Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that cause central nervous system depression. They are commonly prescribed to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders, insomnia, and other sleep problems.
Long ago, benzodiazepines were hailed as a better and safer alternative to barbiturates. Barbiturates were regularly given to people to treat anxiety and insomnia; however, they have had many hazardous side effects and were highly addictive.
Benzodiazepines also have a wide variety of side effects and can also carry a high rate of misuse or addiction and possible overdose. Even with their known dangers, benzodiazepines are still overprescribed.
These medications can be misused, abused, and may cause adverse effects, and in some cases, lead to addiction.
Benzodiazepines are at the top of the list of most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. The top four include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).
Benzodiazepines almost immediately produce effects, which is why they are used for presurgical sedation, muscle spasticity, involuntary movement disorders, convulsive disorders, anxiety disorders, and sleep difficulty. These drugs are meant for short-term use or use “as-needed.” Most patients prescribed these medications take them as directed by a doctor. However, some people misuse and abuse them.
As central nervous system (CNS) depressants, benzodiazepines work in the same way. They create strong feelings of relaxation and sedation. They can also induce sleep by creating an excess of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter.
GABA works to slow down activity in the CNS and regulates feelings of stress and anxiety, thereby keeping the nerve signals from reaching the brain. GABA is a tranquilizing neurotransmitter, and billions of brain cells respond to its signals.
Benzodiazepines have chemicals that enhance the calming effects the human body already produces and keep the brain in a more relaxed and calm state.
The signs of benzodiazepine abuse may be difficult to see, even by those who are misusing or abusing the drug. Often, misuse of the drug can turn to abuse and then abuse to addiction. Benzodiazepine addiction is not uncommon.
There are side effects of long-term benzodiazepine abuse that may signal a growing dependence on the drug. Note that these signs might not appear at the same time:
The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a “complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.” Someone with a severe substance use disorder keeps using the drug even when they know it will cause problems.
Once individuals start abusing benzodiazepines, they will keep using them compulsively and obsessively until their motive for making decisions pushes out every other priority in their lives.
Benzodiazepine addiction takes total control of all aspects of life. The individual can be seen behaving in ways that indicate a clear signal of addiction. These signs are:
If these signs are recognizable in your own use or that of someone you love, it is essential to find professional addiction treatment at an accredited facility. It is imperative to get help with stopping the use of the drug and utilize the programs in place to help overcome the substance use disorder to regain a full, healthy, and drug-free life.
READY TO GET HELP?
Talk to a treatment expert
Medical detoxification or detox is the first stage in addiction treatment. Detox involves the flushing out of any drugs or alcohol, and associated toxins from the body to help a person in substance use recovery come physically and mentally stabilized.
Medical detox is vital in benzodiazepine addiction treatment because benzodiazepine detox should never be attempted alone. An experienced medical team is in attendance during withdrawal because it is one of the most dangerous and possibly life-threatening experiences.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is another frightening possibility for the individual cutting back on their use of a drug or drugs. The syndrome entails a worsening of symptoms overall. Insomnia and anxiety can intensify into crippling panic attacks and produce prolonged periods of sleeplessness. Those most susceptible to benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome are people who have taken high doses in a short time.
Medical detox professionals can provide specific medications that lessen the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and manage any potential complications that could arise during detox.
When detox is safely completed, the next step is entering an inpatient or outpatient program. There are different aspects of both treatment types. The main difference between the two is an inpatient program entails living onsite at the facility during treatment, while outpatient programs provide the opportunity for the individual to live at home or a sober living house and commute to a facility for their recovery program.
The choice or either program is dependent on a person’s specific needs. Someone with a severe benzodiazepine substance use disorder or someone who has a tendency to relapse would benefit from an inpatient program. On the other hand, a person in the early stages of benzodiazepine addiction who is in good physical health may benefit from an outpatient program.
Addiction treatment involves treating the whole person, the physical and psychological aspects of their benzodiazepine addiction, and any mental health problems. Benzodiazepine addiction treatment helps the individual to understand the underlying issues behind the addiction so that they can address and manage addictive behaviors in a healthier and more positive way to maintain long-term sobriety.
Many people think benzodiazepines are safe and less dangerous than illicit drugs because a doctor prescribes them. This is not true. Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as illegal ones, and this includes benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed with a stringent timeline of use because people can become dependent on them and possibly develop a benzodiazepine addiction in a short time. If a person abuses these types of drugs, the speed in which they become addicted can occur quicker.
A condition called rebounding is possible. This occurs when a person has become so tolerant of the effects of benzodiazepines that the drug stops working and the individual’s initial anxiety or insomnia symptoms return, but usually much stronger and more challenging to manage than before. This could lead to taking more of the drug than before and a possible overdose.
Benzodiazepine addiction is considered a severe substance use disorder, one that can be fatal. Professional treatment in an accredited addiction center provides medical personnel on hand to help ease the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and use evidence-based therapies to teach the individual about their addiction and how to manage future triggers and cravings for a sustained life in sobriety.
Drugs.com. (2019, February 5) Benzodiazepines. Fookes, C. BPharm., Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/benzodiazepines.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, August). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
American Family Physician. (2000, April 1) Addiction: Part I. Benzodiazepines—Side Effects, Abuse Risk and Alternatives. Longo, L. M.D., Johnson, B. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0401/p2121.html
MedicalNewsToday. (2019, March 7) The benefits and risks of benzodiazepines. Function. Nordqvist, J. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809
American Psychiatric Association. (2017 January) What Is Addiction? Parekh, R. M.D., M.P.H. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
Dodds, T. J. (2017, March 02). Prescribed Benzodiazepines and Suicide Risk: A Review of the Literature. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrist.com/PCC/article/Pages/2017/v19n02/16r02037.aspx
Healthcentral. (2012, April 2) Rebound Anxiety. Kennard, J. Ph.D. Retrieved from https://www.healthcentral.com/article/rebound-anxiety