What We Know
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are a class of prescription drugs that are used to treat various mental and medical health concerns, such as anxiety. The most common benzo, Xanax, was the most widely prescribed psychiatric medicine from 2005 until 2013, with 48,465,000 US prescriptions in 2013. Other common benzos include, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, and Rohypnol.
There are three classes of benzos: short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting benzodiazepines.
- Short-acting benzos work immediately and are often used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and as an anesthesia-adjunct medication before surgery to make a patient sleepy. Halcion is a short-acting benzodiazepine.
- Intermediate-acting benzos stay in the bloodstream longer and take longer to take effect. They treat anxiety, depression, or even alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Xanax is an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine.
- Long-acting benzos are effective for the longest period of time and can be used to treat anxiety, as a muscle relaxant, or as an anticonvulsant. Valium is a long-acting benzodiazepine.
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants, meaning that they slow down the way the brain and body functions. Although these are prescription drugs, they can easily be abused and can lead to dependence and addiction. Abusing prescription drugs means that you take them in a way that’s not prescribed, or you use prescription drugs that aren’t prescribed to you. Let’s look more at benzo addiction.
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms:
Benzo withdrawal symptoms can span from uncomfortable to potentially fatal, depending on a user’s level of addiction and how suddenly they stop taking the drug. Users are never advised to stop using the drugs completely because this can lead to seizures, psychosis, and even death. Instead, we encourage clients to safely taper off the drug in a professional detox program. These detox programs help user clients into a long-term recovery process and under the care of medical staff, clients know that they are safe.
In addition to the dangerous withdrawal symptoms mentioned above, other benzo withdrawal symptoms include:
High blood pressure
Clients should also be aware of the rebound effect of stopping benzo use. The rebound effect describes conditions when an individual uses benzos to treat a medical condition, such as anxiety, but when they suddenly stop using the drug, their anxiety comes back as much, if not more, than before they started using. This rebound effect can quickly lead to relapse.
Benzodiazepine Addiction Symptoms:
There are many side effects and addiction symptoms of benzos, including:
Increased heart rate
Another important addiction symptom to look out for is “doctor shopping.” This is when an individual goes to multiple doctors to try to get a benzo prescription. If you notice your loved one is going to many different doctors and has multiple prescriptions, this may be a sign of benzo addiction. Contact us today to find out how to help.
Effects of Benzodiazepine Use
Although benzodiazepines are generally safe when used as prescribed, they can have some dire short-term and long-term effects on the body. Benzos work by slowing the central nervous system, which is responsible for our heart rate, blood pressure, motor control, and body temperature. Stress and anxiety stimulate the neurotransmitters that communicate with the brain, which is why when we’re stressed our hearts race, our palms get sweaty and our minds race. Benzos depress this interaction and slow everything down.
The problem arises when the brain becomes dependent on benzodiazepines to function. Dependence happens when the brain develops a tolerance to the drug’s effects through long-term use, which means that the dosage needs to be increased to continue to experience the same effects. The long-term effects of benzos can include cognitive dysfunction.
Benzodiazepines are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, which makes co-occurring disorders with these drugs very relevant. A co-occurring disorder, or dual diagnosis, is when an individual struggles with both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder. Treatment for co-occurring disorders is more complex and requires therapies for both conditions.
With co-occurring disorders, you can’t treat one without the other, especially in the case of benzo addiction. At Manifest Recovery Centers, our staff understands the importance of dual diagnoses.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment
Inpatient care is intensive residential care where a client stays in the facility for 30, 60, or even 90 days, depending on their needs. During this time, clients undergo medical care, group therapy, individual therapy, and any other scheduled treatment they need. Treatments usually take up the majority of the day, and the client has some time throughout their stay to relax and readjust to sober living.
Outpatient treatment is a part-time program where clients attend ongoing treatment programs.These programs can be attended in the evening or on weekends to fit in with the client’s school or work schedule. They cover the important therapies needed for long-term success and are usually less structured. Outpatient treatment can be the next step in a client’s journey because they can transition back to normal life or live at a sober living facility while still receiving extended treatment.
Another flexible benzo addiction treatment is a telehealth program, which allows clients to get the help they need on their schedule. Telemedicine has been utilized in many other disciplines, including some general practices, and is beginning to break through in substance abuse disorder treatment.
According to the Journal of Pharmacy Practice, there have been five times more deaths attributed to benzodiazepines from 1999 to 2009, and that number may be on the rise. If you or a loved one is struggling with benzo addiction, you are not alone. Contact us today to get the help you deserve.