Recovery Timelines

The average period of recovery for people who have been on the drug long-term is reported to be between six and eighteen months. Those with milder dependencies can take as little as one to six weeks. This is not always the case, however, because the withdrawal experience is unique and varies according to individual. No one knows or can accurately predict how long it will take.

Dosage or number of years on the drug are sometimes considered to be good indicators. Anecdotal evidence shows that there is a tendency for those who have been on high doses for many years to experience a longer withdrawal period than short-term users. Still, it is useful to note that a person on a low dose for months and one on a high dose for years can end up having quite similar experiences. All the doctors I consulted during withdrawal insisted that it does not last for more than a few weeks, six months at most. They were misinformed. Weeks, months or years, withdrawal takes as long as it takes.

If your symptoms are many and severe, it does not mean your withdrawal will last longer. Conversely, having fewer and less intense symptoms does not mean your withdrawal period will be shorter. There is just no proven pattern of healing. Also, if you are taking other medication, consuming alcohol, experimenting with supplements or over-stimulating and exerting yourself, this could affect the duration.

Windows of clarity appear early to some but this does not always mean that their withdrawal period will be shorter. I had my first window approximately eight weeks after completing my taper but symptoms persisted for two more years. Some people take a much longer time to have their first window but this does not mean their withdrawal period will be longer. Others have short, frequent windows which gradually increase in duration until full recovery. Some have little or no windows but may take the same or even less time to recover, with symptoms spontaneously and permanently disappearing.

Comparing your situation with that of a user who you know has been on a similar dose and tapering schedule will do more harm than good. Our bodies respond differently. Another important reason is that although you may have been on similar doses with the same tapering schedules and methods, you may not know the person’s full circumstances. She or he may have less support, could have a pre-existing condition, be taking other medication, consuming alcohol, taking supplements or overstimulating in some other way that you are unaware of.

You may even encounter well meaning ex-users who announce that certain supplements, forms of therapy, exercise programs, etc. miraculously accelerated their healing. Before you become excited at having the same results, remember how individual a process recovery is. For every ‘remedy’ that has supposedly helped a user, you will find others who have said it caused their symptoms to worsen. I still find this quite remarkable, but it is true.

There will always be this element of contradiction. To attribute one’s healing, or symptoms for that matter, to anything specific will be debatable until formal research is done. How can we tell? Someone can start taking a supplement just at the time when full recovery was imminent anyway, or when a flare-up was poised to surface. Speculation makes no sense. There are too many varying conditions to come to conclusions. If you feel that whatever is recommended is worth trying, I genuinely hope it works for you. The best approach would be to expect any outcome when you do experiment, but remain optimistic.

Finally, no one can predict how long it will take to recover or how the process will unfold. What we do know is that managing withdrawal requires large doses of patience, non-resistance, and the wise application of coping techniques. These will certainly make the time seem shorter. If the process is taking longer than anticipated, it is because your remarkable and resilient nervous system needs more time to recover.

Excerpted from “Benzo-Wise: A Recovery Companion”

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