Frequently Asked Questions About Benzodiazepine Cessation

About Benzodiazepine Cessation

Sudden cessation of benzodiazepines is highly dangerous, with the possibility of seizures, severe and/or protracted withdrawal syndrome, and even death. A sensible taper plan can avoid the risk of seizures and mitigate, although not eliminate, withdrawal symptoms.

A taper is a gradual reduction in benzodiazepine dosage. Depending on your individual situation, a taper may last weeks, months, or even years.

There are numerous ways of tapering, including cut-and-hold, microtaper (via scale or liquid titration), compounding and taper strips. You may choose to taper from your original drug or “crossover” to a longer acting benzodiazepine. For more information go here.

“Half-life” is the amount of time for the concentration of drug in the blood to fall by 50 percent. This time-period will vary between individuals. Commonly used “short” half-life benzodiazepines include Ativan and Xanax, while “long” half-life benzodiazepines include Klonopin, Valium, and Librium. Of note, Valium and Librium are further transformed into “active” metabolites, each with their own elimination half-lives. This means that they accumulate gradually and are cleared more slowly from the body, which can provide an advantage in tapering, as it can help prevent withdrawal between doses. Elimination half-lives are often doubled or tripled in the elderly, due to less efficient metabolism in the liver.

There is not yet adequate awareness in the U.S for the FDA to require this of manufacturers.

Kindling refers to the neurological condition resulting from repeated withdrawal episodes from sedative–hypnotic drugs such as alcohol and benzodiazepines. Each withdrawal leads to more severe withdrawal symptoms than the previous withdrawal syndrome. Individuals who have had multiple withdrawal episodes are at an increased risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.

Many patients are told they are doing a slow taper, when they are actually doing a fast taper. The rule of thumb is not more than 5-10% of the current dose every 2-4 weeks. Most tapers take 10 months or much longer.

All benzodiazepines have an estimated dose that is equivalent to doses of other benzodiazepines. Unlike opiates, equivalence conversions between different benzodiazepines are not defined or required by the FDA. Evidence-based information on benzodiazepine equivalents is limited and many different sources report dissenting information. For this reason, some equivalence rates are listed in a range, as they are estimates and mostly based on clinical observation and judgement. People who take prescribed benzodiazepines are unique and will not all have identical experiences. An equivalent dose that works for one person may be too low or too high for another person taking the exact same drug and dose.

Crossovers are not required, but some patients who are taking a shorter acting benzodiazepine may prefer to follow the Ashton Manual and switch to a longer-acting benzodiazepine, such as Valium. A patient who prefers to taper directly from their own drug can look into compounding, liquid compounding, tapering strips, a 0.001 gram scale, or liquid titration.