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  • Benzodiazepines can be used to treat symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Seizures, delirium tremens (DTs), high blood pressure, and other serious withdrawal symptoms can be reduced with benzodiazepines.

    Approved benzodiazepines for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal include:

    Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, but their effectiveness in treating alcohol withdrawal symptoms has been widely studied.

    How Benzodiazepines Can Help With Alcohol Withdrawal

    Benzodiazepines and alcohol are both central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They also affect the same neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Chronic alcohol abuse can cause inhibition and impairment due to its effects on the GABA chemical.

    During alcohol withdrawal, GABA amounts may be irregular, leading to unusual nervous system activity. An imbalance of GABA may cause both mild and severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, up to and including increased heart rate, tremors, seizures and delirium tremens.

    Use of benzodiazepines during alcohol withdrawal is thought to help with stabilizing GABA levels in the brain, reducing the severity of seizures and the effects of delirium tremens. Without treatment, alcohol withdrawal can even be fatal, making proper treatment vital in some cases.

    Types Of Benzodiazepine Treatment Plans

    A fixed daily dose of benzodiazepines is often prescribed to patients, where patients take an exact amount of benzos every day. The dose is usually decreased over time if detoxification is going well. The process of decreasing the dose over time is known as tapering.

    The use of benzodiazepines depends on how much alcohol a patient was drinking before entering treatment. A patient with severe alcohol dependence will likely be prescribed more benzodiazepines, and vice versa.

    A clinician may also put a patient on benzos as part of a symptom triggered regimen. This treatment method gives patients benzodiazepines whenever withdrawal symptoms occur. 

    This treatment is likely given to patients suffering from more severe withdrawal symptoms, especially DTs.

    Are Benzodiazepines Safe?

    Patients who are given benzos for alcohol withdrawal are likely on a treatment plan already. Inpatient treatment likely includes close monitoring by medical professionals, and the risk of substance abuse is lower.

    In other environments, including outpatient settings, there may be a higher risk of uncontrolled substance use. If not tapered properly, benzodiazepines can even cause withdrawal symptoms of their own. Benzos can also cause side effects even when taken properly, including:

    • severe drowsiness
    • sedation
    • impairment
    • disorientation

    Benzodiazepines may not be for everyone, especially patients with a history of drug abuse, patients who are currently taking opioids, and other high-risk groups. Talk to your doctor to find out if benzodiazepines are the right treatment option for you.

    Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

    Alcohol withdrawal may only be one part of a larger alcohol use disorder (AUD)

    Treating AUD focuses on both your physical and mental health. If you’re concerned about the potential health effects of benzodiazepines, other treatment options for alcohol abuse are available. 

    Anticonvulsants (like gabapentin and carbamazepine) can also be effective in treating alcohol withdrawal. Substances like disulfiram (Antabuse) can reduce alcohol cravings. Treatment options that do not focus on medication are also out there, especially forms of psychotherapy.

    To find the best treatment available for yourself or a loved one, talk to your healthcare provider or contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    Industrial Psychiatry Journal - Clinical management of alcohol withdrawal: A systematic review
    Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research - Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond
    National Library of Medicine - The Role of GABAA Receptors in the Development of Alcoholism
    StatPearls - Delirium Tremens
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration - LIBRIUM (CHLORDIAZEPOXIDE HYDROCHLORIDE) Label

    Medically Reviewed by
    Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on June 29, 2021
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