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Sedative Withdrawal and Treatment

The term sedatives refer to different drugs that are often legally prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety.1 It includes medications like benzodiazepines, selective benzodiazepine receptor subtype agonists (z-drugs), and barbiturates.1 People may misuse sedatives for different reasons, such as to experiment, to self-medicate symptoms of mental health disorders or unwanted side effects of other substance, or to experience euphoria.1, 2

People who both use or misuse sedatives are at risk of developing tolerance, dependence (and subsequent withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of the drug), and addiction.1 Misuse of sedatives, also sometimes known as nonmedical use, is typically at high doses and with other substances of misuse, ,which can lead to other dangerous consequences, such as a fatal overdose and serious health problems.1, 2

If you or someone you care about are struggling with sedatives addiction or are worried about sedative withdrawal, you should know that effective treatment is available. Understanding what sedatives are, how sedative dependence and withdrawal manifests, and how to find effective treatment can help you live a healthier life in recovery.

What is a Sedative?

Sedatives are broadly defined as drugs that are prescribed to help someone calm down, feel less anxious, or improve sleep.3

The term sedatives include a range of medications, such as:

  • Z-Drugs, which can include sleeping aids zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and Zalplon (Sonata).
  • Benzodiazepines, which includes drugs like Alprazolam (e.g., Xanax), lorazepam (e.g., Ativan), clonazepam (e.g., Klonopin), diazepam (e.g., Valium), and temazepam (e.g., Restoril). 2, 6
  • Barbiturates, such as phenobarbital or Butisol.2
  • Other prescription sedatives.2

Although sedatives are generally safe when taken as prescribed, they can cause long-term negative effects, including sedative dependence, withdrawal, and addiction.1

Symptoms of Sedative Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person. If you also use other substances, you can experience withdrawal from those substances as well.4

Sedative withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can include:

  • Autonomic hyperactivity (such as sweating or pulse rate greater than 100 bpm).5
  • Hand tremor.5
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea.
  • Transient visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations.5
  • Psychomotor agitation (such as restlessness or uncontrollable movements).5
  • Anxiety.
  • Grand mal seizures.5

How Long Does Sedative Withdrawal Last?

The duration and severity of sedative withdrawal can vary depending on different factors, such as the type of drug(s) you used, how much you used, how long you used it, having previous episodes of sedative withdrawal, and whether you have other co-occurring physical, mental health, or substance use disorders.1, 4, 5

Generally speaking, withdrawal is affected by the drug’s duration of action; medications that have an effect lasting 10 hours or less usually cause withdrawal symptoms within 6-8 hours that peak in intensity on the second day and improve by the fourth or fifth day.5 People who use substances with longer durations of action may not develop symptoms for a week or more, with symptoms peaking in intensity during the second week, and decreasing during the third or fourth weeks.5 Some people may also develop protracted withdrawal symptoms that occur on a lower level of intensity and persist for several months.5

Sedatives Detox and Rehab

Detox can be a beneficial way to help people safely and comfortably undergo withdrawal. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that some form of hospitalization or inpatient detox may be advisable for people withdrawing from sedatives due to the risk of experiencing dangerous, sometimes potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms.4 Outpatient detox could be an option for people who use therapeutic doses of the drug, who are not dependent on other substances, who are cooperative, and who have reliable support systems to help them monitor and supervise their progress.4

Withdrawal management can vary by substance but may include medication, typically benzodiazepines or barbiturates.1 People who use benzodiazepines may receive a slow taper of their current benzo, a replacement benzo with a longer half-life, or phenobarbital.4 People may also receive anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine and gabapentin.1

In addition to a medically supervised tapering schedule, a detox will provide supportive care and vital sign and mental health monitoring to ensure a person’s safety and to address any additional symptoms or complications that may develop.4

Detox is often the first step in a larger continuum of addiction treatment care. Following detox with a comprehensive sedatives rehab program can better support abstinence compared with detox alone as it includes education and skill building to help avoid relapse or a return to substance use. SAMHSA indicates that detox followed by appropriate levels of treatment (such as inpatient or outpatient rehab) may lead to better recovery outcomes and decreased use of detoxification and treatment services later on.4

Finding Effective Sedative Detox and Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are interested in finding a detox program near you, you might first start by discussing your situation with your family doctor, who can evaluate your condition and potentially provide referrals to detox facilities. You can also use the SAMHSA FindTreatment.gov website to locate a detox that meets specific criteria, such as location, insurances accepted, or other payment options.

Additionally, you may consider reaching out to an addiction helpline. Many addiction helplines, like the one operated by American Addiction Centers (AAC), offer 24/7 support for those seeking information about detox and addiction treatment. At AAC, our compassionate, professional staff can help answer your questions about sedative misuse and withdrawal, verify your insurance, and help connect you with nearby detox and rehab programs. Don’t wait to start your journey to recovery, call us today at .

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