With the rising prevalence of anxiety disorders in the United States, the demand for a medication to help people relax is increasing. Certain individuals who suffer from anxiety are prescribed benzodiazepines to help them calm their nerves and think clearly without experiencing regular anxiety. However, if not used properly, benzodiazepines can become addictive, and in some cases, misuse can be more dangerous than the anxiety disorder itself.

Benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, are among the most frequently prescribed medications in the United States, where they are widely used to treat anxiety, seizures, obsessivecompulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and panic attacks. Even when taken as prescribed, this class of medication can be extremely addictive. Prolonged use of benzodiazepines can result in significant physical dependence, necessitating professional addiction treatment.

Many people who use benzodiazepines (whether legally or recreationally) combine them with alcohol or other substances, increasing their risk of developing health complications or dying from an overdose. Due to the possibility of severe protracted withdrawal symptoms during benzodiazepine detox, regular users who wish to discontinue should seek supervision from a qualified treatment facility.

If you or a loved one is suffering with benzodiazepines abuse please call us at 877-636-9322 to speak with an expert treatment provider.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines (affectionately referred to as “benzos”) are prescription medications that inhibit central nervous system activity in order to produce feelings of relaxation, sedation, and relief from anxiety and insomnia. The five most frequently prescribed benzodiazepines are as follows:

  • Prednisone (brand name Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Other Sleeping Pills

Numerous medical applications exist for the various benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are used in the clinical setting as a sedative/anesthetic prior to surgery or other medical procedures. Others are more frequently prescribed to treat anxiety disorders such as generalized treatment for anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and muscle spasms. Certain benzos have been shown to be indispensable in the management of the acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome that frequently occurs during the detox phase of recovery.

While the majority of benzodiazepines are taken orally, they are occasionally given intravenously prior to surgery or in cases such as acute seizures, where oral dosing would be impossible.

Some are effective immediately but have a short duration. Others take longer to work but have a longer duration.

Benzodiazepines Effects And Abuse

Benzodiazepines work by binding to special neurons known as GABA receptors, slowing overactive brain function and relieving severe mental stress. According to the brand abused, those who abuse Benzodiazepines may experience a euphoric “high” or an alcohol-like “buzz.” This is followed by an extended period of sedation.

Abuse occurs when Benzodiazepines are used without a physician’s prescription. Certain users of benzodiazepines crush and snort their tablets or pills to increase their potency. This significantly increases the risk of overdose. Seizures and coma are common Benzo overdose symptoms. Overdosage with benzodiazepines can cause breathing and heart rate to slow to the point of complete cessation, resulting in death.

The adverse effects of benzodiazepine use vary according to the individual, the specific drug, the dosage amount, and the duration of the drug’s use.

The following are possible short-term side effects of moderate benzodiazepine use:

  • Inadequate coordination.
  • Drowsiness and exhaustion.
  • Speech that is slurred.
  • Confusion and cognitive difficulties.
  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Mouth is parched.
  • Breathing that is slowed or difficult.

At higher doses, such as those used recreationally, the following side effects may occur:

  • Extreme somnolence and sluggish reflexes.
  • Swings in mood
  • Insane behavior.

Longterm use of benzodiazepines can accumulate in the body, resulting in long-term side effects such as the following:

  • Significant disorientation.
  • Muscle weakness and an inability to coordinate.
  • Significantly impaired judgment.
  • Memory deficits that persist over time.
  • Speech patterns that have been significantly slowed/altered (dysarthria).

According to studies, long-term users exhibit signs of cognitive impairment and are unable to think as clearly or as well as they once could. This decline can impair an individual’s ability to succeed at work or school and may persist for months after benzodiazepine use is discontinued. A recent medical study discovered a link between long-term benzodiazepine misuse and Alzheimer’s disease, concluding that the drugs’ excessive use should be viewed as a public health concern.

Addiction To Benzodiazepines

Due to their high potency, benzodiazepines have the potential to alter the neurochemistry of the brain. The drugs accumulate in the user’s body over time. As a result, users may develop mental and physical dependence on the drugs. Due to the widespread use of benzodiazepines as popular and frequently prescribed anti-anxiety medications, individuals from all demographics and lifestyles may be exposed to them. Even under a physician’s care and prescribed doses, addiction can develop.

According to the National Institute on Prescription Drug Abuse, benzos alter the chemical signals used by the brain to communicate a pleasurable event. When that shift occurs, individuals experience a surge of sensations associated with reward, joy, and security. They may be unable to articulate the change, but the brain records it.

When it comes to addiction, it is very easy to become benzodiazepine dependent. They are extremely dangerous due to the persistent chemical changes they cause in the brain.

opioid-overdose-graph

Without access to benzodiazepines, the altered brain cells may eventually cease to function optimally. Brain cells will make an audible plea for the drug, and this plea will be difficult to ignore. That is when an addiction becomes apparent. Any benzodiazepine has the potential to cause this reaction, but certain medications in this class are of particular concern.

Mixing Benzodiazepines And Other Drugs

To enhance their high, some users combine the drugs with other CNS Depressants. While alcohol is frequently chosen as the CNS depressant to combine with Benzodiazepines, users may also combine Benzos with Opiate drugs to increase both highs. When Benzodiazepines drug interactions are combined with other prescription and illicit drugs, the risk of fatal overdose increases significantly.

When benzodiazepines are combined with other substances, particularly alcohol, opioids, or other sedatives, the risk of fatal overdose increases significantly. In 2015, the combined overdose rate of opioids and benzodiazepines was nearly six times that of benzos alone.

