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Ashton Method for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Treatment
Alo House uses The Ashton Method for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Treatment, known for its successful track record for safety and efficacy.
When benzodiazepines were first brought to market in the 1960s, they were considered a breakthrough solution for many people, until patients discovered they had developed a physical dependence, and struggled with wide-ranging negative side-effects, especially when they attempted to discontinue their use of the drug.
Each person reacts differently to benzodiazepines, and some have found them to be quite helpful when taken for short durations.
Unfortunately, many others have discovered how dangerous they can be and have suffered with physical and psychological side effects, either while taking them or, more likely, when trying to quit.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal, dependence, and addiction are all familiar problems associated with this commonly prescribed medication, and most people require professional help when trying to quit, given the difficult withdrawal symptoms.
While some people don’t have any issues, it’s important for doctors and patients alike to understand that trying to detox from benzodiazepines alone without medical supervision can be extremely dangerous, and even fatal.
This is why we have chosen The Ashton Method of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal as our preferred detox and treatment approach for our clients.
Our Rehabilitation Philosophy Is Based On Providing Non-Judgmental, Loving Support For Our Clients
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are a class of psychoactive drugs used as central nervous system depressants. They relax and cause drowsiness, so they’re prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety or insomnia. They are also used as anticonvulsants, muscle relaxers, and for a number of other conditions.
The basic mechanism of action of benzodiazepines is to enhance the effect of the GABA neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. GABA is an inhibitive neurotransmitter that can suppress the over-activity of nerves in the brain and throughout the body’s central nervous system, temporarily relieving a number of mental and physical health conditions.
With the way that benzos interact with the brain’s GABA receptors, they can immediately relieve one of anxiety, depression, insomnia, seizures, nausea, alcohol withdrawal, and a host of other disorders.
This may sound like a good thing, but as we explain below, there are inherent dangers with prolonged use of benzos.
While all benzodiazepines belong to the same class of medication, they don’t all work in exactly the same way. Most of the differences have to do with how quickly they begin working or how long they last. Because of this, some are effective for anxiety and others work better for sleep issues.
The first benzodiazepine available to the public was Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) in 1960, followed by Diazepam (Valium) a few years later. By the late 1970s, this class of drugs was prescribed more than any other medication around the world.
Benzos are sometimes called the “z” drugs and they share characteristics with other drugs known as sedatives/hypnotics, like Zolpidem (Ambien), Eszopiclone (Lunesta), and Zaleplon (Sonata).
Common Benzodiazepines Include:
- Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Triazolam (Halcion)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
- Flurazepam (Dalmane)
- Tazolam (Prosom)
The generic names are listed first above and the brand names known by the public are in (parentheses).
Sometimes benzos are used interchangeably, but doctors and patients should be aware of the onset and duration of each one, as they are not all the same.
Diazepam (Valium) begins working quickly, within 30 to 60 minutes, and the duration lasts from 1 to 3 days, whereas Clonazepam (Klonopin) lasts just as long, but takes longer to start working. On the other hand, Triazolam (Halcion) has a short duration, and only lasts for 3 to 8 hours.
Because of the differences between onset and duration, as well as the mechanism of each medication, some are used primarily for anxiety, yet others are used for seizures or insomnia. Chlordiazepoxide (Librium) is unique in that it is used mainly for alcohol withdrawal.
Benzodiazepine Side Effects
Many of the known side-effects of benzodiazepines are related to the calming, sedative nature of the drug. Of course, each type of benzodiazepine can cause slightly different effects, and each person’s chemistry will react in a unique manner.
In general, the most common side effects of benzos are:
- Sedation or drowsiness
- Muscle weakness
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Memory problems
Less common side effects of benzodiazepines might include:
- Low blood pressure
- Constipation or incontinence
- Tremors or shaking
- Sleep changes
- Excitement or aggression
- Anxiety or Irritability
- Loss of sex drive
- Suicidal ideations
Ironically, a number of these drugs’ side-effects are indistinguishable from the symptoms that the drugs were meant to treat in the first place. These are known as paradoxical effects or reactions.
An example of this would be to prescribe the drug to treat anxiety, and to have the patient paradoxically experience an increase in their anxiety levels.
In addition to the known side effects, benzodiazepines can also have adverse interactions and reactions with other substances, such as alcohol or other sedative type drugs. Doctors and patients should be aware of which drugs might cause a negative reaction when taken together.
Unfortunately, many doctors don’t know how to increase GABA naturally without prescribing benzos for some of their patients, given the often horrific experiences people can have when they attempt to stop using these drugs.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal, Dependence, and Addiction
Benzodiazepine use peaked the in the late 1970s, then declined after a considerable amount of bad press, much of it appearing in women’s magazines, since the drugs were always primarily marketed to women. With the introduction of Xanax to the market, prescriptions and usage once again increased.
Since the arrival of the Covid pandemic, there has been a 40 percent spike in benzo prescriptions. We consider this America’s sleeping giant, a problem we don’t even know we have yet, nor realize how widespread it is.
The FDA is becoming concerned, though, recently adding a new warning label on these substances, explaining that they have a huge potential for misuse and addiction.
