications that can help relieve withdrawal symptoms during the period of detox. Some of these include:

Buspirone for generalized anxiety disorder. This drug doesn’t cause physical dependence and can relieve the emotional effects of withdrawal.

Flumazenil for the treatment of tranquilizer overdoses and withdrawal symptoms reduction. Flumazenil works by blocking the effects of tranquilizers and relieving withdrawal symptoms attaching to the same pleasure centers in the brain as tranquilizers. This medication is sometimes used for rapid detox as the drug forces tranquilizers out of the body. This drug should be used with caution as rapid detox can make withdrawal worse.

Coping With Withdrawal

Regardless of how intensive the cravings in the beginning are, many people are capable of resisting them. However there is one trick. Many people are often very well-prepared for the strong physical symptoms, but they are not ready for the unpleasant and strong emotional reactions that suddenly appear after the onset of PAWS.

The following recommendations can help you manage the intensity of the symptoms associated with this type of withdrawal. Your additional tips are welcomed in the comments section at the end.

1. Educate yourself

Knowledge is the most important tool a person can have against withdrawal symptoms. It is essential to gain an understanding of the processes that happen in your body. The most important thing is the ability to recognize the symptoms when they appear and know how to respond and what to do.

2. Stay physically active.

Exercise helps the body and brain heal quicker. Sports boost the immune system and restores a healthy balance to neurotransmitters. This results with reduced levels of anxiety and stress and helps people in recovery sleep better.

3. Be positive.

When dealing with PAWS, you should remain calm, relaxed, and accept that turbulence is a natural and unavoidable consequence of getting drug-free. Remaining focused on the positive goal of sobriety can be a great motivational tool to get through this struggle. Learn some spiritual practice such as meditation and start nurturing you inner self.

4. Identify and avoid triggers.

Recognize and avoid situations that trigger anger, boredom, sadness, loneliness, and stress. These are all unhealthy emotional states that profoundly influence your well-being. If any of these are associated with people from your past who provoke these feelings, avoid them.

5. Eat healthy.

Malnutrition is common in those who use tranquilizers. In order to strengthen the immune system, it’s very important that you eat three balanced meals and three snacks between meals and at bedtime. You should try to avoid or decrease the intake of sugar and caffeine. Your diet should include a mix of vegetables and fruit, carbohydrates, protein, fats and dairy products.

6. Consult professionals.

Besides these tips, you will also need the support of counselors and peers as you face post-acute withdrawal challenges. Regular appointments with therapists and weekly attendance at support group meetings are essential to recovery.

Your Questions

Withdrawal from tranquilizers is a serious and challenging condition. If you’re seeking out help for an addiction to tranquilizers, that shows even more bravery.

We hope that this guide to the tranquilizer detox is a useful start. But remember that you are not alone! Drug use and addiction specialists can help analyze your situation, determine if you qualify for a dual diagnosis, and help get you into a recovery program that’s most suitable for you.

In case you still have any further questions don’t hesitate to post them below. We’ll make sure to answer to you ASAP.

Reference Sources: NCBI: Drug Withdrawal Syndromes
NCBI: Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal From Specific Substances
NCBI: Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse
NCBI: Using medication: What can help when trying to stop taking sleeping pills and sedatives?

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