Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that are widely prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and, in some cases, insomnia. Halcion is a benzodiazepine that is used for insomnia. Like any other drug, it has the potential for misuse, and someone who takes too much Halcion likely will struggle with withdrawal symptoms.
Halcion is the brand name of the generic drug triazolam. As a benzodiazepine, triazolam works by inducing the brain to produce increased amounts of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). Under normal circumstances, the brain releases this neurotransmitter to calm nervous activity in the central nervous system. This is done as a response to stress, and it is how the brain moderates feelings of anxiety and panic when a person is confronted by a stressful stimulus. The GABA neurotransmitter is also activated to induce sleep.
However, many people can’t produce sufficient quantities of GABA to regulate their stress responses or to focus on sleeping. In the case of the former, this means that such people are prone to anxiety attacks and cannot control their behavior and responses during stressful situations. In the case of the latter, this often looks like insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep and to stay asleep.
It is for ailments such as these that benzodiazepines, such as Halcion, are prescribed. With such a prescription, a patient alleviates their anxiety attacks. Those who have sleep disorders, perhaps related to anxiety or insufficient GABA, can enjoy a return to consistent sleep patterns.
Another danger of too much exposure to Halcion is that patients will develop a tolerance for the medication — when the standard dose no longer has the desired effect of inducing sleep. This usually arises when patients take more of their medication than they should. Their bodies adapt to the increased presence of the drug in their system and want more. The patient continues to take the medication but hits the ceiling of effect; however, this does not deter the compulsion for more medication. It does make the patient more expectant and dependent on the Halcion for its anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia effects, even if there is no significant improvement beyond the standard result.
Meanwhile, as the consumption of the medication grows and the need for more Halcion also grows, the patient’s body reaches the point where a deprival of the medication leads to adverse symptoms that usually are very uncomfortable.
There are also psychological symptoms of Halcion withdrawal, the result of the psychological dependence on the medication. In most cases, these symptoms start to fade after a couple of weeks from the time of last consumption, but it is possible for a patient to continue to experience them for up to six months. This is a vulnerable period for the person because the temptation to go back to Halcion to alleviate the distress (or to find relief in another addictive substance) is very strong. To that point, medical supervision is needed. Therapy will teach valuable coping skills and go a long way in preventing relapse.
One of the complications that can arise from Halcion withdrawal is the issue of rebound insomnia. That is when the insomnia that had been successfully treated by the medication returns after it is discontinued. Rebound insomnia can linger for weeks or months after the final dose, causing severe mental and emotional anguish. It greatly increases the desire to go back on Halcion.
Obviously, this is to be avoided at all costs. A person going back on Halcion after this experience will likely increase the dose of the medication to very high levels in an attempt to counter the rebound and alleviate other withdrawal symptoms. However, doing so will significantly deepen the dependence on Halcion, making it even more difficult to ultimately stop using it.
How long will Halcion withdrawal take? The duration is determined by several factors related to how long the medication was used and how much was consumed and the person’s unique physiology (their general and mental health condition, any genetic factors, and whether other drugs were being consumed at the same time).
Recommended Halcion doses are usually 0.25 mg (milligrams), to be taken before going to bed. A 0.5 mg dose is meant only for patients who do not respond to lower doses. No doctor will ever prescribe more than 0.5 mg of Halcion because every increment of the medication raises the possibility of adverse reactions, including tolerance and addiction.
In overall terms, the first physical symptoms of Halcion withdrawal will occur within six to 24 hours of the last dose.
These symptoms will include nausea, headaches and muscle pain, which will last for upward of a week. To ease the process, a patient should not discontinue their Halcion consumption cold turkey; instead, they should be carefully weaned off their need for the medication. If this is done in a medical setting, a doctor can administer other medications to provide relief from the symptoms.
It can take about two weeks for the physical symptoms to reach their peak before they begin to decline. However, there are psychological symptoms, including insomnia, that will persist if they are not addressed via counseling and further medication. This stage of addiction treatment will involve ongoing therapy, group meetings, peer support, and outpatient care. If applied consistently, the psychological symptoms of Halcion withdrawal will likely subside within six to 12 months of the medication’s discontinuation.
