It is not advised to abruptly stop your benzo. Doing so can result in life-threatening symptoms such as seizures. It can also result in some of the more cruel benzo withdrawal symptoms such as auditory, olfactory, and visual hallucinations, extreme terror, paranoia, insomnia, pain, derealization, and depersonalization, to name a few. Stopping a benzo abruptly shocks the brain and nervous system; recovery can take a bit longer and be more challenging than if one tapers slowly. However, some people find themselves in a cold-turkey situation; I am one of them. I saw a doctor who claimed to be an expert in benzo withdrawal and he assured me that the dose I was on, .625 mgs of Clonazepam ( I had been tapering for eight months and was bedridden) was so low that I wouldn’t have any problems jumping off. He prescribed phenobarbital as a precautionary measure and sent me home to “detox.” Three days later I was rushed to the emergency room in a terrible state and then admitted to the psych ward. Thus began my horrific, long and tortuous journey out of benzo withdrawal. Thankfully, the journey brought me to where I am now— health and happiness I’ve never known before. You will arrive here, too. But until you do, here are some tips, in no particular order, for coping with a cold-turkey off your benzo.

  1. Have a network of people who know and care about you. Do your best to educate them about benzo withdrawal, but know that they may never fully understand (how could they?). But at least they will have some rudimentary knowledge about the syndrome so that they can be there for you and maybe even be an advocate for you should you need to interact with medical professionals. (Most doctors and therapists are sorely lacking in education about benzo withdrawal and can offer advice that is counterproductive, even harmful.) You may need to rely on your social network for emotional, physical, and financial support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to accept and receive it when offered.
  2. Be aware that a cold-turkey can increase the risk of serious withdrawal symptoms such as seizures. Seek immediate medical attention should you feel your life is in danger.
  3. The first few days or weeks of a cold-turkey—I’m not going to sugar coat it— can be hell on earth. All we can do is buckle up and go on the ride, knowing that the acute phase will fade out. Be prepared to experience some hair-raising symptoms. I had the strangest experiences the first week or so after I stopped my benzo—things so bizarre that no one would believe me if I told them.
  4. Know that doctors may tell you that benzo withdrawal only lasts for a few weeks, therefore, your symptoms are A) your original anxiety or another pre-existing “disorder”, B) a new psychiatric illness such a Borderline, C), a somatization disorder, or D) you’re making it up. You may not be able to find a medical practitioner who is benzo wise. There isn’t anything that a doctor can do to relieve us from benzo withdrawal. but it is infuriating to be suffering so horrifically and not be believed, or worse, accused of attention-seeking or flat out lying. Don’t believe any medical professional who tells you that the drug is out of your body and therefore you can’t be in benzo withdrawal.
  5. Do your best not to worry about the future. Focus on the day at hand. Do what you need to do to get through it. Don’t worry if you will become “protracted” or have intense symptoms for a long time. Just focus on the present moment. The future will take care of itself.
  6. Do make sure you have food and water available. You may not feel like cooking (or eating) but do your best to get proper nutrition. A whole-food, plant-based diet is the most nutritious and healing. You can make big pots of soup that will keep for a day or two in the fridge. Raw fruits and veggies are great snacks. Eat plenty of whole grains and legumes. Check out nutritionfacts.org for more information on plant-based nutrition. I wish I had gone WFPB decades ago, and certainly earlier in my recovery. It has made all the difference in my health.
  7. A quick primer on Polyvagal theory: your nervous system can only be in one of two states: connect or protect. Connect is a parasympathetic response. In this state, we can connect with others in a healthy way. Our prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning region of the brain, is operational. The other state is called protect. We feel we must self-protect from a physical or emotional threat (usually perceived, not real). This is the fight, flight or freeze response. Fight and flight are sympathetic responses while freeze is a parasympathetic response. In a connect state our thoughts, the stories we tell ourselves will be positive. In a protect state, our internal narrative will be negative. It’s important to understand that “state drives story.” In benzo withdrawal, we find our nervous system in a protect state more times than not due to the lack of functioning GABA receptors. This means that our stories will be negative. We may tell ourselves we are damaged permanently, we will never heal. Or we may tell ourselves that our lives are over, or some other catastrophic, doom and gloom story. Please understand that your thoughts are a product of the state of your nervous system—meaning that they are simply a body function. Your thoughts are no more significant than a burp, hiccup, or fart. Do your best to just observe your internal stories and not get emotionally hooked into them. Your thoughts are not predictors of the future, and in benzo withdrawal, they are usually not event adequate interpreters of the present moment.
