What is Benzo Belly?
When people have been taking benzodiazepines for several weeks, they experience “benzo belly” during the withdrawal process. Benzo belly encompasses uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms, and it can cause users to return to their benzodiazepine use. Although benzo belly is a real condition that people experience, you don’t have to live with it. Just by entering into a treatment facility, you can go through the detox process without having to experience gastrointestinal discomfort.
What Are Benzodiazepines?
Physicians prescribe benzodiazepines to treat insomnia, anxiety and seizures. These medications increase the effect that the neurotransmitter known as “gamma-aminobutyric acid” or GABA has on the brain. For example, when the patient is experiencing anxiety, the brain is being overstimulated. Benzodiazepines cause the brain to send signals that reduce this increased brain activity. When this occurs, the patient doesn’t feel as anxious.
The several types of benzodiazepines include the following:
- Ativan or lorazepam
- Valium or diazepam
- Klonopin or clonazepam
- Xanax or alprazolam
Classification Under Schedule IV of the Schedules for Controlled Substances Act
The Drug Enforcement Administration classified benzodiazepines under Schedule IV of the Schedules for Controlled Substances Act. This means that benzodiazepines have a low potential for abuse as compared to the substances classified under Schedule III; they also have a low risk of causing dependence. Schedule III substances may cause the user to experience a low to moderate risk of physical or psychological dependence.
Although benzodiazepines are classified under Schedule IV, people believe that this is an error. In fact, research exists that demonstrates that people can become physically dependent upon benzodiazepines in just a couple of weeks. This is the case even if the patient takes these drugs at low doses.
In general, addictive drugs cause the brain to release large amounts of dopamine. When the person stops taking these addictive substances, the brain doesn’t receive as much dopamine. This is the reason that withdrawal symptoms begin. Benzodiazepine withdrawal begins the same way.
What Is Benzo Belly?
When people take benzodiazepines for longer than two weeks, they are at risk of becoming addicted or dependent on the medication. As this occurs, their bodies become accustomed to the drugs being in their systems. Their bodies prevent users from stopping the use of benzodiazepines by sending out withdrawal symptoms and causing benzo belly.
The symptoms of benzo belly include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Differences in appetite
Gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain. It works within the central nervous system to block signals so that the brain’s activity can slow down. The result is that it helps the person sleep better, reduces stress and relieves anxiety. Increased GABA production also prevents brain damage.
Benzodiazepines increase GABA activity, and the body enjoys this increase. If you stop taking these medications, it takes some time for the body to become accustomed to the reduced GABA activity. Because the brain and the gastrointestinal tract are connected in this way, it causes abdominal symptoms when people withdraw from benzodiazepine use.
How Long Do Benzo Withdrawals Last?
How long benzo withdrawals last will depend on the person. Specifically, it will depend on the following factors:
- Whether or not you were misusing alcohol or other medications
- Whether or not you were engaged in polydrug use
- Whether or not you have an underlying mental health condition
- Whether or not you were taking benzodiazepines without a prescription from a physician
- Whether or not you were misusing your prescription
- The amount you were taking
- How long you were taking the medication
If you have become accustomed to taking benzodiazepines, you will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms approximately 24 hours after your last dose. These symptoms can last several weeks.
How Long Do Benzo Withdrawals Last?
Benzo belly withdrawals last in three different phases.
Immediate withdrawal symptoms begin right after the person stops taking benzodiazepines. For example, Xanax has a short half-life, so withdrawal symptoms begin rather quickly. On the other hand, Valium is a long-acting drug, so the symptoms take a little longer to develop. These are known as “rebound symptoms.”
Another thing that may rebound is the symptom that the medication was prescribed to treat. After stopping the use of benzodiazepines, the person experiences the symptoms of anxiety again. It may even be worse at this point.
Acute withdrawal symptoms start a couple of days after the immediate withdrawal symptoms. In general, these symptoms last between five and 28 days. It isn’t unusual for these symptoms to last for several months. The majority of the benzo belly withdrawal symptoms occur during this phase. This is the time when benzo withdrawal symptoms need to be treated the most.
