You may have heard about detoxification in the context of various health practices such as drinking teas, Epsom salt soaks, intaking supplements, sweating out toxins in saunas or nasal irrigation. These practices are not new; humans have been practicing detoxification for thousands of years. Although detox is often thought about as a group of techniques necessary to cleanse or purify the body, this process happens automatically and quite effectively by the body all on its own. As a result of metabolic processes that naturally produce toxins, the skin, kidneys, lungs and liver work to chemically transform and eliminate harmful compounds from the body. For example, the liver processes toxic byproducts from alcohol, and the kidneys eliminate it. Some toxins are fat-soluble, meaning they are not readily excreted via urination. Instead, they remain in fatty tissue until they achieve a concentration threshold. One drug that does not eliminate quickly from the body is benzodiazepines, also known as benzos.
Drugs Affect the Natural Detox Process
The human body has various biochemical mechanisms that work 24/7 to keep our bodies functioning correctly. When placed into the context of substance use disorders (SUD), though, a different picture starts to unfold. The body can process and eliminate much of what we consume and are exposed to externally, but mechanisms in the liver and kidneys that maintain homeostasis start to deteriorate as we age. This means that the liver begins to take longer to clear toxins from the body. Moreover, the type of substances, their potency, quantity and duration used are equally important factors when considering how effective the human detoxification system can be.
The Risk of Taking Benzodiazepines
Drugs like benzodiazepines are eliminated slowly from the body and accumulate in fatty tissue when taken over prolonged periods. This can result in symptoms of overmedication, like disorientation and slurred speech, appearing in a delayed fashion. Toxic accumulation of this drug can also cause one to “lose their inhibitions” and engage in behavior that is out of character or risky; a person may end up in a dangerous situation without realizing it.
The body can develop tolerance and dependence on the drug, leading to potentially harmful withdrawal effects when a person tries to quit. When taken with other drugs, the half-life of benzodiazepines can be increased, allowing it to stay in the body longer. Adverse effects can also occur when opioids are concurrently taken. In fact, 16% of opioid overdoses in 2019 also involved benzodiazepines.
Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines can occur after as little as one month of use, even on small, therapeutic doses. The severity of withdrawal symptoms is associated with a variety of factors, including:
- The current dose
- How long it’s been taken
- Whether one or more benzodiazepine is taken
- Other substance use issues
- If another substance needs to be detoxed
The onset of benzodiazepine withdrawal depends on the specific drug a person is taking. Short-acting medications like Xanax and Ativan leave the system quicker, which means withdrawal symptoms can appear in as little as eight to 12 hours. On the other hand, longer-acting benzos, like Klonopin, can stay in the system longer, which means it can be one to two days or even longer before withdrawal symptoms start.
Withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines include:
- Hand tremors
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic attacks
Hospital-based detox may be necessary for those who have been taking benzodiazepines for a long time. Outpatient may be an option for those who have been using therapeutic doses and are not dependent on any other substances. To avoid painful and potentially fatal symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal like delirium and seizures, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is typically recommended. MAT is a treatment program that is guided and supervised by a medical doctor. When an individual starts MAT, they will continue being administered the drug but at increasingly lower doses over time. This is called tapering, which helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms and avoid potential medical complications. The doctor will monitor progress over the next few weeks or months until the patient is no longer dependent.
Detox Is the First Step
It’s important to note that detox is only the first step in overcoming SUD. Even when a person surpasses the physiological addiction – which is a significant accomplishment – the underlying psychological issues that led them to this point may still be present. If those problems are not reconciled, a relapse could occur. Thus, after detox, it’s recommended for patients to enter an inpatient or outpatient treatment program where they can receive various therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). These therapies can not only help address the driving force behind SUD, but they can develop a person’s coping skills and help them improve intra- and interpersonal relationships.
The human body has biological mechanisms that work 24/7 to chemically transform and eliminate the harmful byproducts. However, “detox” has been used since ancient times as a tool to assist the body in this detoxification process. Similar in concept but different in the actual process, medication-assisted treatment detoxifies your body by eliminating the physiological dependence on the drug. Further treatments like inpatient and outpatient therapies are typically necessary to address the underlying psychological motivators for substance use. Authentic Recovery Center offers medical detox for benzodiazepines and various treatment programs to guide your recovery. There is no reason for you to feel pain when making a decision to turn your life around. We can help make this process manageable and comfortable in our home-like residential centers. Under the guidance of our medical team, we ensure that your detox is safe and effective, allowing you to start truly recovering. Call us today at (866) 786-1376.