Yet far too often, doctors, who don’t have a full understanding of the mechanism of action and dependence or withdrawal potential of benzos, hand them out like candy, creating a prescription for disaster that could soon become as problematic as the opioid epidemic.
In general, benzodiazepines can be safe and effective when used for a short time, usually between 2 to 4 weeks.
Longer-term use of 5 weeks to 3 months or more can cause serious problems with dependence and changes in the structure and function of the central nervous system.
Even if someone is not technically “addicted,” the physical dependence caused by benzos can look a lot like substance abuse. It is very easy to develop a tolerance and physical dependence, where the experience of withdrawal symptoms looks a lot like addiction. This is especially important to understand when talking about benzodiazepines.
When someone develops a tolerance to benzos, doctors might increase the dosage to get the same effects of the originally prescribed amount. This becomes very dangerous when someone does this without informing their doctor. In cases like this, fatal overdoses can be a problem.
Others will try to quit using benzos cold turkey, and this too can send them spiraling into dangerous, and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures.
Even people that continue taking them as prescribed can experience what is known as “interdose withdrawal symptoms,” which occur at some point before it’s time to take the next scheduled dose.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal in any form can be dangerous or even fatal if not properly treated immediately. Most doctors who prescribe benzodiazepines do not have the proper experience or training to handle benzo withdrawal, so it’s crucial to seek professional help from an addiction and detox specialist.
Alo House has trained medical detox professionals who are well versed in safe and proper benzo withdrawal, and we utilize The Ashton Method for Benzodiazepine Withdrawal.
The Dangers of Benzodiazepines on GABA
As mentioned earlier, benzodiazepines enhance GABA in the central nervous system.
GABA is found throughout 40 percent of the body and it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it produces a naturally calming effect. This is why it relieves stress and anxiety, and helps people to overcome insomnia.
The basic mechanism of action occurs as benzos “down-regulate” GABA receptors in the brain, which is a fancy way of saying it reduces the number of receptors and discards them. This might potentially alter gene expression in the brain.
Long-term benzo use causes the down-regulation of the brain’s GABA receptors, which are the “brakes” of the central nervous system. With the flood of synthetic GABA that benzos produce, to create balance, the brain will prune these receptors.
The problem, then, is that whenever someone tries to stop taking these drugs, not having any “brakes,” every little problem can seem impossible. Anxiety levels will tend to go through the roof, loss of sleep will occur, and physical symptoms like buzzing and “popping” sounds are common. People have said they felt like they were dying.
These horrible physical and mental side effects can last for a long time. Benzos may help some people for a very short time. But using these drugs for more than even just a few weeks can result in functional changes in the brain, which don’t simply return to normal when the drug usage has stopped and they are eliminated from the body.
The brain literally needs to grow new GABA receptors, a process known as up-regulation. After withdrawal has been completed, the receptors in the brain will slowly return to their previous state. But this takes time.
Benzo withdrawal can leave the brain in an excitable state, and a person might suffer with more stress or anxiety than before they started using benzodiazepines.
This also explains why some people’s stress or anxiety actually increases when taking this class of drugs, as their tolerance increases.
Even worse, some individuals return to normal after withdrawal treatment, only to negatively rebound and experience withdrawal symptoms and side effects again months or years later because of alterations to their GABA receptors and neurons.
A stressful event might induce an emotional situation that the brain is incapable of handling because of the changes to the GABA receptors.
Benzo withdrawal can truly be a frightening ordeal, hence the importance of proper treatment. Because most doctors don’t understand how any of this works, it’s necessary to seek the help of a qualified benzodiazepine treatment center.
The Ashton Method of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Treatment
Dr. Heather Ashton was a British psychopharmacologist who dedicated her life to working with patients addicted to benzodiazepines, and in 1999 wrote, “Benzodiazepines: How They Work And How To Withdraw,” now simply called The Ashton Manual.
After founding her benzodiazepine clinic in 1982, she followed more than 300 patients addicted to benzodiazepines and collected data for over 12 years as research for her treatment method.
Today, her work is known as The Ashton Method, arguably the safest and most effective treatment for benzodiazepine withdrawal.
The Ashton Method recognizes that tapering the dosage slowly is the only way to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms, such as physical and mental health problems and cognitive impairments.
At Alo House, we use an individualized approach for all of our clients for addiction treatment, and this is especially important with benzodiazepine withdrawal, since each person’s experience will be unique.
Every person will have their own set of withdrawal symptoms that are directly related to their brain chemistry, as well as the type, quantity, and duration of medication use that must be taken into consideration during treatment.
A personalized approach is the only way to safely and effectively taper off of benzos, and to avoid the negative physical symptoms of dependence and the psychological effects of anxiety, depression, and cognitive damage.
Alo House takes pride in providing our clients with the benefits of The Ashton Method, which we strongly believe is the most effective way for treating benzodiazepine withdrawal, dependence, and addiction.
It is a proven method of recovery and relapse prevention for those who have become trapped in the dangerous cycle of benzo dependence and addiction.