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Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety

Anxiety is something we all deal with on occasion. While anxiety can be a warning of something dangerous, it is also a good source of motivation. But for some, anxiety is severe and interferes with daily life. Benzos often help, but there are alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety.

Because benzos have a high risk of addiction, some people don’t want to take the medication. For others, they want to treat the underlying causes of anxiety and not just mask the symptoms. If this sounds like you, there are various benzo alternatives.

Lifestyle Change a Benzo Alternative

When anxiety becomes an issue, it is important to look at your lifestyle choices. What improvements can be made? Can you add anything to improve your mental health?

Your physical health is a great place to make changes. The following are examples of some physical care which in turn improves your mental health.

  • Exercise – Physical activities such as running and swimming release endorphins which create a sense of wellbeing.
  • Eat a Nutritious Diet – The phrase “we are what we eat” is true. Eating a well-balanced diet keeps the body and the brain working it’s best. In the same way, eating junk food makes you feel sluggish and makes anxiety and worry worse.
  • Get Quality Sleep – A lack of sleep adds stress and leads to higher anxiety. But, it’s not just the amount of sleep but the quality of sleep you get. Having a wind-down routine such as a warm shower and reading a book can improve the overall quality of sleep.

Holistic Therapies: Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety

People are turning to various holistic therapies as an alternative to benzos. Holistic therapies focus on healing the mind, body, and spirit. So, not only can you cope with anxiety better, but holistic therapies also create a sense of overall well-being. 

Yoga and Meditation for Anxiety and Sleep

When you start feeling anxious, yoga can help calm your mind and body. By focusing on your breathing and being in the present moment, you can quiet the thoughts in your mind and improve your mood. 

Just a few minutes can make a big impact. Find a quiet spot. Focus on the movements of your body and the air flowing in and out of your lungs. If your thoughts scatter, bring yourself back to the sensations of each movement. 

When it’s not feasible to step away for yoga, meditation is another benzo alternative. Meditation can take as little as 60 seconds or as long as you need. By taking time to clear your mind and taking long, deep breathes, you lower anxiety and improve your sleep.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese treatment. It has been used for thousands of years for anxiety, depression, and much more. A practitioner uses thin, sharp needles in the upper layers of the skin. These specific spots release natural painkilling chemicals in the brain and reduce anxiety. 

Nature Therapy Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety

Nature therapy is using the benefits of nature to boost growth and healing, specifically mental health. For example, hiking, growing a garden, and being around animals can reduce anxiety and build confidence. 

Nature therapy benefits include:

  • Improve mood
  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Relaxation
  • Improving physical health
  • Builds self-esteem and confidence
  • Meeting new friends

Holistic therapies are not an instant fix, and some therapies such as yoga and meditation take practice. This can be frustrating for those use to the quick fix of benzos. But, be patient. Alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety are overall more effective in achieving a better life. 

Therapy and Counseling: Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Sleep and Anxiety

People struggling with daily anxiety often stay up at night with thoughts racing through their minds. This lack of sleep adds more stress and increases anxiety. Psychotherapy or individual therapy is a crucial alternative to benzodiazepines for sleep and anxiety. 

Having a trusted therapist listen to your thoughts and feelings surrounding anxiety helps build the tools needed to overcome these feelings. A few therapies are effective alternatives to benzodiazepines and include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – A therapist helps identify situations that bring feelings of anxiety and fear. Then together, you develop the tools to replace anxiety with positive thoughts and feelings.
  • Hypnotherapy – Hypnotherapy works by tapping into your subconscious. The hypnotherapist uses positive affirmations and visuals to promote physical and mental wellbeing. 

Medication Alternatives to Benzodiazepines for Anxiety and Sleep

Severe anxiety is debilitating and may interfere with daily life. As a result, medication is needed. However, benzodiazepine is not the only option. While various medications effectively treat anxiety and sleep issues, the two most common include antidepressants and sedatives. 

  • Antidepressants – Antidepressants effectively treat generalized anxiety and depression without the risk of addiction to benzos. SSRIs such as Zoloft are effective but take a week to start working. As a result, you may need something else the first week. 
  • Sedatives – Medications such as antihistamines and Ramelteon have sedative effects which can reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

What are Benzos?

Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are prescription sedatives for anxiety and insomnia. They work by slowing down the body and the brain. Common benzos include Ativan, Valium, and Xanax

While benzos are very effective, they are also highly addictive. Even when taken as prescribed, the body can develop a dependence on the drug. As a result, you will go through withdrawals if you suddenly stop taking benzos. 

Why Do You Use Benzos for Anxiety?

Benzos are often used in treating anxiety and sleep disorders because of its relaxing qualities. It affects the neurotransmitter GABA. As GABA sends calming messages throughout the body, the overstimulation in the brain also calms. 

Benzos are quick-acting and relieve anxiety symptoms shortly after taking. They are taken either once a day, multiple times a day, or as needed. How much and how often you take benzos depends on the severity of your symptoms. 

What are the Dangers of Benzodiazepines?

When benzodiazepines are taken temporarily and as prescribed are viewed as generally safe. However, they are habit-forming, and any misuse or long-term use can cause various health issues. These issues include mood swings, hallucinations, dependence, and overdose. 

When you misuse benzos along with other medications, drugs, or alcohol, the risk of overdose increases. This is especially true when mixing benzos and opioids. The effects may include:

  • Enhancing side effects of both drugs
  • Respiratory depression or slowed breathing
  • Loss of cognitive function
  • Slower reaction times
  • Increases risk of substance use disorder
  • Overdose

For example, in 2017, over 120 million people left the doctor’s office with a benzo prescription. That is, millions of people can find safer alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety. 

Signs and Symptoms of Benzo Misuse

A person misusing benzos will exhibit physical, mental, and behavioral changes. It is crucial to recognize the signs of a benzo use disorder, which include:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Increase anxiety
  • Job loss
  • Isolation
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Overdose

The Risk of Withdrawal from Benzodiazepines

When a person takes benzos on a long-term basis or misuses them, the body develops a tolerance for the drug. As the tolerance builds, the more it takes to feel the same effects from benzos. 

But, when they suddenly stop using or reduces their dose, withdrawal symptoms emerge. Benzo’s withdrawal symptoms are physically and emotionally painful. Above all, they can be life-threatening. 

Symptoms of Benzo Withdrawal

Symptoms of benzo withdrawal typically last up to 10 days and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Trouble concentration
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Because some benzo withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, it is safer to detox from benzos in a medical detox center. 

Medical Detox From Benzos at Sana Lake Recovery

Detox is the process of removing toxins from the body. When detoxing from benzos, it is safest under medical supervision. Our experienced staff at Sana Lake Recovery can help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms with medication and mental support. 

Another significant benefit to medical detox programs is the ease of continuing into inpatient treatment. Although detox helps your body cleanse all the toxins out, it is not a form of treatment. Without entering a treatment program after detox, a person increases their risk of relapse. 

Treating Anxiety at Sana Lake Recovery

People struggling with anxiety often turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. But, this behavior, unfortunately, induces anxiety and can lead to a substance use disorder. At Sana Lake, we offer a variety of alternatives to benzodiazepines for anxiety and sleep. This includes trained therapists, medication-assisted therapy, and holistic therapies. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with severe anxiety or a substance use disorder, we can help. Contact us today. We are waiting to answer all your questions and get you started toward a better life. 

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/benzodiazepines_and_the_alternatives

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.