In a typical case of protracted benzo withdrawal, symptoms begin 24 hours after the last use. Protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is a condition when benzo users experience long-term withdrawal effects long after ceasing benzo use. “Protracted” means something lasted a lot longer than it normally should have. In these instances, the withdrawal side effects can last for months—or even years—after a person has stopped using benzos. In most cases, it’s only a few benzo withdrawal symptoms that linger. However, this condition can come with a unique set of symptoms.
Protracted Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms
There’s a long list of acute benzo withdrawal symptoms, from aches and pains to psychosis. However, everyone’s experience is unique. Some individuals may have more side effects than others. Some experience them to a milder or more intense degree. As such, there’s no definitive list of which side effects will stick around in protracted withdrawal. Additionally, these are the most common protracted benzo withdrawal symptoms unique to this condition:
- Burning sensation in limbs (or other strange or painful sensations)
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Muscle pain
- Muscle weakness
- Reduced memory or cognitive impairment
- Tremors or spasms
Most of these symptoms last at least a year. They may gradually get better as the months go by. However, there is also a strong possibility that the symptoms may linger. They can last several years. Depression and insomnia are the symptoms that resolve themselves in a few months. They usually don’t persist beyond the one-year mark.
Not much is known about what causes protracted withdrawal. Likewise, not much is known about why some individuals experience benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms while others don’t. Diagnosing this condition remains an unclear process in the medical field. Formal treatment options as a whole aren’t yet available. Currently, most medical professionals prescribe medications to manage the side effects as they would with typical benzo withdrawal.
It is also recommended that people afflicted by protracted benzo withdrawal seek psychological support in the form of mental health professionals. In addition to helping manage the symptoms of anxiety and depression, they can also help individuals navigate the stress that can accompany such a diagnosis. They can also provide behavioral, formal cognitive, or other therapies.
Who Does Protracted Benzo Withdrawal Effect?
Numerous studies have been conducted regarding the likelihood and risk factors of developing protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal. Two main culprits have been discovered.
Long-term Benzo Users
One of the biggest factors appears to be the length of usage. This does not mean it only affects individuals with a benzo use disorder or those who abuse these drugs recreationally. Benzos have a wide range of legitimate medical uses and are sometimes prescribed for long-term treatment.
Although developed to be safer and less addictive than their predecessors, barbiturates and benzodiazepines are powerful. They have a high potential for abuse and addiction. As such, many medical professionals strongly avoid prescribing benzos for long-term use. They aim to keep benzo usage to only a few weeks.
One study from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that between 10% and 25% of individuals used benzos for an extended period (3-6 weeks). In this same study, 15–44% of chronic benzo users experienced protracted symptoms. Another study found that 10–15% of users taking benzos past the 2-4 week mark experienced protracted withdrawal effects.
Users Who Quit Abruptly
The other influential risk factor is the quitting method. Quitting any drug cold turkey, legal or otherwise, can be dangerous and trigger life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. It’s much safer to instead slowly taper usage over several days to ease the body off the drug in case dependence has taken place. Unfortunately, it is often not until a person stops using a substance abruptly that they realize they were addicted in the first place.
To a lesser extent, or perhaps less-known at this time (scientists still aren’t sure what causes protracted benzo withdrawal), poly-drug users also have higher risks. This could possibly be due to damage to their central nervous system. Researchers also believe there may be a genetic component to this condition, increasing the likelihood.
If you or a loved one is struggling with benzo addiction or dependence, contact a drug rehab today. The sooner you get help and safely stop using benzos, the less likely you’ll incur long-term withdrawal symptoms.