Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are two large families of prescription medications classified as sedative-hypnotic or tranquilizers. Barbiturates have a longer history of use than benzodiazepines.
While effective at achieving results such as anxiety relief and sedation, these medications carry a significant risk for accidental overdoses and other severe side effects. Members of this family of substances include:
Benzodiazepines were developed as a safer alternative to barbiturates. When used as intended, medications in this family pose a much smaller risk for damaging side effects, and for this reason, doctors typically prescribe them instead of barbiturates. Common examples of the benzodiazepine family include:
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Estazolam (Prosom)
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates share one unfortunate attribute: the ability to trigger physical dependence and addiction. Risks for these problems are highest in people who use the medications more often or in higher amounts than prescribed by a doctor. However, they can also affect individuals who never stray from the terms of their prescriptions.
What Is Benzodiazepine / Barbiturate Detox?
Anyone with a benzodiazepine/barbiturate dependency or addiction will experience symptoms of withdrawal when their medication intake does not meet their brains’ established expectations. The term detox (i.e., detoxification) describes the process that happens when intake drops or ceases, and the affected person goes through the stages of withdrawal. This process is essential to break dependence/addiction and begin the gradual return to lasting sobriety.
Withdrawal symptoms known to appear in people detoxing from benzodiazepines include:
- Sleep disruption
- Vision changes
- Bouts of anxiety or panic
- Muscle tremors
- Unusual changes in normal mood
- Unusual sensitivity to loud sounds
- A sense of disconnection from reality
In a worst-case scenario, an individual withdrawing from one of these medications may also experience grand mal (generalized tonic-clonic) seizures or symptoms of psychosis or delirium. Risks for severe problems are highest in individuals who stop their intake “cold turkey,” use a short-acting benzodiazepine like alprazolam or habitually consume these substances in large amounts.
Withdrawal symptoms known to appear in people detoxing from barbiturates include:
- Disrupted sleep
- An agitated mental state
- Muscle tremors
In some cases, these symptoms can worsen and contribute to the onset of seizures, a dangerously high body temperature or sensory hallucinations.
The Importance of Medically Supervised Detox
People trying to break free from benzodiazepine- or barbiturate-related problems should always go through detoxification in a medically supervised setting. This is true, in large part, because of the potential severity of the withdrawal symptoms associated with these medications. To keep risks as low as possible, doctors do not bring consumption of benzodiazepines or barbiturates to a halt all at once. Instead, they typically switch dependent or addicted users to a stable dose of one of the safest benzodiazepines. After taking this step, they will gradually reduce medication intake until the goal of detox is achieved. None of this indispensable medical guidance is available to people who try to detox on their own.
An attempt to quit using benzodiazepines or barbiturates without a doctor’s help also increases the chances that a relapse will occur. One of the main causes of a relapse is a desire to escape the discomforting symptoms triggered by withdrawal. In addition, some long-term users of these medications may experience intense cravings for them when their level of intake declines. A medically supervised detoxification program is designed to diminish the impact of withdrawal, and thereby decrease the motivation to return to active substance intake.
People who attempt to go through benzodiazepine/barbiturate withdrawal on their own also face a third major obstacle: potential exposure to an overdose in the aftermath of a relapse. When no other substances are in use, benzodiazepine overdoses don’t tend to produce fatal outcomes. However, risks for deadly complications can rise sharply with a combined intake of alcohol or other substances that slow down the central nervous system. Even in the best of circumstances, anyone who relapses back into barbiturate use can potentially overdose and die. This fact is due to the small differences between lethal and non-lethal doses of these medications.
Effective detox programs provide a level of oversight that makes overdoses less likely to happen. They also provide the rapid medical response needed to avert catastrophe if an overdose does occur.
Summit Detox conducts benzodiazepine and barbiturate detoxification in accordance with guidelines set forth by addiction medicine’s most knowledgeable authorities. These guidelines break the process down into three primary goals:
- Use of an in-depth evaluation to establish a personalized starting point and course of treatment for all program participants
- The taking of all appropriate steps required to stabilize each participant’s physical and mental condition throughout the period of enrollment
- Use of counseling and other methods to prepare all patients for further participation in substance treatment once detox is successfully completed
In addition to receiving a tapering dose of a benzodiazepine, patients may receive other medications, including anticonvulsants designed to control seizures. Other forms of support provided to our patients include ongoing monitoring of all vital signs, supplementation for any nutrient deficiencies and psychotherapy. The precise program designed for you or your loved one will depend on important considerations such as:
- The specific substance associated with your condition
- The severity and duration of your sedative/hypnotic dependence or addiction
- Your current state of mental well-being
- Your current state of physical well-being
In all cases, our plans support the same overarching goal: safe, effective care that sets you up for a successful, long-term return to sobriety.