What Is “Benzo Belly”?

  • Written by:

    Bedrock Recovery Center

  • Dr. Johnelle Smith
    Medically reviewed by:

    Johnelle Smith, M.D

Causes Of Benzo Belly

“Benzo belly” is a nonmedical term that is sometimes used to describe gastrointestinal symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Withdrawal from benzodiazepine drugs like Ativan (lorazepam) or Xanax (alprazolam) can cause side effects such as rebound anxiety, constipation, bloating, and indigestion.

Withdrawal syndrome can occur if you begin weaning off a drug, or if you try to stop taking it very suddenly after developing physical drug dependence.

What Causes Benzo Belly?

Gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloating and abdominal pain, are common among people who are going through benzodiazepine withdrawal.

This can occur if you stop benzo use cold-turkey (all at once), or as you go through a tapering process (gradually reducing your dose over time).

Although research on the exact cause of this reaction is limited, it’s believed to be linked to the strong connection between the brain and the gut.

Benzodiazepines And The Gut

The gastrointestinal tract and the brain are intimately connected. 

According to Harvard Health, psychological issues such as anxiety and depression can trigger indigestion and symptoms in the gut — and vice versa.

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders. They also act on a neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), that is linked to activity in the gut.

Signs And Symptoms Of Benzo Belly

Benzo belly is a nonclinical condition that may be identified by a number of common signs and symptoms of benzo withdrawal.

Common symptoms of benzo belly include:

  • stomach pain, also called benzodiazepine-induced gastritis
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • gas
  • bloating

If you’ve developed dependence, withdrawal symptoms may occur within hours of your last dose of an anti-anxiety medication, and can last for several days, weeks, or months.

What Can You Do To Get Rid Of Benzo Belly?

If you or a loved one is experiencing discomfort as a result of benzo belly, there are some steps you can take for symptom relief during the detox process and withdrawal.

Tips for relieving benzo belly symptoms include:

  • Avoid eating foods that can cause or worsen gas.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages (e.g. pop/soda).
  • Keep your meals small and light.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a process that should occur only under the supervision of a doctor. Do not attempt to detox from a benzo alone, or without first talking to your healthcare provider.

If you are experiencing withdrawal, consult your doctor for more information about recommended treatment options, including any use of probiotics/supplements.

Who Can Get Benzo Belly?

Symptoms of benzo belly can develop in anyone who is going through withdrawal after becoming dependent on one or more benzodiazepine drugs.

Examples of benzodiazepine drugs include:

  • alprazolam (Xanax)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)
  • diazepam (Valium)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • triazolam (Halcion)

Physical dependence can develop within just a few weeks of taking a benzo regularly as prescribed. It can also be a sign of substance abuse, or the misuse of a benzodiazepine.

Can Benzo Belly Be Caused By Drug Abuse?

The condition known as “benzo belly,” as well as other acute withdrawal symptoms can occur as a result of chronic benzodiazepine abuse, also known as drug misuse.

Taking a prescription drug in ways other than as prescribed by a healthcare provider can be dangerous. This is especially true in the case of benzodiazepines.

Chronic benzodiazepine use can cause severe, even life-threatening withdrawal if you try to stop cold-turkey. They can also be very dangerous to mix with other drugs, particularly opioids.

Is Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Dangerous?

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause a wide range of both physical and psychological symptoms, ranging in severity from mild to severe, within hours of your last dose.

Serious or life-threatening symptoms can develop in some cases, particularly if you try to stop taking a benzo all at once after taking it regularly for a very long time.

Severe symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can include:

  • hallucinations
  • seizures
  • panic attacks
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Finding Treatment For Benzodiazepine Addiction

Drug addiction and withdrawal can best be treated within an addiction treatment facility that offers a quality medical detox program.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, located in Massachusetts, we offer full detox and residential treatment programs for people who are dependent on one or more addictive substances, including benzodiazepines. 

For more information about our drug abuse treatment programs, call our helpline to speak with a specialist today.


Sources:

Harvard Health — The gut-brain connection https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection 

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Alprazolam https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a684001.html 

U.S. National Library of Medicine: PMC — Management of benzodiazepine misuse and dependence https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657308/