Undergoing benzodiazepine withdrawal often feels like riding a rollercoaster. While the more commonly addressed symptoms are anxiety, pain, dizziness, weakness, benzo belly, and insomnia, it’s important to discuss the emotional symptoms like rage and anger.

Neurochemical Roots of Rage and Anger During Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

    1. GABA’s Role and Changes: Benzodiazepines increase the activity of GABA, a brain chemical that helps calm neuronal activity. These calming effects come from certain spots in the brain called GABA-A receptors. However, with regular or even ‘as-needed’ benzodiazepine use, these receptors can downregulate and stop working as the brain doesn’t like being unnaturally sedated. This makes our brain’s calming system less effective, leading to increased neuronal excitement.
    2. The Role of Glutamate: Glutamate is another brain chemical that, in contrast to GABA, increases nerve activity. When in tolerance withdrawal, tapering, or off and recovering from benzodiazepines, the drop in GABA’s calming action is matched by a rise in glutamate’s activating effects. This can lead to even more neuronal excitement, fueling negative thoughts and feelings.
    3. Amygdala and Emotions: The amygdala, a small almond-like part of the brain, is crucial for our emotions, especially those tied to fear and aggression. When the calming effects of GABA decrease and our brain activity increases, the amygdala can react more strongly. This can result in powerful emotional responses, including intense feelings of anger or rage.

Coping With Withdrawal-Induced Rage

  • Gradual Tapering: Slowly tapering off your benzodiazepine can reduce the risk of intense emotions. The Ashton Manual recommends tapering 10% of your current dose every two to four weeks. Or, you can taper off with a daily micro taper. (If you want support with tapering, please join my tapering club.)
  • Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity: Engaging in mindfulness and meditation not only modulates emotional reactivity but also fosters beneficial neuroplastic changes in regions like the prefrontal cortex, enhancing emotional regulation. The fourth cornerstone of well-being, love well, also rewires the brain for the better. Things like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, generosity, service to others, and more are incredibly helpful and healing. (The cornerstones are eat right (WFPB), move enough, stress less, and love well.)
  • Physical Activity and Neurogenesis: Aerobic exercises, by facilitating neurogenesis (birth of new neurons), especially in the hippocampus, can serve as a potent tool to dispel excessive neural energy and modulate mood. Many of us in benzo withdrawal are exercise intolerant, so aim for gentle exercise when you can. Don’t aim for a target heart rate; aim for moving your body as best as you can. As you recover, you’ll be able to exercise vigorously again.
  • Neurotherapeutic Interventions: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic modalities can help us better respond to our thoughts and feelings, although it is not a cure for benzo withdrawal. It can help us stop ourselves from spiraling emotionally.
  • Nutritional Neurosupport: Diets high in magnesium (dark green leafy veggies) and Omega-3 fatty acids ( algae, chia, ground flax seeds, and walnuts) bolster neuronal health. For those who want to embrace the first cornerstone of well-being, eat well; vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts are pivotal.  (Taking a magnesium supplement may rev up symptoms.)
  • Social Neuroprotection: Engaging with a supportive social network can trigger the release of neurotrophic factors, enhancing emotional resilience. Dr. Porges, the father of polyvagal theory, correctly claims that safety is ‘the prescription for everything.’ When we’re around people we feel safe with, our nervous system tends to shift into a ventral vagal parasympathetic response called the connect state. It is here, in that state, where we are happiest and healthiest.
  • Stimulant Regulation: Caffeine and nicotine can exacerbate excitatory responses, heightening irritability. Minimizing their intake is advisable; however, you do not want to stop them cold turkey as they can have withdrawal syndromes. Slowly tapering off if you are able is best. (Some can’t reduce nicotine without increasing symptoms and choose to continue smoking until they are more recovered, then they taper.)  Even though it is a depressant, always avoid alcohol during benzo withdrawal.

Safety Protocols 

Have a Plan: Decide how you will respond to anger or rage before they occur. Put your plan into action the moment you feel these emotions bubbling up. Make a promise to yourself and to your loved ones that you will not hurt yourself or anyone else. Below are things that can help keep your negative emotions in check and things to do if they start to feel overwhelming.

Mindful Awareness: Paying attention to your emotional and mental state is essential. Catching early signs of anger can help prevent bigger outbursts. Becoming a neutral observer of your thoughts and feelings is very helpful. You don’t have to believe the negativity. You can choose to understand that they are there because your nervous system is hyperexcitable.

Social Connections: Even if you feel like pulling away, connecting with others can be healing and calming. Even a little interaction can help balance strong emotions.

Find Calm Spaces: Have quiet places you can retreat to when feelings become intense. Go there immediately. You can equip the space with calming tools: candles,  a weighted blanket, soft music, cushy pillows, etc., can make a big difference.

Avoid Triggers: Make this a part of your plan to avoid intense feelings. Avoid the news, social media, people, places, and things that can cause you to feel upset.

Drain Off the Energy: engage in an activity that allows the anger and rage to be expressed in a safe way. Some things my clients have done: punching a pillow, hitting the bed with a plastic baseball bat, and throwing thrift store plates into the corner of the garage (please wear protective goggles!).

Pause: If you can catch yourself in time, pause. Take a few calming and centering breaths. Ask yourself what is the most loving thing to think, do, or feel, and then put your answer into practice as best as you can.  Remind yourself that your thoughts and feelings are from your hyperexcited nervous system and not a true reflection of who you are or the reality around you. You are still a good person, worthy, valuable, and loveable, even though you have negative thoughts and feelings.

When You, I Feel: Use the communication tool, ‘when you, I feel” to avoid escalation of negative feelings. Simply tell someone what it is that they have said or done, followed up with how it made you feel. For example, “When you forget to take out the trash, I feel frustrated.”

What Do You Need, How Can I Help?: Teach friends and family to ask you that question instead of giving you unasked-for advice, which can trigger defensiveness, anger, and even rage.

Apologize: If you have lost your cool with someone, apologize when you are thinking more clearly.

Seek Professional Help: If anger becomes too much to handle on your own, you may want to seek help from a mental health expert who is hopefully benzo-wise.

Work With a Benzo Withdrawal Coach: a seasoned benzo withdrawal coach can help you navigate the ups and downs of withdrawal symptoms. October, I will have been in the benzo community for thirteen years! I can’t believe how the time has flown by.

Join Me For a Free Question-and-Answer Session

For those with questions about this benzo withdrawal journey, consider joining me on Monday,12:30 PM Pacific, for a 45-minute question and answer session. You’ll have access to some of the channels in my Benzo Withdrawal Help Discord server.

Come check us out with this Discord Invite (good for 7 days from today.) It’s free.

Add Your Voice

What has been your experience with anger or rage? How did you best cope? Please leave a comment and join the conversation.