Medically Reviewed

How to Taper off Benzodiazepines

2 min read · 4 sections
What you will learn:
What is benzodiazepine misuse.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal signs and symptoms.
How to get help if you're struggling with benzo addiction.

Benzodiazepines are a class of sedative drugs that are commonly used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders. These medications enhance certain chemicals in the prain, which leads to feelings of relaxation and sedation.1 While benzodiazepines can be effective in the short term, their use is associated with a range of potential side effects including physical dependence and addiction.2

Continue reading to learn more about benzodiazepine addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and how to get help if you or a loved one is struggling with benzo addiction.

Benzodiazepine Misuse

Benzodiazepine misuse refers to the use of the medication in a manner not intended by the prescribing doctor. This can include:10

  • Taking a medication prescribed for someone else.
  • Taking a larger dose than prescribed.
  • Taking the medication in a different way than intended (e.g., crushing and snorting pills).
  • Taking benzodiazepines for a different reason than intended (e.g., to get “high”).
  • Combining prescription medications with other substances.

Benzodiazepine abuse has reached epidemic levels and most commonly occurs in conjunction with other drugs.2 Concomitant use of benzos with other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids, increases the risk of experiencing potentially life-threatening injuries including overdose and death.3

Benzodiazepine Overdose

An overdose occurs when excessive amounts of benzodiazepines are taken, and it may be intentional or accidental. Most overdoses occur when benzodiazepines are combined with other central nervous system depressant drugs, such as alcohol and opioids.3 Signs of a benzodiazepine overdose include:4

  • Shallow respiration
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Coma

An overdose of these drugs is usually not fatal, and most benzodiazepine overdose deaths are caused by respiratory depression resulting from mixed overdoses with other drugs that have sedating properties.5 However, data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions and fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines has considerably increased over recent years.6

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

People who take benzodiazepines for an extended period of time are at risk of developing numerous adverse conditions, including tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal upon discontinuation. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal can include:7

  • Headache.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Irritability.
  • Agitation.
  • Convulsions.
  • Tremors.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Psychosocial episodes (severe panic attacks, psychosis, hallucinations, and seizures).

Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life-threatening. This is why it is recommended that if benzodiazepines are taken for two weeks or longer the person should not abruptly stop taking this drug. Rather, the dosage of benzodiazepines should be gradually tapered over an extended period of time, and under the supervision of a healthcare provider.8

Benzo Tapering Guidelines & Schedule

Several different agencies have implemented benzodiazepine tapering guidelines. One of the most followed tapering guidelines is the one which was issued by the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, an organization affiliated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These guidelines suggest an initial reduction of 25-30% for high dosage chronic users, followed by a 5-10% daily to weekly reduced dose.8 A 25% weekly reduction is recommended for individuals who normally take therapeutic doses at bedtime.8 For those who take therapeutic doses during the daytime, an initial dose reduction of 10-25% should be implemented, followed by further reductions of 10-25% every 1-2 weeks thereafter.8

Some patients may also benefit from a substitution taper, which involves first switching to a more stable, long-acting benzodiazepine before continuing on to the tapering phase of treatment.8

Benzo Detox & Addiction Treatment Near Me

People with a long-term dependence on benzodiazepines may find it difficult to stop taking benzodiazepines. Attempts to discontinue use of these drugs often result in withdrawal symptoms and fast relapse. Many different programs are available, although studies have shown that long-term inpatient treatment (lasting up to several months) is more effective than short-term inpatient care.9

If you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine addiction, know that you’re not alone. Through our national network of treatment facilities, American Addiction Centers provides comprehensive and compassionate care for those battling addiction. Our experienced team of addiction treatment specialists understands the complexities of benzo misuse and addiction, and is committed to guiding individuals toward lasting recovery.

Don’t let addiction control your life any longer. Take the first step towards a healthier future and call us at today.


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