This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, a world-leading addictions specialist.
If you were to look around your life, you would realise at least one person in your circle is an alcoholic. It can be a friend, a family member or a relative. In the world, alcohol is the most abused drug.
In the UK, 11 million adults consume alcohol to dangerous levels that may harm their health. In the beginning, people consumed alcohol for pleasure during leisure activities. Over time, you may begin building alcohol tolerance, and as a result, increase your doses. But, ultimately, drinking too much alcohol leads to dependence and addiction. In addition, alcohol causes harmful problems for the user, family members, and society.
When a person with alcohol addiction abruptly quits alcohol, they are likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms that range from mild to severe. If you need help in the journey to quit alcohol, please call 0203 955 7700, and an experienced advisor is available to speak to and provide support.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are a central nervous system depressant medication. Benzodiazepines are primarily used to treat seizures and anxiety. Also, benzodiazepines are used to relax muscles, as a hypnotic, and as an anticonvulsant.
Benzodiazepines are also commonly used to help people going through alcohol withdrawal. As an alcohol addict, you can quit alcohol with the help of medically assisted care which may include Benzodiazepines.
The following are common types of benzodiazepine medication:
Benzodiazepines are used to treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal which include seizures, anxiety and insomnia. Doctors commonly advise that you use benzodiazepines for a short time because prolonged use can lead to tolerance and dependence.
Benzodiazepines are at times abused for the high effects they produce. The following are some of the side effects caused by benzodiazepines:
- General weakness
- Feeling of depression
- Sleeping problem
- Irritability and aggression
- Memory loss
- Change in appetite
- Reduced impotence
What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
Over time, a person may grow a tolerance to alcohol. Unfortunately, as the tolerance grows, you may increase your alcohol consumption to experience the same effects, leading to alcohol dependency. This means that you constantly crave alcohol and are unable to control your drinking.
People with alcohol dependence have withdrawal symptoms. For example, suppose you find it difficult to relax or carry out your activities without taking alcohol. In that case, it’s an indication that you have some alcohol addiction.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a combination of symptoms that happens to an alcohol addict after reducing alcohol intake or quitting alcohol. The withdrawal symptoms vary from one person to the other and can range from mild to severe. When the brain has been used to high doses of alcohol for an extended time, reducing or quitting alcohol abruptly will lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
In about 7 hours after the last consumption, an alcohol dependent starts experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms may be mild, and if left untreated, they can escalate to life-threatening symptoms.
What are typical withdrawal symptoms?
Some of the common alcohol withdrawal systems include:
- Excessive sweating
- Agitation and irritability
- Shaky hands
How do benzodiazepines and alcohol impact the body and the brain?
As depressants, both alcohol and benzodiazepines act similarly. They work by depressing brain activities. As a result, both alcohol and benzodiazepines cause a calming effect on a person. However, when used in large doses and for a long time, alcohol and benzodiazepine intake can lead to tolerance. The calming effect of chemicals causes the brain to be used to the substances, and you may end up becoming dependent on either alcohol or benzodiazepine. Dependence on a substance is an indication of developing an addiction.
When dependent on either alcohol or benzodiazepine, it can be very challenging to reduce the dose or stop using these substances. The reason is that the chemical substances in the drugs bring changes in the brain, as it adapts to regular use of the drugs. Therefore, as you try to stop the substances, the body reacts by producing withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms cause an individual to have an intense craving for the drugs. It is only after you take the medication that the withdrawal symptoms wear off.
How does benzodiazepine treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
Usually, the process of stopping alcohol starts with an individual being taken through the detox process. After detox, the patient is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. If left untreated, individuals with alcohol withdrawal can relapse and go back to their drinking habits. Further, the withdrawal symptoms may worsen, causing severe effects. Therefore, medical treatment of withdrawal symptoms is a common practice used in individuals recovering from alcohol dependence.
Benzodiazepines are the most common treatment drugs used to treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Both benzodiazepine and alcohol are depressants that work similarly. As depressants, both benzodiazepine and alcohol depress activities in the brain hence producing a calming effect. The calming effect is brought about by the depressants stimulating GABA receptors, thus reducing nerve impulses in the brain.
When medically used in treating alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepine acts as a substitute for alcohol. As benzodiazepine effects start to take place in your brain, you may experience reduced cravings for alcohol. In addition, the benzodiazepines decrease alcohol withdrawal severe side effects such as seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremens.
Different benzodiazepines work to treat the severity of alcohol withdrawal that a patient is likely to experience. The benzodiazepine drugs range from long-acting to shorter half-life benzodiazepines. In addition, they differ in how quickly they start working and how long they remain in the system.
People with medical complications such as liver problems are likely to be treated using shorter half-life benzodiazepines. The various benzodiazepines include:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Librium (Chlordiazepidoxe)
- Serax (Oxazepam)
- Ativan (Lorazepam)
What are some of the severe symptoms treated by benzodiazepine?
Benzodiazepine is used to reduce the severity of alcohol withdrawal and prevent the progression of alcohol withdrawal effects. Benzodiazepine commonly treats the following symptoms:
Delirium tremens is a condition manifested through mental confusion. It can be life-threatening if not well treated. Delirium tremens is rare, and it mainly affects individuals who have a history of chronic alcohol use.
Delirium tremens symptoms and alcohol withdrawal symptoms are different and occur in different timelines. Symptoms of delirium tremens include:
- Excessive fever
- Memory loss and confusion
- High blood pressure
- Altered mental state
- Loss of muscle control
- Sleeping problems
Severe effects of delirium tremens can lead to death if not adequately treated.
