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Benzodiazepines and Drug Abuse

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are prescription sedatives often prescribed for anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, and surgeries. There are currently 15 drugs of this class prescribed in the United States. Another 20 are marketed in other countries. The dosage of these drugs determines their intended use, with low doses prescribed for sleep and medium doses prescribed for anxiety. Higher doses act as hypnotics and increase the likelihood of developing a tolerance and addiction to this drug class. Although benzodiazepines are most often prescribed by doctors, abuse of these drugs can lead to addiction, a lower quality of life, and even death.

How Do Benzodiazepines Affect the Brain and Body?

Benzodiazepines work by depressing the central nervous system and slowing a person’s brain activity. This manifests in drowsiness, slowed reaction times, and a general sleepy demeanor. These drugs enhance the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitters in the brain, which are responsible for calming the body down and releasing dopamine, the chemical responsible for happiness.

Like opioids, excessive use of benzos inhibits the body’s natural ability to produce dopamine and creates a tolerance to higher levels of dopamine. After every misuse of the drug, the brain creates and strengthens a bond between good feelings and benzos, which also strengthens addiction.

Benzos are divided into two types: short-acting and long-acting. Short-acting benzos, such as Ativan and Xanax, only stay in the body for generally 12 hours. Long-acting benzos, including Valium and Librium, stay in the body for as long as 100 hours.

Examples of Benzodiazepines:

  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Librium
  • ProSom
  • Restoril
  • Halcion
  • Versed
  • Dalmane
  • Tranxene

How Addictive are Benzodiazepines?

Although benzodiazepines are unlikely to cause addiction when used as prescribed, extended use of them is linked to a high rate of addiction. Taking higher doses is also a risk factor for addiction. People addicted to benzos are very likely to develop a dependence on the drug as well, meaning that going without the drug would result in withdrawal symptoms.

Becoming addicted to benzos is so easy because the body quickly builds a tolerance. When the brain realizes it is getting help relaxing from an outside source, it begins lowering its production of chemicals like dopamine. This means that to get the same feeling from benzos you’re used to, you must take higher dosages. Eventually, the body becomes dependent on these drugs to relax, and if someone attempts to quit “cold turkey,” the withdrawal symptoms are bad enough to sometimes force a person to choose being using or dying.

Benzodiazepine Overdose

People who mix alcohol, heroin, or cocaine with benzodiazepines are more likely to suffer an overdose. which may result in death. This is caused when a person’s breathing or pulse is so slowed by the drug that it eventually stops. If you suspect someone has overdosed on benzos, call 911 right away.

What Are the Symptoms Associated with Benzodiazepine Withdrawal?

Depending on the duration of use and the dose, a person can suffer severe withdrawal symptoms. Some people can even die from these symptoms due to the way the benzos have rewired the brain.

Common symptoms include:

  • Heightened anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Disassociation
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Numbness, itchiness, or muscle spasms
  • Heavy sweating
  • Gasping for air
  • Heart palpitations

More serious symptoms that could manifest include:

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Death

What Are the Risks of Benzodiazepine Abuse?

Most people abusing benzos exhibit some of the following physical symptoms:

  • Drowsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Blurry vision
  • Amnesia
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Disturbing dreams
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Impaired judgment

However, people addicted to benzos also risk ruining lifelong friendships through drug-induced behavior and facing criminal prosecution for illegally obtaining and using these drugs.

What Are the Signs of Benzo Addiction?

Someone addicted to benzodiazepines may appear to be detached from conversations or otherwise out of it. They’ll generally lose interest in life and no longer enjoy things they once did. They may even distance themselves from their friends and family to avoid judgment regarding their abuse.

Benzo abuse can also cause a person to develop depression, suicidal thoughts, and other cognitive dysfunctions. If an older person abuses benzodiazepines, they may also show symptoms similar to dementia. Older people are also at higher risks of developing Alzheimer’s after prolonged use of the drug or overdosing.

People addicted to benzos may exhibit other behavioral changes. They may try “doctor shopping,” where they go to different doctors to get prescribed more benzo medications, as well as asking friends and family for pills or even stealing from people they care about. Some people even purchase the drugs on the internet or from local street dealers. Keep an eye out for prescription bottles from different doctors, bottles with other people’s names on them, and plastic baggies with pills, as these are all strong indicators that a person is abusing benzos.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Statistics

  • In 2016, prescriptions for benzodiazepines had tripled since the year before and quadrupled since 1996.
  • In 2015, Xanax was dubbed “the world’s most popular pill” as it had the highest number of prescriptions worldwide out of any other drug.
  • Each year, American doctors increase the number of Xanax prescriptions by 12% on average.
  • 44% of benzo users eventually become dependent on these drugs.
  • In one study, people who took benzodiazepines for six months or longer were 84% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Seeking Help for Benzodiazepine Abuse

Someone addicted to benzodiazepines should NEVER quit all at once. The shock to the body that this creates can be lethal.

Someone addicted to benzodiazepines should be recommended to a reputable facility like Palm Partners Recovery Center. A good drug treatment center has certified and licensed staff to assess the extent of the addiction in order to create the best path to recovery.

When a patient is admitted to a treatment center, they are first given time for detoxification, or detox. This involves letting the benzos leave the body slowly by regularly lowering the consumption of benzos. This still often comes with uncomfortable symptoms. Luckily, our staff is licensed to administer medications that can make it easier to bear. Once withdrawal symptoms subside, the person is then able to study the personal tools they’ll need to control their addictions and get access to productive therapy.

Get your life back from benzodiazepine addiction. Call Palm Partners Recovery Center today.



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