Benzodiazepines are in a class of drugs known as “anxiolytics.” They are generally prescribed to treat anxiety disorders. When prescribed at low doses and for short periods, usually a month or less, they can effectively treat anxiety symptoms. However, research does not support the long-term use of these medications for anxiety or sleep disorders because it can lead to drug dependence. Once that happens, stopping or weaning off the medication can be dangerous without medical assistance.
Detoxing in a Residential Treatment
When it comes to tapering off a medication like benzos, it is best to do it in a treatment setting where staff is educated about the dangers of long-term use. Initially, physicians or psychiatrists working with the clients may suggest a reduction in dosage to find the right amount that works for the individual as each case is different. This also allows the clients to feel safe during the process. Tapering off requires a lessened commitment than going off the medication entirely at once.
This method may also help clients build confidence in their ability to taper off and eventually get off the medication, as the withdrawal symptoms will be reduced. Clients will also have the appropriate opportunity to learn how to manage any adverse side-effects that may come.
Before and during the medication taper, providing the client with knowledge of the withdrawal symptoms to expect, and encouraging them along the way while reinforcing new strategies for managing their anxiety, will be beneficial to their long-term success. As with any use of psychiatric medications, under the supervision of a medical professional, clients will also benefit from the support of professional counseling staff to manage the psychological process of medical detox.
The Appropriate Length of Time
The length and process of tapering will vary widely, as it is an individualized process. Some clients may prefer to taper rapidly, while others may lengthen their taper. In any case, the length of the taper is related to the severity of the symptoms and how much the client is comfortable with experiencing. Along with general discomfort that clients may experience, considering the potential lethality of a taper that is too dramatic must always be accounted for and take precedence over any other possible side effects.
Medical professionals remain divided over the appropriate length of an effective tapering program. Some clinicians may suggest a prolonged schedule where the client will have more input in the process, dosage reductions, and time to adjust. Other clinicians believe that the most effective tapers are accomplished only through the use of a rapid detox program, typically eight to twelve weeks, with the option open to the client to slow down if the negative side-effects they experience are too much to handle. In most cases, clinicians agree that any taper that goes on too long, six months or more, may lead to more anxiety about the process, possibly creating worsened side effects.
The sooner that the client can be completely off the medication, the higher their chance of long-term success. Yet still, there are unique cases in which it may be appropriate that the clinician and the client both agree that a taper of a year or more may prove beneficial or even necessary.
The Different Available Methods
There are three standard methods for tapering off benzos. The first method is to use the same medication to taper down. The second method is switching to a similar medication with a longer-lasting effect. The third method is to use other medications to minimize withdrawal symptoms.
Individuals who are tapering off benzos may experience difficulty reducing or stopping the medication dosage because of adverse symptoms, such as increased anxiety or cravings for the drug. Individuals with problems with lowering their dosage or stopping may begin to take more than prescribed, request refills on medicine earlier than planned, or use the medication for reasons other than what it was prescribed for. These patients may benefit from a transfer to a higher level of care, such as an inpatient rehab program or a partial hospitalization program. Tapering off of the drug will provide a good idea as to what level of care will best help the client.
The best way to prevent a return to use is to have a thorough treatment plan developed and strictly follow it. Another key to prevention is exploring different medications that are non-narcotic to assist the client with their anxiety issues.
Best practices typically include utilizing a short-term taper of four to six weeks. Because this may seem short to most people, it is always highly advised to detox through a residential treatment program, where there will be plenty of support and assistance available, instead of seeing a psychiatrist privately and detoxing from home.
Tapering off of substances is a common first step for those wanting to quit. In some cases, it is even medically necessary, as with benzos. The withdrawal symptoms and side effects of discontinuing medications, like benzos, can often be lethal. This is why it is essential to decide to quit as soon as possible. For the highest chance of success, it is always highly advised to participate in a residential program, where all of the needed care will be available. At Capo Canyon Recovery, we provide clients with a comfortable, safe environment where they can focus on their recovery. We want to help our clients put an end to their substance abuse. Once our clients complete their detox, they can move on to one of our residential treatment programs. If you or a loved one are seeking support or want to learn more about our treatment options, call Capo Canyon Recovery at (800) 804-8714.