Seizures are sudden uncontrolled electrical changes in brain activity. The effects of seizures can be mild or severe. In severe seizures, an individual experiences violent shaking and loss of control. If a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, you should immediately seek medical assistance. Seizure is effectively treated with a benzodiazepine.
How do you differentiate between the various types of benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are classified into either long-acting or short-acting. All the different benzodiazepines are effective; however, each patient’s condition will vary with the benzodiazepine to be used.
Valium and Librium are long-acting types of benzodiazepines, while Serax and Ativan are short-acting.
As long-acting benzodiazepines, valium and Librium have a greater half-life, they can remain active in the system for several days. Therefore, they provide a smoother treatment without the risk of rebound symptoms like a seizure. However, patients with liver disease should not use long-acting benzodiazepines as drug accumulation is likely to occur in the liver.
To provide solutions to people with complications such as liver diseases, Short-acting benzodiazepines that include Serax and Ativan are available.
As their classification suggests, short-acting benzodiazepine lasts several hours in the system. Therefore, short-acting benzodiazepine should be used in patients with liver diseases and those likely to react with sedation, such as patients with lung disease and the elderly. As a downside, patients who use a short-acting benzodiazepine are at a high risk of experiencing rebound symptoms such as seizures and decreasing.
How can benzodiazepines be harmful?
Benzodiazepines are habit-forming. When used for a long time, benzodiazepines are likely to cause dependence. Sudden stopping of benzodiazepines after months of use may lead to withdrawal symptoms, which include:
- Insomnia or sleeping problems
- Agitation and irritability
- A feeling of despair
To avoid benzodiazepines withdrawal symptoms, the treatments should gradually reduce the dose as treatment comes close to the end.
If you need help or would like more information, please call 0203 955 7700. An experienced advisor is available to speak to and provide assistance.
How can benzodiazepines be safely used?
As depressants, benzodiazepines are likely to cause side effects and addiction. Therefore, for safe use, Benzodiazepine treatment should be done under prescription and supervision. In addition, supervised environments such as rehab and alcohol detox facilities are preferably safe to offer benzodiazepine treatment.
Medically supervised withdrawal can be managed effectively, especially with patients with more severe symptoms. Patients who have a history of chronic alcohol should be closely monitored and, in most cases, are well treated in an inpatient setting such as rehab.
In determining the choice of benzodiazepine to use, you will require professional help. A doctor will analyse several factors before deciding the best selection of benzodiazepine on an individual. The factors include the severity of alcohol use, the health condition of an individual, and the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal on an individual during detox.
Risks of mixing alcohol and benzodiazepine
Alcohol and benzodiazepines are depressants; hence they have similar effects on the body. As a result, some people mix alcohol with benzodiazepines to enhance the high effect. However, mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines is a perilous venture that can lead to life-threatening risks and coma or overdose.
If you take alcohol while taking benzodiazepine treatment, you will experience the effects of alcohol faster than usual. This is because benzodiazepine interacts with alcohol, causing increased depression and decreasing breathing and inadequate oxygen supply. Insufficient oxygen in the body can lead to coma and death.
Therefore, it is not safe to mix alcohol with a . Tobenzodiazepine. It can put you at risk, leading to bodily harm, unconsciousness, or even death.
What are the alternatives of benzodiazepine treatment in alcohol withdrawal?
When benzodiazepines are used in high doses in alcohol withdrawal treatment, risk of severe side effects such as depression in respiration, to avoid severe symptoms from benzodiazepine treatment, alternative drugs can be used as a substitute or in combination with a benzodiazepine. They include:
The use of anticonvulsant drugs as an alternative to benzodiazepine has several advantages.
One, anticonvulsant drugs reduce alcohol craving significantly. Two, anticonvulsant drugs decrease the risk of rebound symptoms such as seizures, leading to reduced complications. Furthermore, anticonvulsant medications are typically used to treat mood disorders. Finally, anticonvulsant drugs have no high potential for abuse.
They are depressants commonly used to treat insomnia, headache and seizures. They are cross-tolerant to alcohol and can significantly reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Adrenergic medications work by affecting adrenergic receptors, thereby managing the effects of alcohol withdrawal.
It is a known fact that alcohol is the most abused drug in the world. Alcohol is mainly used for leisure purposes. However, as time goes by, what used to be consumed for leisure can turn into a dangerous habit. Alcohol not only affects the user, but it can also affect the family members and society at large in one way or the other.
Alcoholism is only treated by quitting alcohol, a process that many people find difficult. However, as much as support and counselling ought to be combined with alcohol treatment for it to be successful, alcohol withdrawal is treatable.
If you are out there struggling with alcohol dependence, you can get help. Alcohol withdrawal is treatable. Contact us for more assistance. Please call 0203 955 7700, and an experienced advisor is available to speak to and provide help.
- Managing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal: Benzodiazepine alternatives
- Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond
- BENZODIAZEPINE TREATMENT FOR ALCOHOL-DEPENDENT PATIENTS
- Benzodiazepines for alcohol withdrawal
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- The pharmacologic treatment of alcohol withdrawal syndrome in the ICU
- Alcohol use disorder – Diagnosis and treatment
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when you suddenly reduce the amount or stop alcohol. Due to alcohol dependence, you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly reduce alcohol intake or eliminate it. The good thing is that alcohol withdrawal symptoms are treatable.