The first class of synthetic drugs used as specific sedatives were called barbiturates. These came into common use in the early 1900s. At that time, there were no laws regulating the sale and consumption of potentially dangerous drugs.

Benzo Detox

The Barbiturates

The barbiturate chemical family is extensive. Secobarbital (Seconal) was once widely prescribed for sleep. Various barbiturates with slang street names like goofballs and black beauties were part of the 1960s drug culture. Many people underestimated the danger of these drugs and died from unintentional overdose.

Although effective for sedation and sleep, barbiturates are extremely addictive and have a very narrow therapeutic margin. This means that the sedative dose and the lethal dose are not that far apart.

Although effective, barbiturates caused too many problems. There had to be a better way.

The First Benzodiazepines

In about the mid-1950s the pharma company Hoffmann-LaRoche set out to find a better sedative, one that would be more specific, non-addictive and not carry the high overdose risks of barbiturates. From this came the development of the first prototype benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide. LaRoche named their new drug Librium. Not only was it an effective tranquilizer, it was far safer than the barbiturates.

As time went on, the drug proved to be useful for the treatment of muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal, insomnia, anxiety disorder and epilepsy.

However, it was definitely addictive. As LaRoche continued their search for a better benzodiazepine compound, they discovered diazepam and named it Valium as a nod to the Latin word vale, meaning goodnight.

More than two times stronger than Librium and also addictive, Valium hit the market running in 1963. LaRoche promoted its new wonder drug so aggressively that by 1968 it was the best selling prescription drug on the market. It firmly held this place for no less than 14 years!

Since then, the benzo family has grown quite large:

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Prazepam (Centrax)

That’s only a few of them. You may recognize Rohypnol as the date rape drug. People under the influence of this potent benzo become very compliant, will do as they’re told and will not remember anything afterwards. It’s tasteless, odorless and easily slipped into a drink.

Rohypnol is not legally available in the United States.

Klonopin was once spelled as Clonopin, but the spelling was changed to avoid possible confusion with clonidine (Catapres), a totally unrelated drug used mainly for high blood pressure and certain forms of heart disease.

benzo detox

Types of Benzodiazepines

Benzos work on certain receptors in the brain to produce feelings of serenity, relaxation and in some individuals, euphoria. There are three main benzo types:


Triazolam (Halcion)
Midazolam (Versed)





Short-term-acting benzos are used mainly to induce sleep and as part of a preoperative drug cocktail.

The Half-Life of Benzos

Some benzos, Valium in particular, have extremely long half-lives. This means it takes the body a long time to break down and eliminate it. Valium has an astounding half-life of 48 hours.

That means that two full days after a single dose, half of it is still in the system! In fact, a single dose of Valium may be detectable in some urine drug tests as much as 10 days or more later.

This should be a word to the wise for illegal benzodiazepine users who are subject to random drug testing.

The GABA System: How Benzos Work in the Brain

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter, meaning a chemical messenger, that tells brain cells to slow down.

Benzodiazepines work by helping GABA to bind with more receptor sites in the brain. This produces the trademark benzo calming effect. It can also induce sleep.

natural ways to ease benzo withdrawal

Benzo Withdrawal and Risks

Klonopin is often prescribed to control serious, debilitating seizure disorders.

Xanax is an effective treatment for mental health and panic attack disorders.

There’s no question that benzodiazepine drugs have an important place in medicine, but many people abuse them and develop a physical dependence on them. This is a particular problem because not only is benzo withdrawal extremely unpleasant, it’s dangerous.

When benzos are taken on a regular basis, especially in high, escalating doses, the brain becomes dependent on them. Eventually, it can’t function without them. If the drug is suddenly withdrawn, brain function becomes deranged. As a result, people experience a wide array of extremely uncomfortable side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Intense anxiety and drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Abdominal cramps

Grand Mal Seizures During Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Worse, grand mal seizures are a real threat. These are a major interruption in brain activity and can cause loss of consciousness. If this occurs, a person who vomits while unconscious can aspirate their stomach contents into their lungs. This can be fatal.

