Oxazepam Withdrawal: Timeline, Side Effects, & Detox

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One of the most common myths about prescription medication is that it’s safe because a doctor prescribes it to you. While this is partially true, it’s only when you follow the instructions from the doctor. When drugs like oxazepam are used as prescribed, they can offer life-changing benefits that help a person deal with anxiety or other issues. However, when misused, this life-changing potion turns into poison. 

Anxiety is considered the most common mental illness in the United States and affects 40 million adults over the age of 18 each year. Despite being highly treatable, only 36.9 percent of those struggling will reach out for help. Those who do reach out for help may be given prescription benzodiazepines like oxazepam, which can be a vital means of treating the condition. 

Oxazepam belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines that fall under an umbrella of other drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Benzodiazepines are considered habit-forming and have the potential to be extremely addictive. It’s a slow-acting medication that yields severe withdrawal symptoms that include a return and worsening of anxiety and panic attacks. Symptoms can also include nausea, diarrhea, and potentially fatal seizures. 

Oxazepam works to suppress excitability in your central nervous system. It interacts with naturally occuring chemicals in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). It’s responsible for regulating excitability, helps your body naturally destress, and tells it when it’s time to fall asleep. When your body relies on oxazepam, it stops producing GABA on its own, leading to unbalanced brain chemistry. 

If you’ve used oxazepam for a prolonged period or consumed substantial doses at a time, your withdrawal symptoms are likely to be more uncomfortable than someone who followed the dosages given by the doctor. Like barbiturates and alcohol, benzodiazepine withdrawal can produce fatal withdrawal symptoms. In addition to the severe symptoms from oxazepam alone, if you use opioids, alcohol, or other depressant drugs in conjunction with the benzodiazepine, the risk of death by overdose increases dramatically. 

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and will depend on several factors. If you’re interested in learning more about oxazepam withdrawal symptoms, continue reading below. 

Oxazepam Effects

Those who use oxazepam will experience several side effects, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Weakness
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Changes in sex drive or ability
  • Dry mouth
  • Appetite changes
  • Blurry vision

More severe side effects of oxazepam include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fever
  • Severe skin rash
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Shuffling walk
  • Restlessness or tremors

What Are Oxazepam Withdrawal Symptoms?

Abrupt cessation of oxazepam after prolonged use can lead to nasty withdrawal symptoms caused by an overactive nervous system. The medication is likely to cause rebound symptoms, meaning withdrawal will cause symptoms the drug was intended to treat to come back much worse than before. 

Rebound symptoms can include insomnia and anxiety, while more severe symptoms can include seizures or a life-threatening condition known as delirium tremens (DTs). You’re more likely to encounter severe symptoms if you’ve attempted to stop without medical help or through tapering. They can also be worse if you’ve gone through depressant withdrawal before due to a phenomenon called kindling, which can cause long-lasting changes in the brain during withdrawal. This can lead to subsequent withdrawal to be more dangerous. 

The most common oxazepam withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Panic attacks
  • Tremors
  • Shaky hands
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme confusion
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headaches
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Sensitivity to touch and light
  • Racing pulse
  • Hypertension
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
oxazepam-withdrawal

What Are the Stages of the Oxazepam Withdrawal Timeline?

There are specific variables that contribute not only to the timeline of withdrawal symptoms but also the severity. It’s vital to understand that oxazepam wears off within a few hours of your last dose and that early symptoms could pop up by the second day. If you’ve been using oxazepam for an extended period or if you’re dependent upon a high dose, symptoms could appear sooner and be more intense. 

If you begin to experience oxazepam withdrawal, make sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible. Although the timeline may differ based on the history with the drug, below is a general oxazepam withdrawal timeline. 

  • 24 hours: You’ll notice the first symptoms around 24 hours after the last dose, but these could start as soon as eight to 12 hours. Anxiety, insomnia, and general restlessness are among the symptoms you’ll notice first. 
  • Two days: Some people report experiencing peak symptoms by the second day, which include shaking, tremors, seizures, extreme confusion, hypertension, and heart palpitations. Without adequate treatment, symptoms can be fatal. Please seek help from a medical detox center if you experience any of these symptoms. 
  • One week: Once a week has passed, most of the symptoms will gradually disappear. However, you may still experience some bothersome symptoms that include cravings, anxiety, and depression. 
  • One month: Once a month has passed, most of the symptoms should be gone entirely. However, there is a chance post-acute withdrawal symptoms will persist. In rare cases, seizures may occur once acute withdrawal ends. Cravings are most likely to continue, meaning time spent in addiction treatment will help you learn how to cope and avoid relapse. 

The Dangers of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Although oxazepam is deemed as a safe benzo by doctors, long-time users of the medication could still encounter grand mal seizures, which are life-threatening. The seizures may cause someone in withdrawal to lose consciousness and have violent muscle contractions. 

Long-time users of oxazepam are prone to developing a condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This condition is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks, months, and in some cases, even years. The symptoms are psychological and include mood issues, drug cravings, anxiety attacks, and general discomfort. 

Even after months of sobriety, the symptoms caused by PAWS are enough to push someone into relapse and resume benzo usage. Unfortunately, this can lead to an overdose since the tolerance is significantly lower than when they initially used. 

Oxazepam Overdose

Overdosing on drugs can be fatal, and overdosing on oxazepam will produce symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication. If you’re around someone who might have overdosed, you should immediately call 911. The sooner help arrives, the better the chances are for survival. If you’re concerned about an overdose, look for these symptoms:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Slowed breathing
  • Uncoordinated movement, weakness, or a staggering gait
  • Decreased alertness, or even coma
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid side-to-side eye moment, blurred, or double vision
  • Rash
  • Fainting, tiredness, or severe drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Why Professional Treatment is Necessary

As was mentioned above, oxazepam withdrawal can be deadly. It’s imperative that you seek help due to the severity of these symptoms. Nearly 40 percent of those who quit benzodiazepines will experience withdrawal symptoms that are moderate to severe. 

Abrupt cessation can kill you, and abusing oxazepam with alcohol or other medications can be fatal. By entering into professional treatment, you can taper off the drug and treat your withdrawal symptoms with approved medications. A dedicated team of doctors and nurses will monitor you during this process in a phase known as medical detox. Those in benzo withdrawal will be tapered off to ensure their safety. 

When the drugs have successfully exited your system and doctors clear you medically, you’ll move into the next level of care. During a stint in addiction treatment, you’ll receive psychological and emotional support for your oxazepam use. Depending on the severity of your addiction, you could be placed in residential treatment where you’ll live on-site for a period of up to 90 days. You’ll take part in individual and group therapies that help you uncover the root causes of your addiction. 

If you have a safe home environment and don’t have a history of relapse, you could opt for outpatient treatment. This is beneficial for those who are employed or go to school full-time and use those as a barrier for treatment. You’ll take part in the same therapy and life skills education courses as you would in residential, but you’ll be able to go home once it concludes. 

Once you finish treatment, it doesn’t mean your recovery process ends. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires a lifetime of care. It’s important to use the tools you’ve learned to apply to the world when you enter as a newly sober person. 

Sources

DEA (March 2021) Benzodiazepines. from https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/benzodiazepines

NCBI (November 1994) The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome. from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7841856/

MedlinePlus (March 2021) Oxazepam. from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682050.html

MedScape (November 2020) Delirium Tremens. from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/166032-medication

NCBI (January 2014) Benzodiazepine Dependence and Its Treatment. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4014019/

ADAA (March 2021) Facts & Statistics. from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

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