Since the mid-1960s, the most common benzodiazepine used to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms is chlordiazepoxide, also known as Librium. When Librium is not recommended then diazepam (Valium) is typically taken instead. More rarely, shorter acting benzodiazepines such as lorazepam or oxazepam may also be used during an alcohol detox.
Librium is also used to reduce anxiety and fear before surgery.
In this post, we demystify benzodiazepines and also explain why these drugs are beneficial for those about to embark on an alcohol detox.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines work by increasing the production of an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain known as Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA slows down the speed in which nerve cells travel across the brain. In turn GABA slows down the central nervous system. GABA thus acts as a tranquilizer and sedative.
Alcohol also increases GABA activity in the brain. When alcohol consumption ceases, an alcoholic’s GABA activity falls, causing the brain to jolt into a state of hyperactivity. Benzodiazepines thus allow detox clinics to control their clients’ GABA activity in a controlled manner by tapering down dosages over several days.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms that benzodiazepines reduce include hallucinations, seizures, convulsions and fever. Benzodiazepines also prevent the onset of a life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens (DTs).
Patients continue taking benzodiazepines for around five to seven days once detox begins.
Given benzodiazepines are themselves addictive, it is essential clients are administered these drugs in a medically supervised environment. We do not recommend benzodiazepines be used during a so-called ‘home detox’. When mixed with alcohol, benzodiazepines use may lead to respiratory failure and death.
Thus, Benzodiazepines must be considered a short-term cure for alcohol’s acute withdrawal symptoms and nothing more.