Halcion can help patients fall asleep faster, enjoy longer sleep, and reduce the number of times they wake up overnight. For many reasons, Halcion is prescribed for only one or two weeks, or even less.
Patients will always be advised to consult their doctor if insomnia persists beyond the Halcion prescription. They should not, under any circumstances, continue to take Halcion for longer than their prescription, and they should not increase their prescribed dose even if the insomnia appears unaffected. For Halcion prescriptions to continue past this point, doctors will have to conduct a “complete reevaluation” of the patient.
One of the reasons for this limit is that Halcion, like any benzodiazepine, can be habit-forming. For patients who are desperate for sleep, the initial relief they feel from taking Halcion can make it tempting to continue taking the medication, or to take lots of the medication, despite their doctor’s orders.
Additionally, there are those who would take the Halcion recreationally; that is, they have no insomnia or anxiety disorders, but they enjoy the sensation of calm and tranquility that comes from their brain being chemically induced to release the GABA neurotransmitter.
There are also people who combine Halcion with other substances (usually depressants, like alcohol), to strengthen the sleep-inducing effects of the medication. This is an incredibly dangerous activity. The substances are not supposed to be mixed, and they can depress the central nervous system to such an extent that vital functions, such as breathing, are suppressed. This can also make breaking the dependence on Halcion much harder because of the effect of the other substances present.
Halcion should not be taken for more than 10 days. Beyond this point, there is the danger that patients – whether they take the medication recreationally or for legitimate medical purposes – might become physically and psychologically dependent on it. This is partly because Halcion is a relatively short-acting benzodiazepine; its effects are felt much quicker than long-acting benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Valium.
A patient taking Halcion for insomnia can quickly develop an unhealthy association on the medication and sleep, even though the overall idea is for people to eventually not need the medication to fall asleep. It might become impossible for the patient to simply relax and rest without Halcion. Going without the medication for a time then leads to irritability, anxiety, sleeplessness, and a host of other symptoms.
The fact that Halcion is always prescribed as short-term relief for insomnia speaks to the strong addictive potential of the medication, and that it is not meant to be a cure-all for insomnia. When taken in conjunction with other lifestyle changes to induce sleep — such as establishing consistent sleep and wake times, relaxing before bedtime, or even getting therapy for healthy sleep — Halcion will serve its purpose as a two-week supplement for sleep. However, if Halcion becomes the sole method a person uses to counter insomnia, then this will create an unhealthy dependence on the drug, and this dependence is very painful to break.
But if the dependence is broken properly – in a medical setting, with doctors who can administer the appropriate medications to stave off anxiety and replenish lost nutrients – then a patient will not have to be on Halcion anymore to enjoy good sleep and freedom from anxiety. With counseling, other forms of medication, and non-drug sleep interventions, Halcion abuse can be left behind.
(August 2018). Stress in Regulation of GABA Amygdala System and Relevance to Neuropsychiatric Diseases. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2018.00562/full
(2002). GABA Mechanisms and Sleep. Neuroscience. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11983310
(May 2017). Halcion. RxList. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.rxlist.com/halcion-drug.htm#description
(February 2011). Dose Effects of Triazolam and Alcohol On Cognitive Performance in Healthy Volunteers. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847582/
(1991). Pharmacologic Aspects of Benzodiazepine Tolerance and Dependence. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0740547291900245
(June 2016). Benzodiazepines: Addiction and Dependence. Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.verywellmind.com/addiction-and-dependence-benzodiazepines-2584274
(July 1984). Rebound Anxiety in Anxious Patients After Abrupt Withdrawal of Benzodiazepine Treatment. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6145363
(October 2018). Triazolam (Oral Route). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/triazolam-oral-route/precautions/drg-20072203
(March 2016). What Is Triazolam (Halcion)? Everyday Health. Retrieved December 2018 from https://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/triazolam