It’s the story of virtually all prescription medications — when misused, an intended remedy transforms into poison. Oxazepam is no different. This benzodiazepine medication is prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms related to alcohol withdrawal.
As a benzodiazepine medication, oxazepam is habit-forming and highly addictive. This slow-acting medication can produce adverse withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, panic attacks, nausea, and diarrhea.
If you have taken oxazepam at high doses or for longer than the prescribed period, the worse your withdrawal symptoms will be. Like alcohol and barbiturates, benzodiazepines can produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Plus, if you use oxazepam with alcohol, opioids, or other depressant drugs, the risk of a fatal outcome by overdose dramatically increases.
What is Oxazepam?
Oxazepam was developed in 1961 and marketed under the brand name of Serax in 1965. True to its classification as a benzodiazepine, oxazepam stimulates gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. When this happens, the body’s central nervous system (CNS) slows down, which causes a user to experience a calm, relaxed state.
In addition to treating anxiety, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, physicians have prescribed it to treat social phobias, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual syndrome.
Oxazepam comes in capsule form and is taken three to four times a day.
According to ScienceDirect, the adult oxazepam dosage for mild to moderate anxiety and tension is 10 to 15 milligrams (mg) three to four times daily. Elderly patients are advised to take three 10 mg doses three times a day, every day.
If needed, that dose can be increased to 15 mg, three to four times daily. The maximum prescribed dosage for oxazepam is typically 80 mg per day. When oxazepam use rises above those recommended amounts, users can experience drowsiness and a range of other effects that feel like alcohol intoxication — just like other benzodiazepines.
What distinguishes oxazepam from other benzos is that it is one of the more slower-acting drugs of its class, with a half-life of between five and 20 hours. It is also less toxic than benzodiazepines like Librium or Valium.
It also has a lower potential for abuse compared to other benzos. However, when taken in large enough doses or for a more extended period than necessary, oxazepam can produce distressing withdrawal symptoms and effects.
According to the MedlinePlus.gov, the side effects associated with oxazepam are:
- Upset stomach
- Frequent urination
- Blurry vision
- Dry mouth
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty urinating
- Changes in sex drive or ability
Serious side effects of oxazepam include:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Severe skin rash
- Shuffling walk
- Tremor or restlessness
Benzo Withdrawal Factors
Benzodiazepines like oxazepam are employed widely for their ability to calm the CNS. However, like other benzodiazepines, oxazepam can quickly produce tolerance and dependence. Tolerance means you resort to taking more oxazepam to get the same effect a smaller, previous dose provided.
When someone starts exhibiting oxazepam withdrawal symptoms, it means that they require the drug to be in their systems to feel normal. When that substance leaves the body, that’s when those symptoms crop up.
At this stage, users show drug dependence.
According to Verywell Mind, the severity of withdrawal will depend on these factors:
- How much of a drug you take
- How long you take it
- If you use more than one benzo
- If you take other depressant medications or substances
- If you have a history of substance abuse
- Whether you are quitting more than one substance at a time
Since oxazepam is one of the slower acting benzodiazepines, withdrawal symptoms can occur a day after the last use.
According to Verywell Mind, Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms Include:
- Aches and pains
- Nausea or vomiting
- Panic attacks
- Mental or emotional confusion
- Sensitivity to light and touch
- Abnormal bodily sensations
- Hand tremors
- Muscle spasms
- Racing pulse
- Concentration and memory problems
- Visual disturbances
- Feelings of unreality
Another distinguishing feature of benzodiazepine withdrawal is that it can produce symptoms that it was initially prescribed to treat, such as:
- Sensitivity to light
- Panic attacks
- Visual disturbances
The Dangers of Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Though oxazepam is considered safer than other benzodiazepines, longtime users of this drug are still capable of experiencing grand mal seizures, which are considered life-threatening. These seizures can cause people in withdrawal to lose consciousness and suffer violent muscle contractions.
Plus, longtime users are susceptible to a condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), where severe withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years. These symptoms are psychological and include drug cravings, mood issues, anxiety attacks, and general discomfort.
The symptoms of PAWS are compelling enough to cause people to relapse and resume their benzo use, making them prone to suffering an overdose.
Overdose from oxazepam can produce symptoms that are similar to alcohol intoxication. The overdose symptoms associated with this drug, according to MedlinePlus.gov, include:
- Slowed breathing
- Decreased alertness, or even coma
- Weakness, uncoordinated movement, staggering gait
- Confusion, slurred speech
- Blurred or double vision, rapid side-to-side eye movement
- Drowsiness, tiredness, fainting
Why Professional Treatment is Necessary
The following statistic outlines why a medically supervised tapering process is necessary if you are experiencing withdrawal from oxazepam or another benzodiazepine. According to research, an estimated 40 percent of people who quit benzodiazepines abruptly will experience withdrawal symptoms that are described as moderate to severe.
If you enter into a professional treatment program, you can taper off oxazepam and get your withdrawal symptoms treated and alleviated with approved medications. A medical team of doctors, nurses, and other staff will oversee your process. This allows for a safe and comfortable withdrawal process. This phase is clinically referred to as medical detox, but people in benzo withdrawal are tapered off the drug.
Once this process ends, you can receive emotional and psychological support for your oxazepam use through residential treatment, particularly if you are a longtime user or abuse it with other substances. In residential, you receive a full-time program of therapy and care aimed at uncovering the roots of your abuse.
Treatment can continue through outpatient services, which provides access to part-time therapy and life skills education, which can prepare to achieve long-standing sobriety.
Because recovery does not end with treatment, you will need additional resources to support you as you adjust to being a productive, newly sober person. Relapse prevention provides access to a supportive recovery community that can help you avoid relapse.