  8. Acceptance is key to finding some bit of peace in benzo withdrawal. Stop fighting your symptoms. Allow them to pass through you. Don’t fight what is.
  9. Distraction is another great coping mechanism. Find ways to keep your hands busy as your mind will often follow. If you need ideas for healthy distractions, book a quick 15 check-in coaching session with me and let’s explore your options. I am sure we can come up with some creative things for you to do while you recover.
  10. Avoid stress. This bit of advice is layers and layers deep. There are so many types of stress and so many ways in which we can avoid it that I can’t list everything. If you need help with this, please reach out.
  11. Avoid medications, drugs, and supplements that are known to hamper healing in benzo withdrawal. Alcohol is to be avoided as well.
  12. Avoid spending too much time in benzo withdrawal online communities. Reading about other people’s misery can intensify your own. The preoccupation with benzo withdrawal is a very common benzo withdrawal symptom, but do your best to avoid being pulled into that black hole.
  13. Learn to have compassion for yourself. Love yourself, warts and all. Take exquisite care of yourself. Be for yourself, not against yourself, in thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself, now and always. Loving yourself isn’t about putting yourself on a pedestal, in fact, it is just the opposite. It is learning to go beyond the ego that traps us and into the greater consciousness where peace and tranquility reside.
  14. Don’t worry about weight loss unless it becomes a medical issue. Most of us lose weight in benzo withdrawal, and a cold-turkey can cause dramatic weight loss due to the shock to the nervous system.
  15. You will sleep again, in time. Try not to worry about a lack of sleep unless it becomes a true medical issue. Pass the small hours of the night as best as you can. Prescription meds can hamper our healing. Even CBD and melatonin can cause some people a flare in some symptoms, so use with caution and forewarning.
  16. Panic and terror are common after a cold-turkey. Finding ways to let these ferocious feelings pass through us takes some time and practice. But eventually, we find ways to talk ourselves through them and eventually, we stop experiencing them. Our nervous systems do settle down.
  17. If you have severe symptoms such as akathisia, a gentle walk or rocking or swaying can help dissipate the inner turmoil. Remind yourself that you are experiencing these uncomfortable sensations because you are in benzo withdrawal and that they will stop at some point. Ask someone in your social network to be with you if the sensations become overwhelming.
  18. Suicide ideation can occur after a slow taper, however, it can be quite common for people who have abruptly quit their benzo. You’ll have to do some mental calisthenics to ride out the thoughts. If at any time you feel you are not safe, seek immediate help. Be with someone, or at the very least, talk to someone. Suicide is a very real danger in benzo withdrawal. Withdrawal is a temporary condition and suicide is, tragically, permanent.  Benzo withdrawal is horrible, yes, I know, but it doesn’t last forever. Do what you need to do to stay alive and recover.
  19. If you are going to reinstate and do a taper, do so within thirty days of your cold-turkey. If you wait too long you could experience problems such as the receptors not working with the reintroduction of the drug or going into tolerance very quickly. Some people have been successful with reinstating after thirty days, but that doesn’t always happen. Do your best to determine if you are going to be able to hold on for the duration of whatever time it will take early after you quit your benzo.
  20. Trust the healing process. Your body is designed to heal itself. Your brain and nervous system are no exception. Do everything you can to stack the cards in your favor to shorten the duration of your recovery and then get out of the way. If you’d like to learn more about the four cornerstones of well-being that help us heal, please join us in the Mornings With Jenn support group. You can find information about it on the front page of this website.

Questions? Concerns? Drop me a line.

Need Encouragement?

Need Encouragement?

Get the latest blog posts delivered to your inbox. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!