The increase in benzodiazepine use and overdose is closely related to the rise in opioid abuse and addiction, as these drugs are frequently combined. Indeed, 30% of opioid overdose deaths in 2010 involved the use of some form of benzodiazepine.

Combining benzodiazepines and opioids intensifies the person’s high. Similarly, combining benzodiazepines and alcohol enhances each drug’s sedative effect, resulting in a more intense state of relaxation. Individuals on methadone maintenance programs have abused benzos because they believe they produce a sense of euphoria that methadone alone does not.

Respiratory depression is the leading cause of death in opioid overdoses, which occurs when a person’s breathing slows or stops entirely as a result of the drug’s sedative properties. When opioids are combined with benzos, the combined sedative effect of the two drugs increases the likelihood of the person losing consciousness and is thus particularly lethal.

Alcohol abuse and prescription opioids are commonly abused together with benzos.

Types of Treatment for Benzos

It is critical to call 911 immediately if someone overdoses on Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin. If the individual is conscious, attempt to keep them talking. Ascertain that the individual does not choke on their own vomit; roll them on their side if they are unconscious. Avoid inducing vomiting to clear the stomach of toxins, and ensure they do not consume alcohol or drugs while waiting for emergency assistance.

After transporting the patient to the emergency room, doctors may administer certain medications, most notably flumazenil. This medication is a benzodiazepine agonist, which means that it binds to the same brain receptors as benzodiazepines and can partially reverse the effects of Xanax, Valium, or Klonopin. It is critical, however, that doctors administer flumazenil because this medication may not completely stop an overdose; it may only temporarily halt it. Additional medical treatment may be required to completely resolve the overdose; however, flumazenil begins reversing the benzodiazepine overdose within 10 minutes of administration.

The stomach of the individual may be pumped to remove any remaining benzodiazepine, and doctors will monitor the individual’s breathing and heart rate to ensure they remain stable. Intravenous fluids will almost certainly be used to maintain the individual’s blood sugar and hydration levels in order to avoid seizures or a heart attack.

Benzo Overdose and Detox

When not managed properly, benzodiazepine withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and may even result in fatal seizures. Clinicians advise against self-detoxification. A professional detox and rehabilitation center can assist you in managing symptoms and ensuring your safety throughout the detox process.

Treating benzodiazepines withdrawal symptoms vary by individual, and their severity is dependent on the specific drug and duration of abuse. Seniors are more likely to experience symptoms of withdrawal complications and are at an increased risk of falling, having a heart attack, or developing delirium.

Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • Tension and aches in the muscles.
  • Vomiting and nausea.
  • Angry and irritable.
  • Panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Concentration and memory are impaired.
  • Paranoia and delusions.
  • Insanity and delirium (particularly in older people).

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms are very similar to those associated with alcohol withdrawal, including seizures and delirium. Grand mal seizures are a serious and potentially fatal complication. Individuals who have been abusing benzos for more than a few months should never attempt to quit without the assistance of medical professionals, as seizures can occur without warning, even in the absence of other withdrawal symptoms.

The duration of withdrawal will vary according to the benzodiazepine type, dosage, and duration of use. Withdrawal from short-acting benzos such as alprazolam (Xanax) typically begins 1–2 days after the final dose and lasts 2–4 weeks. 15 With longer-acting benzos, such as diazepam (Valium), withdrawal typically begins two–seven days after the last dose and lasts two–eight weeks or longer.

While withdrawal symptoms may vary in severity throughout the period, feeling better does not mean the risk of complications has passed. Between 1 and 12 days after the last dose, grand mal seizures are possible.

Benzo detox is difficult regardless of the substance abused, but many people who develop benzodiazepine addiction were initially prescribed the drug to treat an anxiety disorder or another mental health problem, making detox an especially difficult time.

While a patient is detoxing from benzos, it is likely that symptoms of any prior mental health conditions will recur, along with any panic attacks, hallucinations, or physical discomfort associated with withdrawal syndrome. This emphasizes the critical nature of completing detox in a secure, professional treatment setting.

Professionals in substance abuse treatment recommend a gradual taper as the most effective method for overcoming benzodiazepine addiction.

13 Tapering a medication entails gradually decreasing the dose over several weeks or months until it is completely discontinued.

The best way to manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and potentially dangerous complications is to taper off benzodiazepines gradually. You and your doctor can work out the best tapering schedule for you based on the type of benzodiazepine you’ve been taking and your usual dose. 15 Medical supervision is critical during the taper process, as doctors and clinicians will monitor your response to decreasing dosages and adjust your taper schedule as necessary to meet your body’s needs. 15

If you are also addicted to another substance, such as opioids or alcohol, inpatient and outpatient rehab specialists may be able to assist you in tapering off benzos while medically supporting your detox from other substances. This may entail using methadone or Suboxone to treat opioid addiction while tapering off benzos, for example.

Because therapy is a necessary component of addiction treatment, any substance detox should be accompanied by a comprehensive treatment plan.

Addiction Recovery

Maintaining sobriety is just as difficult as attaining it. When you return home, the triggers that drove you to use drugs may resurface. That is why it is critical to have a strategy in place for coping with triggers and daily stresses.

Many people find that meeting with a counselor or therapist in private practice on a weekly or biweekly basis is sufficient to prevent relapse. Others prefer to stay connected to a sober community via support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) (AA). Because these meetings are free and convenient, they are an excellent long-term strategy. There are even online and telephone meetings that you can attend at your convenience.

Recovery is a process that lasts a lifetime. Because the risk of relapse is greatest in the weeks and months following rehab, having a strong aftercare plan in place is critical. A post-treatment plan is something you can develop with your counselors and maintain throughout your lifetime of sobriety.

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