During this phase, people experience benzo withdrawal symptoms that tend to linger. Only about 10% to 25% of the people taking benzodiazepines for long periods of time continue to experience symptoms during the protracted phase. The symptoms may last as long as a year when this occurs or longer.
During the protracted withdrawal stage, additional symptoms may develop. These are known as “post-acute withdrawal symptoms,” and they include the following:
- Mood swings
- Low libido
- The inability to concentrate
During the protracted phase, people can experience the symptoms listed above as well as physical pain that may be mild but could also be severe. It is highly important to have benzo withdrawal pain relief because benzo withdrawal symptoms cause people to return to their use of benzodiazepines. The solution is to go through the medical detox process.
What Is Medical Detox?
Medical detox is a program that allows the body to relieve itself of the presence of benzodiazepines. This process is advantageous because the medical staff at treatment centers manage the withdrawal symptoms and provide benzo belly relief. This prevents patients from having to experience the withdrawal symptoms that can be so unpleasant.
During medical detox, the medical staff administers medications that cause you to tolerate the withdrawal symptoms as comfortably as possible. If you were to stop taking benzodiazepines on your own, you wouldn’t be able to cause benzo withdrawal pain relief, and you would feel compelled to return to your use of drugs.
Continued Treatment in a Treatment Facility
The medical detox process is not treatment for your addiction to benzodiazepines. Treatment for a substance use disorder requires that you obtain therapy in a treatment center. At Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center, you may receive several types of therapy that address the reasons for your substance use. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, and peer support.
Are There More Natural or Holistic Options?
There are holistic options for benzo belly relief.
Yoga is an example of this. People endorse yoga as a practice that relieves the chronic pain of benzo belly. It makes people feel healthier overall and decreases their cravings. Yoga also heals people after they have been taking benzodiazepines. They notice that yoga reduces their anxiety, decreases their pain, helps them sleep better, and improves their physical health.
Making an effort to make the most nutritious food choices increases your chances of relieving benzo belly withdrawal symptoms. If you begin to make healthier choices before you begin the withdrawal process, it may even eliminate the need of experiencing benzo belly.
For example, probiotics are yeasts and live bacteria that your digestive system needs. Even though they are bacteria, they are very good for your digestive tract. They are the reason that your digestive tract can be healthy. By taking supplements or eating foods that contain them, your digestive tract will maintain a full supply of this “good” bacteria.
Avoid Acidic Foods.
Acidic foods create a harsh environment in your stomach. You can avoid this by eating less of these foods. Acidic foods are proteins, carbonated beverages, starchy foods, processed meats, fish and other seafoods, and dairy products.
Eat Lighter Meals.
Heavy foods will have high levels of protein. Protein is an element that causes you to feel the most full. Heavy foods also have a large amount of fiber. Fiber adds bulk to the food and slows down the digestive process. Heavy foods also have a lot of air or water in them. Foods that contain a lot of water and fiber are also very heavy. You will want to eat less of these foods.
Eat Smaller Meals.
Eating many large meals each day is not the reason that you are experiencing abdominal discomfort. However, it is a good idea not to make your digestive tract work too hard.
Relieve Benzo Belly with Lifestyle Changes
Benzo belly responds well when you implement lifestyle changes. If you are not currently exercising, it would be a good idea to start. While you are detoxing from benzodiazepines, your brain chemicals are out of balance. Exercise will help bring the balance back to your brain chemistry, but it will also help your gastrointestinal tract work efficiently again and relieve your benzo belly.
Psychiatry at Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center
At Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center, we offer our members psychiatric services. Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that diagnoses and treats behavioral, emotional and mental disorders. If you were taking benzodiazepines to treat anxiety or another mental health condition, you will need to obtain therapy while you are receiving treatment for your substance use disorder. Your psychiatrist will treat your anxiety disorder, and your therapist will treat your benzodiazepine use disorder.
Contact us today at Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center so that we can move you toward your new life without drugs.