The Role of Benzodiazepines for Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and for some, life-threatening. Medications are often used to reduce the effects and symptoms of withdrawal. They can also help manage cravings for alcohol during detox. Many medical professionals prescribe benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal. 

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety and anticonvulsant drugs that doctors must prescribe. They are often a necessary part of detox for people who have been drinking very heavily for months or years. Additionally, Benzodiazepines activate a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), preventing seizures that can arise as fatal complications of alcohol withdrawals.

How Are They Used for Alcohol Detox?

Benzodiazepines treat alcohol withdrawal by imitating how alcohol affects the brain. Many people use alcohol to ease anxiety, and benzos provide a similar anti-anxiety effect on the brain without alcohol. Since they have the same effect on the brain, benzodiazepines trick the brain into thinking alcohol is present, preventing withdrawal symptoms. Initially, higher doses of benzos are used. Then, the meds are slowly tapered off over time to prevent withdrawal symptoms. 

Commonly Prescribed Benzodiazepines

Benzos are prescribed during detox to help reduce many of the painful or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Some of the withdrawal symptoms that may be relieved or prevented include:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Chills & sweats
  • Aggravation
  • Seizures

There are a variety of types of benzos used to combat withdrawal symptoms. Some of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal include:

The type of benzodiazepine that will be prescribed for you depends on your current situation. Diazepam and chlordiazepoxide are long-acting varieties often used for more straightforward cases without liver damage.

For those who have liver damage, your provider will likely choose lorazepam or oxazepam without metabolites as these have a shorter half-life.

Benefits of Benzos

Although benzodiazepines have their own set of side effects and can become addictive, they are used for alcohol detoxification because they have proven to be effective. There are several benefits associated with benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal, including:

  • There is a wide range of benzos for treating alcohol withdrawals. Each case can be treated appropriately based on a person’s unique makeup and situation.
  • Benzos help counteract the most dangerous and severe symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal, particularly pain and seizures.
  • In most cases, benzos pose fewer side effects than other medications used for alcohol withdrawal.
  • Benzodiazepines help overcome many of the worst withdrawal symptoms, improving the chances of long-term recovery.

Overcoming alcohol addiction can be extremely difficult, especially for those trying to do it alone. Withdrawal can be a difficult and dangerous time and should be closely monitored by medical professionals. Benzodiazepines used for alcohol detoxification can help the withdrawal process by preventing many symptoms or helping make them more manageable.

Author

  • Chris Scott Fit Recovery

    Chris Scott founded Fit Recovery in 2014 to help people from around the world dominate alcohol dependence and rebuild their lives from scratch. A former investment banker, he recovered from alcohol dependence using cutting-edge methods that integrate nutrition, physiology, and behavioral change. Today, Chris is an Alcohol Recovery Coach and the creator of an online course called Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0.

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