Many drug withdrawals entail flu-like symptoms. With benzodiazepine medications, these flu-like symptoms are known as the “benzo flu.”
In this article, we’ll explore the benzo flu, including what it is and how and why it happens during benzo withdrawal. We’ll also discuss options for facing it.
What It’s Like Going Through Benzo Withdrawal
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines occurs when someone who’s been taking the drug suddenly stops using it. Symptoms occur in all three of the benzo withdrawal phases: early, acute and protracted:
- During early withdrawal, symptoms can appear within a few hours. Tapering off benzos or taking other prescribed medications can help ease benzo withdrawal. This can make symptoms milder and easier to handle at this stage.
- Acute benzo withdrawal begins after early withdrawal ends and may last 5-28 days. Most withdrawal symptoms occur during this phase, including those described as the benzo flu.
- Protracted withdrawal involves lingering effects that may persist for 12 months or longer, well after most of the other benzo withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
These benzo withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable, yet tolerable, to those that are more severe. 40 percent of long-term benzo users (taking the drug for more than six months) had moderate-to-severe benzo withdrawal, according to research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.
The other 60 percent were more likely to go through milder withdrawal. Researchers also found that up to 25 percent of long-term benzo users go through protracted withdrawal, with symptoms that last a year or more.
Yet, benzo withdrawal symptoms aren’t the only thing to contend with during benzo detox. Cravings for the drug, often strong and hard to ignore, typically occur when discontinuing benzo use. Untreated, these cravings can lead to relapse.
Benzo Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzodiazepines, classified as Schedule IV-controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Agency, have a low potential for abuse and low dependence risk. However, researchers found that dependence can occur quickly even at low doses. Getting off benzos isn’t as simple as stopping use. Overcoming benzo dependence or addiction means committing to complete benzo detox and withdrawal. That means understanding that there’ll be some discomfort, including the benzo flu, and possibly difficult symptoms ahead. For some people, the effects of withdrawing may discourage them from following through with cessation of benzo use.
What Is Benzo Flu?
What, specifically, is the benzo flu? This term describes some common benzo withdrawal symptoms and generally consists of the following:
- Body aches
- Increased blood pressure
- High heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Digestive problems
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Sweating and chills
- Muscle spasms and pain
- Blurred vision
- General malaise
Symptoms may range from uncomfortable to severe. Withdrawal symptoms occur quicker when stopping the use of shorter-life-cycle benzos like Xanax. According to research, ingesting and snorting benzodiazepines may cause withdrawal symptoms to occur quickly after stopping use.
What Causes It?
Each person who goes through benzo withdrawal will experience the process differently. Some determining factors as to how severe symptoms will be and how long they’ll last include:
- Length of time they’ve been using benzos
- Using fast-acting and more potent benzos
- Using other addictive substances at the same time
According to researchers, it is known that benzodiazepines cause a surge of dopamine in the brain. All benzodiazepines work by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter known as GABA.
One of the main causes of benzo withdrawal, and the benzo flu, may be the sudden dopamine drop in the brain that occurs when someone stops using benzos. The exact reason why this happens, however, remains unclear.
Preventing the Benzo Flu
Given that the benzo flu is commonly experienced by those undergoing benzo detox, is there a way to prevent it from happening? Since the body reacts to the discontinuance of the benzodiazepine substance, physical and psychological effects are bound to occur. There is no way to determine whether benzo flu will occur. But trying to minimize the unpleasant effects associated with benzo withdrawal can help shorten the duration and severity of the symptoms.
Just as with any flu, there are ways to help with benzo flu relief. These include getting sufficient rest, drinking lots of fluids and eating a mild diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding caffeine. Medical professionals may be able to prescribe medications to help counter some of the more severe symptoms associated with benzo withdrawal. Other approaches can also minimize the effects o the benzo flu, although they won’t be able to prevent it entirely. Try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, acupuncture, meditation and mindfulness, and other therapies, conducted with a therapist or in a group.
Is the Benzo Flu Dangerous?
The benzo flu alone is not dangerous. However, someone who detoxes from benzodiazepines and other substances of abuse, especially alcohol, may experience more difficult symptoms, including some that could be life-threatening. For example, “benzo withdrawal syndrome” is more serious than the benzo flu. The term benzo withdrawal syndrome refers to the cluster of symptoms and signs that occur following the sudden cessation of benzodiazepine use. This is after a person becomes dependent on the drug.
Some of these symptoms can last for months or years, whereas the benzo flu typically is of shorter duration. The characteristic nature of benzo withdrawal syndrome is how symptoms wax and wane, as well as how their symptom severity varies. Instead of decreasing in a continuous downward trend, the symptoms experienced in the syndrome of benzo withdrawal can occur in waves, also called windows.
Anecdotally, the benzo flu has been described as the worst flu some benzo users ever experienced. Users said they couldn’t find relief no matter what they did. As these users reported, the most distressing aspect of benzo detox was that they seriously considered returning to benzo use. They just wanted to stop the pain and discomfort.
Drinking alcohol during benzo detox only worsens withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, it’s extremely dangerous as alcohol, a depressant, can lead to respiratory distress, coma and death.
Why Quitting Cold Turkey is Not Recommended
Getting benzo flu relief is best accomplished through professional benzodiazepine detox. Deciding to go it alone and tough it out with benzo withdrawal symptoms is not recommended. The cold turkey approach can be dangerous. This is especially true if benzo detox is complicated by addiction to another substance of abuse or a co-occurring mental health disorder.
Safety should always be the primary consideration for benzo detox and treatment. This includes ensuring that detox occurs under 24/7 medical supervision at the hands of professionals skilled in treating stimulant substance abuse disorders. These medical professionals can help ease benzo withdrawal and make the detox process as painless as possible.
Some relief from the benzo flu may be possible. Try taking over-the-counter medications for pain, like Tylenol, or engaging in meditation, yoga and other mind-body practices. But the best way to deal with benzo withdrawal symptoms is to work with medical professionals in a full benzodiazepine detox treatment facility. The clinical staff can help you get through benzo withdrawal with ongoing support. They’ll also be able to treat the physical and emotional aspects of the benzo flu that may otherwise discourage you from continuing treatment.
Why Medical Detox Is Important for Benzo Withdrawal
Ensuring that the detox process is as comfortable as possible is a key factor in opting for medical detox from benzodiazepines. Managing symptoms is another crucial aspect of detox. Why? The return of symptoms or experiencing moderate-to-severe benzo withdrawal symptoms increases the likelihood of reverting to using benzos to alleviate the pain and discomfort. That’s why medically supervised detox from benzos is so important.
Medical detox is safe and effective. It also helps increase stabilization and reduces the risk of relapse. The longer you’re in treatment with benzodiazepine addiction and recovery specialists, the better your chances for recovery. Knowing that you’re not going through this alone and having the support and encouragement of others will help you get through this.
Getting Relief From Benzo Detox Flu at FHE Health
Asking for help to get relief from the benzo flu during detox is the first step in overcoming benzodiazepine dependence and addiction. There’s no need to go it alone or think it’s impossible to recover from benzo withdrawal symptoms. Contact our specialists at FHE Health to learn more about the recovery services options we offer. These include counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, complementary and holistic therapies, nutritional guidance, family therapy, wellness activities and other therapeutic approaches.