This is why an unconscious person should always be placed on their side. It’s also why patients must fast for at least 8 hours before general anesthesia.

This person could also fall and become seriously or fatally injured, especially if they happen to be alone.

Untreated (cold turkey) benzo withdrawal is a total nightmare. You’re exhausted but you can’t sleep. You can’t relax. You can’t concentrate. Every second seems like forever. The drug craving is terrible. Symptoms can persist for many days, weeks and even months.

Benzodiazepine Addiction and PAWS

In fact, benzodiazepines are the drug class most likely to involve PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome). This occurs after the most acute withdrawal symptoms have subsided. While PAWS symptoms are more subtle, they can continue for months, even up to a year. This is another reason to seek the help of health professionals, specialized in benzo addiction and drug abuse.

PAWS can’t be cured, but it can be managed with medication and other therapies until it goes away on its own. Expert medical supervision and rehab aftercare can also provide critical support for those coping with PAWS.

drug detox

Safe Benzo Detoxification

Never, never try to stop benzo use on your own. You or your loved one will need medical professionals to do this safely. The same goes for alcohol and barbiturates. All can produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Benzo detox is done by determining a baseline benzo dose of a longer-acting benzo, often Valium, and then very carefully tapering the dose downwards over time. This allows the brain to slowly adjust, greatly reducing the risk of grand mal seizures.

Your detox treatment facility will ask you many questions about your benzo abuse. It’s important to be honest. The healthcare staff will use some of your answers to determine the best medications and dosages for you.

There’s no reason to fear modern benzo detox. It’s your detox center’s job to keep you safe and as comfortable as possible as you go through the detox process. If you’re feeling bad, speak up. Medications can always be adjusted. Not everyone is the same.

Other medications that may help:

  • Buspirone

Buspirone (BuSpar) is an antidepressant drug not chemically related to benzodiazepines. It works to balance the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in the brain. It may also reduce feelings of anxiety.

However, this drug and others similar to it don’t work quickly. It’s not like taking some ibuprofen and feeling better in 30 minutes. Buspirone works slowly because it takes a great length of time to help the brain restore proper neurotransmitter balance. It typically takes at least two weeks to see some results. Be patient. More likely than not, the wait will be worth it.

  • Flumazenil

This drug was developed as a professional treatment for benzodiazepine overdose, but it’s also helpful for reducing both acute withdrawal symptoms and those from PAWS.

Rehab: Looking to the Future

Once you have completed benzo detox, you’re ready for the next step: rehab. Therapy, support groups and counseling, along with a personalized addiction treatment plan, will help you remain free of benzos in the long-term.

Detox alone, without rehab, is unlikely to lead to permanent sobriety. In this case, your chances of relapse are extremely high. Almost everyone needs help battling benzo withdrawal symptoms.

We Can Help: Long Island Interventions

Benzodiazepine withdrawal is dangerous, can persist for months and is highly unpleasant. If you try to get off benzos on your own, you’re setting yourself up for failure, and you’d also be risking your life. There’s no need to suffer through benzo withdrawal or risk grand mal seizures.

You should also know that chronic benzo use is toxic to the brain and may result in problems with your heart, blood vessels, memory and sleep patterns. Drugged sleep isn’t normal sleep.

Here at Long Island Interventions treatment center, we provide referrals for safe, effective and comfortable benzodiazepine detox, rehab, inpatient and outpatient programs, and aftercare. For more information about your recovery journey and to talk to a professional drug counselor, just call us today. We’ll answer all your questions and work with you to build a brighter, healthier future.



Drug & alcohol detox programs are not directly offered by Long Island Interventions. However, we do recognize that this type of addiction treatment is often necessary and vital to one’s long-term recovery from substance abuse. If you or a loved one require any services that we do not offer we would be glad to refer you to one of our trusted affiliate providers.

Published on: 2017-03-02
Updated on: 2024-04-10