Benzodiazepines For Alcohol Withdrawal

One of the hardest parts of getting sober for many individuals is going through alcohol withdrawal, which can be incredibly painful. In some cases, it can be fatal. To help patients get through initial detox, additional medication may be necessary. Some of the most commonly prescribed and effective medications for this purpose are various Benzodiazepines.

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Benzodiazepines For Alcoholism Withdrawal

Benzodiazepines (or “Benzos”) are a class of man-made medications. There are a large number of drugs classified as Benzodiazepines, each of which is different. In general, however, Benzodiazepines depress the central nervous system (the nerves in the brain) to some degree and cause drowsiness and sleepiness.

Although the exact mechanism by which each Benzodiazepine works is not fully understood, it involves enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This slows down nerve impulses throughout the entire body and drastically reduces the brain’s output of other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters are necessary for alertness, memory, muscle tone and coordination, emotional responses, endocrine gland secretions, heart rate, and blood pressure. The use of Benzos impairs all of these functions, which results in a relaxed state.

Alcohol use impacts the way the brain functions. This rewiring becomes increasingly severe the longer and more severely alcoholism continues. By this point, the alcoholic’s brain has become dependent on alcohol to function properly. When the addicted individual ceases consuming alcohol, the brain is thrown into disarray. This causes Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS). Alcohol withdrawal can be extremely painful and cause seizures, restlessness, hallucinations, nightmares, heart palpitations, and vomiting, among other unpleasant effects. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can even be fatal.

Various Benzodiazepines help reduce the impact of AWS in a number of ways. Some of the symptoms Benzodiazepines treat include:

  • Seizures and tremors
  • Difficulty sleeping and restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headaches
  • Pain
  • Anxiety/Panic

Benzodiazepines Commonly Used To Treat Alcohol Withdrawal

Proper Use Of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines carry a number of side effects, including addiction. Additionally, some may cause reactions when used in combination with other alcohol treatment medications. For these reasons, they should only be taken under the supervision and prescription of a licensed medical professional; an inpatient alcohol detox and rehabilitation setting may be best. However, Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed successfully in outpatient settings as well.

The type of Benzodiazepine prescribed and the manner in which it is used will vary depending on a number of factors, including the setting of use, the severity of the alcoholism, and the symptoms presenting themselves during detox. In general, Benzodiazepines are used in 3 ways.

Fixed Tapering Dose Regimen (FTDR)

  • Fixed dose not adjusted based on symptom severity
  • Best suited for mild symptoms
  • Ideal for outpatient recovery

Symptom Triggered Regimen (STR)

  • Dosage is based on patient’s rating of pain – higher levels of pain get higher dosage
  • Suited for mild to very severe symptoms
  • Can only be utilized under direct medical supervision
  • Only used in inpatient recovery

Loading Dose Regimen (LDR)

  • Uses long-acting Benzodiazepines that stay in the body for several days
  • Most impactful at reducing seizures
  • Ideally only used in inpatient settings to allow monitoring

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Side Effects Of Benzodiazepines

Different Benzodiazepines have different side effects; some are mild, and some are very severe. A challenge is that many Benzodiazepine side effects mirror symptoms of AWS, making it difficult to tell what is actually the cause. Some common side effects of Benzodiazepines include:

  • Drowsiness and sedation
  • Confusion and lightheadedness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation and memory loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Tiredness
  • Sexual malfunction

Less common but more severe side effects of Benzodiazepines include:

  • Addiction
  • Withdrawal
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Suicide
  • Increased and decreased heart rate
  • Fainting
  • Movement disorders
  • Respiratory issues
  • Reactions with other medications

Benzodiazepine use can lead to addiction in some individuals. If you or someone you know is struggling with Benzodiazepine addiction, get help now.

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Benefits Of Benzodiazepines

  • Offer a wide variety of options to choose from so that each individual case can be treated in an appropriate manner
  • Help counteract the most severe and dangerous symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal, especially pain and seizures
  • In some cases, present fewer and less severe side effects than alternative medications
  • Make it possible for some alcoholics to overcome the worst symptoms of withdrawal successfully so that they can start on longer term recovery

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Alcoholism is a very serious addiction, and it can be very difficult to overcome. This is especially true during alcohol withdrawal, a potentially dangerous time that should be monitored by medical professionals. If you or a loved one is struggling to overcome alcoholism, there is help available. Contact a treatment provider now to find out what treatment options are available.

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Author

Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

Theresa Parisi

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  • Theresa Parisi received her bachelor’s degree in Addiction Science and Psychology from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota in 2010. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by the Florida Certification Board. Theresa is passionate about recovery having gone through addiction herself.

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