Benzodiazepines, also called “benzos”, are a class of drug that is most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety.
Benzos are also commonly prescribed for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal is an uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening process that occurs when someone with an alcohol dependence stops drinking.
The anxiety-reducing properties of benzos can help to keep people calm during alcohol withdrawal, but there are many more benefits as well.
Benzos work by enhancing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter in the brain. This, in turn, reduces the activity of nerves themselves.
The result is a general calming effect on the body and mind that benzodiazepines are known for.
Symptoms That Benzodiazepines Help Treat During Alcohol Detox
Benzos are prescribed in both inpatient and outpatient alcohol detox programs. Benzodiazepines can help with a wide range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that benzos are used to manage include:
- alcohol withdrawal seizures (benzos are a known anticonvulsant)
- alcohol-related tremors
- restlessness and trouble sleeping
- nausea and vomiting
- alcohol night sweats and chills
- alcohol withdrawal anxiety and panic attacks
Benzos can be used to increase the overall comfort and sense of well-being in people going through alcohol withdrawal.
In severe cases of withdrawal, however, benzos can do more than simply make things more comfortable — they can save lives.
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a rare form of severe alcohol withdrawal that includes symptoms like seizures, which can be fatal.
Benzos are used as an intervention to prevent seizures. The use of benzodiazepines to lower the risk of seizures makes them invaluable in managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
How Benzodiazepines Are Used During Alcohol Withdrawal
There are different regimens that can be used to administer benzos for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Fixed Tapering Dose Regimen (FTDR)
In a fixed tapering dose regimen, a healthcare provider decides on a dose and a tapering schedule is given.
Benzos should always be tapered to reduce negative side effects that can occur when people suddenly stop using them.
The fixed tapering dose regimen is best for the treatment of mild symptoms and is good for patients in outpatient detox, because it requires little to no adjustment or management.
Symptom Triggered Regimen (STR)
In a symptom triggered regimen, the dose of benzos is adjusted based on a client’s current level of discomfort and other symptoms. This regimen can be used for mild to severe symptoms.
A symptom triggered regimen is only suitable for use in an inpatient treatment center. Clinicians need to be present to monitor symptoms and adjust the dose.
Loading Dose Regimen (LDR)
In a loading dose regimen, long-acting benzodiazepines such as lorazepam are used. These drugs stay in the body for multiple days.
A loading dose regimen is used for patients with severe alcohol withdrawal because it is the best way to reduce seizures.
This regimen is best suited for inpatient settings where medical monitoring is possible.
Common Benzodiazepines Used In Alcohol Detox
Some benzos are more commonly used to help with the effects of alcohol withdrawal than others.
Some benzos and other drugs less commonly used for alcohol detox include gabapentin, oxazepam, baclofen, clonidine, Xanax, and carbamazepine.
A few of the benzos most often used during detox are listed below.
Ativan, also known as lorazepam, is a relatively long-acting benzo that is commonly used during alcohol withdrawal.
Using Ativan during alcohol detox is known to be safer for people with liver disease, which is a common condition among people with alcohol addictions.
Valium, also called diazepam, is commonly used during alcohol withdrawal to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and seizures.
Another benzo commonly used during alcohol withdrawal is Librium. It can be used to treat anxiety and prevent seizures in people going through alcohol detox.
Side Effects Of Using Benzodiazepines During Alcohol Detox
No drugs are without side effects. Benzodiazepines do have some potential side effects when used to treat alcohol withdrawal.
Many of the side effects of benzos are similar to those of alcohol withdrawal, making it difficult to determine the cause of symptoms.
Benzos have sedative properties, so drowsiness can be expected as a common side effect. Sometimes, drowsiness can be more severe and lead to feelings of disorientation.
Long-term memory is sometimes impaired by the use of benzos. The cognitive effects of benzos may continue even after someone stops taking the drug.
Weight gain can occur as a result of prolonged benzodiazepine use. This is uncommon in people who only use the drugs for days or weeks to treat withdrawal symptoms.
Jaundice is a rare side effect of benzos that can occur especially when someone has a weakened liver. Since alcohol consumption is hard on the liver, medical advice should always be sought before taking benzos.
Rarely, benzos can cause seizures rather than prevent them. This is uncommon when benzos are taken under medical supervision.
Benefits Of Benzodiazepine Use During Alcohol Detox
While there are some risks and side effects to using benzodiazepines during detox, many healthcare providers agree that the benefits outweigh the costs.
Benefits of using benzos during alcohol detox include:
- reductions in severe symptoms like pain and seizures
- may have fewer side effects than other medications
- help people addicted to alcohol get through detox so they can begin long-term recovery
- offer a wide range of options to choose from based on a person’s needs
- can be used in outpatient settings when necessary
Treatment Services For Alcohol Use Disorder
There are treatment options available for alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction treatment typically begins with detox, but the true recovery happens afterward in inpatient and outpatient programs.
The best treatment programs for alcohol abuse use evidence-based treatment approaches such as medication-assisted treatment, group and individual counseling, behavioral therapy, and more.
Inpatient treatment is highly recommended, as it gives people in recovery a chance to focus entirely on addressing their addiction and healing from their past.
Find Drug And Alcohol Rehab Services At Bedrock Recovery Center
Bedrock Recovery Center is one of the east coast’s top inpatient treatment centers for substance use disorders. We treat everything from opioid abuse to alcohol addiction.
You can start by visiting our inpatient detox center. Once your withdrawal symptoms have passed, you can choose the treatment program that best fits your needs.
If you or a loved one have been facing addiction and you are ready to seek help, Bedrock Recovery Center is here for you. Call our helpline today to learn about our treatment programs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs
- National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606320/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-45-Detoxification-and-Substance-Abuse-Treatment/SMA15-4131
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm