Treatments and tests

Benzodiazepine withdrawal

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are medicines such as Alprazolam used to treat conditions that include anxiety and panic disorder.

Why stop using benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are generally only prescribed for short-term use as long- term usage can cause dependence.

Once you are dependent on the medication, withdrawal symptoms occur whenever you stop taking it.

What are common withdrawal symptoms of benzodiazepines?

Symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • appetite loss
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • muscle aches
  • tiredness
  • anxiety.

Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant but usually do not lead to permanent medical harm. They may also appear similar to the symptoms of the condition being treated.

Can I take myself off benzodiazepines?

Abrupt withdrawal such as stopping medication suddenly is extremely uncomfortable and difficult to do on your own. It is best managed with help from your doctor.

If you are worried about using benzodiazepines long-term, speak to your doctor.

When do symptoms of abrupt withdrawal start and how long do they last?

Benzodiazepines come in short- and long-acting preparations.

Symptoms from abrupt withdrawal of short-acting benzodiazepines can commence within a few days.

Symptoms from abrupt withdrawal of long-acting benzodiazepines can commence within a week. Abrupt withdrawal symptoms can last from weeks to months.

How can my doctor help?

Your doctor may assist you to reduce your dose and then stop your medication. This is done in small steps.

Sometimes a longer acting benzodiazepine is prescribed as this may help to reduce any withdrawal symptoms you might feel.

How long will it take?

Many factors contribute to the time it takes to reduce the dose of medication and to stop it completely.

Some people take weeks to reduce their dose while others take months to complete the process. Your doctor can help create a plan that will work for you.

Why do I have to take another benzodiazepine to withdraw?

Use of a long acting benzodiazepine such as diazepam can improve your chances of successfully stopping the medication altogether because it is more likely that you will have a more gentle reduction.

What else does it involve?

Your doctor will discuss a withdrawal plan that best suits you.

This may include:

  • agreement on where you collect your medication
  • how often you attend the pharmacy
  • how to manage any withdrawal symptoms that might arise.

Good communication with your doctor is the key to ensuring the best possible chances of withdrawal success.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor.
  • See your psychiatrist.
  • Visit a GP after hours.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.
  • Mental Health Emergency Response Line (MHERL)
    • Metro callers 1300 55 788
    • Peel 1800 676 822
  • RuralLink
    Rural and remote areas 1800 552 002

Medicines information line

Remember

  • People taking benzodiazepines can become easily addicted.
  • Suddenly stopping benzodiazepines can be dangerous – consult your doctor first.
  • When you stop using benzodiazepines you will get withdrawal symptoms.

Acknowledgements

Pharmaceutical Services Branch


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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