Prescription Drug Addiction Part 2: Benzodiazepines

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, or benzos, fall into the category of Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, used to treat insomnia, anxiety disorders, and alcohol withdrawals. They have sedative, hypnotic, anticonvulsant, amnesiac, muscle-relaxing and anxiety-relieving properties. They work by increasing the effects of a natural brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This causes a reduction in anxiety, sleepiness and muscle relaxation. As conversations around prescription drug abuse become more common, it has come to light that opioids are not the only concern. Benzodiazepines,  prescribed for insomnia and anxiety, are presenting a growing threat. Perceived as harmless by the general public and many medical professionals, these drugs are usually intended for short term use. However, when abused or mixed with alcohol and opioids, they pose some serious health risks.

Types of Benzodiazepines :

Commonly used benzodiazepines include, but are not limited to: alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clorazepate (Tranxene), diazepam

(Valium), halazepam (Paxipam), lorzepam (Ativan), oxazepam (Serax), prazepam

(Centrax), and quazepam (Doral). 


How Benzodiazepine Addiction Occurs?

Benzodiazepines are especially effective due to their fast-acting nature, and when used correctly, they can be an effective medication. However, prolonged use puts users at serious risk of dependence. Tolerance for benzodiazepines occurs relatively quickly, meaning that larger amounts need to be taken for the same effect.

Withdrawal from benzos can be harrowing and can occur from as little as one month of use, even on small, therapeutic doses. Withdrawal can last for months after discontinuation of the drug with users reporting a range of symptoms including insomnia, anxiety, nausea, body aches, delirium and depression.

Overdose :

Benzodiazepines reduce essential body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and respiratory rate. Reduced rates and levels can lead to respiratory failure, cardiac complications and more. Fatal benzodiazepine overdose is possible, but rare when the substance is being used on its own. However, benzodiazepines should never be used alongside opioids or alcohol. Benzos have increasingly been detected among postmortem samples of overdoses, most often combined with opioids.

Who Should Be Cautious of Benzodiazepines?

It is important to take into account whether you have previously used any other psychiatric medication. This should be thoroughly communicated to your physician before commencing the use of benzodiazepine medication. People with a history of drug and alcohol abuse need to be especially cautious of benzodiazepines, as do those diagnosed with any kind of personality disorder.  Doctors may also be hesitant to prescribe benzos to those with chest and lung problems, muscle weakness (such as myasthenia gravis) or kidney and liver problems.

Preventative Measures :

Prescription medication can be used safely, but it is essential to always take the medication under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Always ensure that you disclose any other medications you are taking to your doctor. This should include illicit substances. It is also important to note the following: 

  • Do not exceed the recommended dosage
  • Do not abruptly stop the medication if not directed to do so
  • Do not take the medication in a manner that has not been directed
  • Do not use someone else’s medication, even if you have similar symptoms. 
Treatment for Benzodiazepine Misuse :

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can cause serious side effects and even death. It is important to consult with a physician before abruptly stopping the use of any prescription medication. 

Long-term treatment will require additional assistance and support, and an addiction professional can assist in formulating a plan to achieve the best possible outcomes. Inpatient rehabilitation is an option, but outpatient treatments can also yield successful results.

Like all substance misuse disorders, the road to recovery after using prescription drugs is not easy. But with the right help, such as that offered by certified professionals, recovery is possible.
Recovery852 assists adults, adolescents, and families dealing with substance misuse like, but not limited to alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamines, prescription medications and marijuana. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you have options. Contact Recovery852 today.