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Is It Safe to Quit Benzodiazepines Cold Turkey?

It is not safe to quit benzodiazepines cold turkey. Doing so can result in incredibly uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, withdrawal can be life-threatening.

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If you would like to stop taking benzodiazepines, talk to a doctor. A tapered withdrawal approach is usually recommended.

Quitting Cold Turkey

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Quitting any sort of controlled substance suddenly and without tapering off of the drug is often called quitting cold turkey. The term was coined due to some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with suddenly stopping use of drugs — such as goosebumps, chills, and pallid skin — and their similarities to the appearance of an uncooked turkey.

Quitting any sort of drug cold turkey entails stopping immediately and suddenly, no matter the frequency of use or level of abuse.

How Safe Is It to Quit Benzodiazepines Cold Turkey at Home?

Individuals who quit benzos suddenly can experience a shock to their system as well as several undesirable and unwanted withdrawal effects, some of which may require medical attention. In some cases, they can even be life-threatening. 

Quitting these drugs suddenly and without tapering can force the body to go into overdrive, as it overcompensates for the sudden loss of GABA activity. The body also tries to reset the brain’s normal neurotransmitter production levels, which creates stress and fatigue as well.

In many cases, individuals wean themselves off these drugs and/or go through medically supervised physical detoxification. In serious circumstances, individuals who quit benzos cold turkey can experience various symptoms, such as seizures, convulsions, mood swings, paranoia, psychosis, and even mania. 

What Happens When You Quit Benzos Cold Turkey?

Essentially, when an individual quits benzodiazepines cold turkey their body goes into withdrawal suddenly. Potential symptoms can include the following:

  • Abnormal sleep patterns or insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches and body pains
  • Body and muscle stiffness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Abnormally high blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tingling in the extremities, such as the fingers, toes, hands, and feet
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

What Are the Dangers & Risks of Quitting Suddenly?

In extreme cases, individuals who engage in long-term use and end up quitting cold turkey go through serious withdrawal symptoms. These individuals have an increased risk of experiencing serious medical complications. 

Long-term benzodiazepine users can experience seizures, and, without fast medical treatment, symptoms can culminate in a coma or even death.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several months depending on prior use, physical response, and circumstances pertaining to the level of dependence and the individual. If symptoms are not addressed by a medical professional, withdrawal symptoms can last longer.

In general, benzo withdrawal symptoms can start to set in a few hours after discontinuing use. Acute withdrawal symptoms are often felt for one to four days. However, prolonged withdrawal symptoms can last at least two weeks, and residual effects can be felt for weeks or even months after quitting use. 

Acute withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Panic
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms or muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blurry vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Seizures
  • Short-term memory loss or impairment
  • Lack of concentration
  • Compromised problem-solving skills
  • Clouded thinking
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Weight loss as a result of loss of appetite

A small percentage of individuals may experience protracted withdrawal syndrome, which yields symptoms that can extend over several months or even years after discontinuing benzodiazepine use.

How Long Does Benzo Detox Take?

Typically, physical detox will take a few days. More intense effects resulting from benzodiazepine withdrawal generally last from one to four days after quitting. 

It’s important to take into account a particular benzodiazepine’s half-life, which is the time spent in the body after consumption. Benzodiazepine half-life varies from type to type. When it comes to shorter-acting benzos, detox time will be faster, and symptoms will come on sooner than with longer-acting benzos. This is due to the fact that it takes a shorter amount of time for shorter-acting drugs to exit the body’s system.

During detoxification, initial symptoms of withdrawal start to set in for short-acting benzos within six to eight hours after quitting. With long-acting benzos, it tends to take 24 to 48 hours for withdrawal symptoms to set in.

It’s important to understand that quitting cold turkey has associated risks and can even be lethal in some scenarios. This is why it’s always best to have a supervising physician present during detox to monitor for certain behaviors and symptoms.

Since a tapered approach is usually recommended for benzodiazepine withdrawal, that process can take months. A doctor will design an appropriate taper for each individual. If a person has been consistently taking short-acting benzos, they will likely be switched to a long-acting one for the taper.

Tips to Help You Quit Benzos

If you are stopping benzo use after a period of misuse, make sure you are under a doctor’s supervision. Follow these tips to help you avoid relapse:

  • Stick to the tapering schedule outlined by your doctor.
  • Seek addiction therapy or counseling to help you identify harmful thought patterns and learn how to manage triggers for misuse.
  • Avoid people, places, and things that trigger cravings and/or drug use, particularly during the early stage of recovery when you will be most vulnerable.
  • Take up healthy activities, such as meditation, yoga, or another form of physical exercise.
  • Seek out support groups, such as 12-step groups, to find encouragement.

Help for Benzo Abuse

Again, you should not quit using benzodiazepines cold turkey on your own. Medical supervision is required for benzodiazepine detox. If you’ve been misusing benzodiazepines, it’s important to get therapy to address the reasons behind the substance abuse. 

In therapy, you’ll identify thoughts that lead to substance abuse, and you’ll learn ways to better deal with these thoughts when they occur, so they don’t lead to damaging behavior. Your therapist will help you begin to build better behavioral patterns and habits.

It’s also beneficial to participate in support groups where you’ll meet with others in recovery from substance abuse. A strong support system is vital in sustained recovery, so it’s worth it to investigate local and online options.

Updated January 19, 2024
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