Benzodiazepines work by affecting a key neurotransmitter in the brain known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The presence of GABA slows or stops neuronal activity, but benzodiazepines enhance GABA activity and ultimately slow down the central nervous system. In addition to the likely development of dependency and addiction, long-term benzodiazepines use will eventually result in issues with physical and psychological health.
For a person who has been abusing a short-acting benzodiazepine, such as Xanax (alprazolam), the withdrawal period lasts a few days. Long-acting benzodiazepines, such as Valium (diazepam), tend to lead to a more extended withdrawal period. Common withdrawal symptoms that occur within days of discontinued use include:
- Head and body aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased perspiration
- Panic attacks
More severe psychological and physical symptoms can occur up to 2 weeks after the last use, and include:
- Suicidal ideation
The typical substance withdrawal process is characterized by a steady decline in symptoms over time, however, benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms are an exception. They come and go, varying in intensity and frequency throughout all stages of the withdrawal process. Because of this, medically-supervised detox is not simply recommended–it is necessary.