Benzodiazepine Addiction

Although benzodiazepines are one of the most prescribed medications in the nation, they carry a risk potential for abuse and addiction. Benzodiazepine addiction is a particularly dangerous addiction. Users can easily overdose or be tempted to engage in polydrug use. In addition, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. However, recovery from benzodiazepine addiction is completely attainable through a medical detox and drug rehab. 

Benzodiazepines

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are often referred to as benzos. They are a category of prescription drugs that are frequently prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, seizures, and muscular issues. This class of medication encompasses a variety of different drugs, but all operate on the body and brain in similar ways. Despite the beneficial use of benzodiazepines for medical conditions, they possess an extremely high risk for abuse and addiction.    The primary function of benzodiazepines is to mimic the effects of the GABA neurotransmitter. GABA is responsible for regulating anxiety and stress in the brain by producing calming effects. GABA also plays an important role in reducing nerve cell activity, improving mood, and promoting sleep. Physicians can prescribe benzodiazepines for individuals who do not produce enough GABA on their own. However, long term benzodiazepine use carries a risk of abuse and addiction due to the relaxing, intoxicating effects they can produce.[1]  

What are some frequently prescribed benzodiazepines?

Some of the most commonly prescribed and abused benzos include: 

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium, Diastat)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

 

How does someone become addicted to benzodiazepines?

When benzodiazepines are abused, it causes a flood of GABA in the brain which can result in a euphoric effect. Many people will enjoy this effect and continue to take benzos in excess.    Long term benzodiazepine abuse will cause physical and chemical alterations in the brain. Over time, individuals will build a tolerance to benzos. They will begin to require larger amounts and stronger doses of the drugs to produce the effects that they desire to achieve. When these changes occur in the brain, the body will then become dependent on benzos to function normally. Without benzos in the body, the brain will not produce GABA normally, causing high levels of stress and life-threatening symptoms. If a person is physically dependent on benzodiazepines, they will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they quit taking the drugs abruptly.    Many people will continue to use benzos, despite the negative physical and mental consequences, in order to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. In addition, they may experience strong cravings and urges for the drug. Once addiction has developed, it can be extremely difficult to stop using without professional help. 

Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction

Addiction can look different on a case by case basis. Each individual may show different signs and symptoms. Benzodiazepine addiction manifests in both physical and psychological symptoms. Some signs that may indicate an addiction to benzodiazepines include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Memory problems
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Risky behaviors
  • Mixing benzos with other substances like alcohol or opioids
  • Crushing or snorting prescription medications
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Strong cravings for drugs 
  • Withdrawal symptoms appear when benzos are not taken

Dangers of Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepine abuse is extremely dangerous. These drugs suppress the respiratory system, so overdose can occur if too much is taken at once. While the risk of overdose is high when abusing benzos alone, it is even more likely when benzodiazepines are combined with other substances.    Two common forms of polydrug use when benzos are involved include combining them with alcohol or opioids. When benzodiazepines are combined with other central nervous system depressants, like alcohol and opioids, the risk for overdose and coma increases dramatically.    In 2017, 11,537 overdose deaths involved the use of benzodiazepines.[2]   In addition to the overdose potential of benzodiazepine abuse, these medications are often over-prescribed. This makes it easy for the drugs to fall into the wrong hands and be sold on the streets. Individuals who may not necessarily need benzos are able to purchase them illegally and may develop an addiction.    Benzodiazepine withdrawals are also extremely dangerous. They are very similar to alcohol withdrawal and can be fatal if attempted outside of a medical setting. Severe withdrawal symptoms can include delirium, hallucinations, hyperventilation, and grand mal seizures. 

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal & Detox

Benzodiazepine withdrawal timelines will vary greatly depending on the individual’s dose, type of benzo abused, and length of time they have been abusing it. Symptoms can begin between 8 and 12 hours after the last dose and may last for several weeks. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include[3]:

  • Anxiety, irritability, depression, and panic attacks
  • Restlessness and muscle spasms
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Racing pulse
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hyperventilation
  • Aches, pains, and abnormal bodily sensations
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Hallucinations (audible or visual)
  • Delirium
  • Grand mal seizures

Since benzodiazepine withdrawal is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, it should only be attempted in a medical detox facility.    Although there aren’t any medications currently approved to treat benzodiazepine withdrawals, medical detox can help individuals cope with their symptoms. The best course of action for benzodiazepine detox is to slowly taper individuals off of benzos rather than stopping them abruptly. At a detox in Memphis, physicians will work one-on-one with those who are suffering to develop the best plan of action for each individual. Using a tapering method while having access to around the clock medical care and emotional support can make the detox process as safe and comfortable as possible. 

Drug Rehab for Benzodiazepine Addiction

Drug rehab is ideal for those suffering from benzodiazepine addiction. Since mild symptoms of withdrawal can last for several weeks, it is important to seek long term care. At PAX Memphis, addiction specialists use behavioral and addiction therapy to help clients treat the underlying causes and symptoms of their addictions. Our drug rehab program in Memphis will also arm individuals with a toolbox of coping skills needed to achieve long-term sobriety.    “During your stay here at PAX Memphis Recovery Center, we will provide you the opportunity to express your feelings in both group therapy and individual therapy. Talking about any negative emotions or reservations about living sober can be addressed while you are here and our drug counselors will help create an individualized treatment plan to help you decrease your chances of relapsing.”   If you are struggling with benzodiazepine addiction, contact our addiction specialists in Memphis today and start your journey to recovery.

Resources: 

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262809.php
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  3. https://www.verywellmind.com/benzodiazepine-withdrawal-4588452

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