When It Is Not Ordinary Fatigue: Seeking Help for Benzo Withdrawal

Fatigue arising from long hours of travelling, getting stuck in traffic jam, or shopping the entire day is an experience most of the people are familiar with. Sometimes it can be due to lack of nutrients in the body which are not able to generate energy and makes one feel groggy all the time.

Fatigue can also be one of the side effects of drug use. When a person stops using sleeping pills like benzodiazepines (benzos), he/she is struck by an overwhelming sense of lethargy, accompanied by body aches and sleepiness. Withdrawal from benzos can have a debilitating impact. The reactions may develop slowly and there’s a chance of them being ignored due to overlapping symptoms of insomnia and anxiety.

Serious ramifications of benzo misuse

When a person uses a CNS drug or a tranquilizer, which is the class of drugs that benzos belong to, one feels calmer. Primarily, benzos act on the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitter which has inhibitory properties. When the transmitter is activated in response to benzos, the brain and nervous system slow down, and the person feels relaxed. Some of the most common benzos include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Restoril.

Apart from being used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, benzos are also used for treating spasms and seizures. For older people, benzos are used to improve sleep. Generally prescribed for short term, if one continues to use benzos for long, addiction may set in. A person who has developed tolerance for a particular quantity of the drug will over a period of time require more to satiate the craving.

The impact of benzos is more acute in older people as they have a much slower metabolism. They require considerably more effort to flush out benzos from their system. Therefore, they are more likely to face a buildup of toxins which could exacerbate their physical symptoms. In older people, benzodiazepines can also bring about permanent memory changes. They may lose their memory and have difficulty learning new things, leading to overall cognitive decline. In certain instances, because of its sedative properties, benzos may cause falls and severe injuries. This can be grievous in case of older people with a poorer sense of balance and visual impairment.

Mixing benzodiazepines with other class of drugs and alcohol can prove to be catastrophic. Many cases of overdosing and fatalities are attributed to simultaneous opioid and benzo use. Since alcohol intensifies side effects of benzos, patients are advised to not consume alcohol when they are on benzos.

Alternatives to benzos

For insomnia, which is generally treated through benzos, there is an alternative at hand. There are drugs known as benzodiazepine receptor agonists or BRAs. Most of the BRAs are more selective in the ways they impact the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. As they act on select receptors and not all, they do not have many of the side effects of traditional benzos.

While BRAs may be helpful in treating insomnia, antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a good replacement for benzos to treat generalized anxiety and panic attacks. Experts are of the opinion that antidepressants have lesser chances of creating dependence or addiction. Since antidepressants work slowly, doses of benzos are gradually reduced.

Another helpful alternative for people suffering from anxiety and insomnia is exercise. Exercise is uplifting as it leads to release of feel-good hormones. Therapeutic practices such as tai chi, meditation and yoga have a positive impact on both the mind and the body. Studies have also proved the long-lasting effects of cognitive behavioral therapy in relieving anxiety.

Road to recovery

Benzos remain the most preferred forms of treatment in cases of acute anxiety, muscle spasms and seizures. Only time can tell if they can be fully replaced by another medication that has less or no side effects and has the same potential benefits as benzos have. For people seeking treatment for benzo withdrawal, detoxification is the only requirement, provided they are not addicted to other substances. Detox could be natural, medicated or nutrition-based and it is essential to clean the system of the accumulated toxins.

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